Environmental Review Toolkit

Ecosystems and Vegetation Management

The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) supports the principles of sustainable environments and economies through activities in Ecosystem and Vegetation Management. In order to ensure that transportation projects address their impacts on natural ecosystems, FHWA provides guidance and technical assistance to Federal, State, and local government staff regarding Federal laws, regulations, policy, and procedures related to habitat, vegetation, and right of way management.

plus sign Habitat Management
minus sign Habitat Management

FHWA aims to minimize the impact of transportation projects on natural habitats through mitigation banking, reductions in habitat fragmentation, advanced ecosystem planning and management, and ecosystem-based research efforts. Activities include:

The Ecosystem Approach and Transportation Development

This outlines the ecosystem approach to transportation planning and details transportation agency projects that have adhered to its goals of creating a safe, efficient, and environmentally sensitive transportation system. Learn more.

Eco-Logical: An Ecosystem Approach to Developing Infrastructure Projects

Eco-Logical began with the belief that it is possible to develop necessary infrastructure in ways that respect terrestrial and aquatic habitats. Eco-Logical provides a conceptual groundwork for integrating plans across agency boundaries. Its ecosystem-based mitigation approach encourages Federal, State, tribal, and local partners involved in infrastructure planning, design, review, and construction to use flexible regulatory processes. Learn more.

Other Resources

Defenders of Wildlife, Habitat Conservation
Defenders of Wildlife works with state agencies and private landowners to help develop and implement conservation plans that will preserve environmentally important areas long into the future.

Ecosystem Management Research Institute (EMRI)
EMRI develops innovative tools and strategies to restore and conserve native heritage for future generations.

Center for Ecosystem Management and Restoration (CEMAR)
CEMAR undertakes research, planning, and stakeholder facilitation projects with the intent of balancing conservation and restoration with other beneficial uses such as water supply and flood protection. CEMAR works across the public sector with individual jurisdictions, interest-based coalitions, and State and Federal agencies to establish scientifically-sound management directions.

Training Opportunities

FHWA Resource Center Environment and Realty Technical Service Team (TST)
TST provides custom training, peer reviews, technical and research forums, workshops, and conference presentations. Their recently delivered subjects include Ecosystem and Right of Way Management issues, including Habitat and Road crossings for biota and Invasive Species.

U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Learning Center (ULC)
ULC offers many training courses related to Ecosystem and Right of Way Management. Topics include Ecosystem Restoration and Planning for Ecosystem Restoration. For course descriptions and the projected course schedule, see the ULC Purple Book.

U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, National Conservation Training Center (NCTC)
NCTC offers training courses about Ecosystem and Right of Way Management. Course topics include Habitat Restoration, Principles of Habitat Assessment, GIS for Wildlife Habitat Management, Rights of Way Habitat Management, Innovative Approaches to Wildlife/Highway Interactions, and Invasive Plant Management. For more information, see the NCTC Course Catalog and Course Schedule.

plus sign Native Plants
minus sign Native Plants

What was once the FHWA Wildflower Program has evolved into a holistic roadside vegetation program. Roadside rights-of-way account for more than 10 million acres of land in the United States. This land requires care that assures water quality, improves erosion control, increases wildlife habitat, reduces mowing and spraying, enhances natural beauty, and protects natural heritage. The FHWA Roadside Vegetation Program serves as a technical resource for this care of the land.

Roadside Use of Native Plants

This glove-compartment size handbook is a reference for those who restore, design, or manage native plants. Its State by State organization of information is a beginning point in decision-making. To make site by site decisions within a State, local expertise will be necessary. This information is aimed at preserving the native remnants that still exist and restoring natural heritage where necessary.

plus sign Wildflowers
minus sign Wildflowers

Wildflowers and other native plants provide visual character that enhances the natural scenic beauty of our nation's landscape. The growing concern for our natural heritage has generated an increasing interest in their restoration, preservation, and appreciation.

Our nation's highways provide access to the splendors of nature as well as offer opportunities for natural beauty within their rights-of-way. Under the program provisions of "Operation Wildflower" and the Surface Transportation and Uniform Relocation Assistance Act of 1987 (STURAA), native wildflowers are being planted in the rights-of-way to add natural character to the highway environment. These programs are the framework of all State Department of Transportation wildflower programs.

Operation Wildflower Program

Initiated in December 1973, this is a volunteer cooperative program between the National Council of State Garden Clubs, Inc., the State highway agencies, and the Federal Highway Administration. Under this program, a garden club may pay for or furnish wildflower seeds of seedlings to a State highway agency for planting within the highway right-of-way. The highway agency has the responsibility for final determination of the appropriate location for, the installation and management of the wildflowers. Federal-aid highway funds are available for participation in the costs of planting the wildflowers.


The STURAA became effective on April 1987. It contains a mandatory requirement that native wildflower seeds or seedlings be planted as part of landscaping projects undertaken on the Federal-aid highway system. At least one-quarter of one percent of the funds expended for a landscaping project must be used to plant native wildflowers (and grasses) on that project. A landscaping project involves any action taken as part of a highway construction project or as a separate action to enhance the esthetics of a highway through placement of plant material consistent with a landscape design.

Wildflowers are being grown and protected on highway roadsides under other program initiatives instituted by States. The reduced mowing policies of Michigan, Wisconsin, and Minnesota allow the natural establishment of wildflowers and protection of natural remnants. Additionally, native wildflowers and grasses are being customarily included in plantings undertaken as part of erosion control and vegetation management methods. They are also being planted under States' continuing efforts like Adopt-a-Highway, Roadsides-for-Wildlife, and ISTEA enhancement projects. Watch for wildflowers on your next summer Sunday afternoon drive.

FHWA and Wildflowers

FHWA oversees State programs on interstate and State highways that use federal funds. We also act as a technical resource and information clearinghouse for these programs. Each State's program is unique. Therefore the highway traveler will view different interpretations of STURAA and Operation Wildflower in each State. Within each State, natural regions vary and so do the roadside solutions used.

plus sign Invasive Species and Noxious Weeds
minus sign Invasive Species and Noxious Weeds

Managing vegetation along highways presents a serious challenge in preserving natural beauty along travel corridors and preventing the spread of invasive species. Invasive species have the potential to affect a wide range of human and natural activities and functions. Highways present an ideal path for species to spread out of their native environment. FHWA provides guidance and information resources to transportation and planning agencies in order to prevent the problems associated with native species.


Executive Order - Safeguarding the Nation from the Impacts of Invasive Species


Invasive Species Cover And Wildlife Use at Compensatory Mitigation Sites
This FHWA Study evaluates compliance with invasive species performance standards at state Department of Transportation (DOT) wetland mitigation sites by comparing invasive species cover and wildlife use at eight DOT mitigation sites and eight corresponding reference sites.

Field Guide to Common Roadside Invasive Species
This FHWA Field Guide identifies common roadside invasive grasses and forbs that appear on State noxious weed lists.

Other Resources

National Invasive Species Information Center
This U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) site provides information about invasive species for Federal, State, local, and international sources.

USDA Forest Service Invasive Species Program
This website is a portal to Forest Service invasive species information and related management and research activities across the agency and its partners. The goal of the program is to reduce, minimize, or eliminate the potential for introduction, establishment, spread, and impact of invasive species.

Federal Interagency Committee for the Management of Noxious and Exotic Weeds (FICMNEW)
As a formal partnership between sixteen Federal agencies, FICMNEW holds the responsibilities to manage and regulate invasive species across the United States.

Dangerous Travelers: Controlling Invasive Plants Along America's Roadways
As part of its efforts to prevent the spread of invasive species, the USDA Forest Service San Dimas Technology and Development Center, in partnership with the National Forest System Invasive Species Program, the Federal Highway Administration, the U.S. Department of the Interior Fish and Wildlife Service, and the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation, has produced a training video designed to help road maintenance crews recognize and control invasive flora.

Invasive Plants: What are they and how can we pull together to win the war on weeds!
Presentation available for PowerPoint (7.5 MB) or in HTML.

plus sign Agricultural Lands
minus sign Agricultural Lands

Based on the findings of the National Agricultural Land Study of 1980-81 and the 1981 Congressional report, "Compact Cities: Energy-Saving Strategies for the Eighties," Congress passed the Farmland Protection Policy Act (FPPA) as part of the Agriculture and Food Act of 1981. Recognizing the need to protect farmland and combat urban sprawl, the FPPA intends to minimize the impact of Federal programs on the conversion of farmland to nonagricultural uses.

Under the FPPA, agricultural land includes the following:

  1. Prime - land that has the best combination of physical and chemical characteristics for producing food, feed, fiber, forage, oilseed, and other agricultural crops with minimum inputs of fuel, fertilizer, pesticides, and labor, and without intolerable soil erosion. (7U.S.C. 4201(c)(1)(A))
  2. Unique - land other than prime farmland that is used for the production of specific high-value food and fiber crops; such as, citrus, tree nuts, olives, cranberries, fruits, and vegetables (7 U.S.C. 4201 (c)(1)(B))
  3. other than prime or unique that is of statewide importance
  4. other than prime or unique that is of local importance

When a proposed project impacts agricultural land, the draft environmental analysis should:

  • summarize the results of early consultation with the Natural Resources Conservation Service and, as appropriate, State and local agriculture agencies where any of any of these four types of agricultural land could be directly or indirectly impacted by any alternative under consideration
  • contain a map showing the location of all farmlands in the project impact area
  • discuss the impacts of the various alternatives
  • identify measures to avoid or reduce the impacts