Environmental Review Toolkit
Accelerating Project Delivery

Successes in Stewardship
Monthly Newsletter
September 2003

Bankable Solutions for Habitat and Species Conservation

The endangered Indiana bat
The endangered Indiana bat (Myotis sodali) will be protected thanks to a habitat conservation plan developed by Indiana DOT and its partner agencies. FHWA encourages state DOTs to be responsible stewards of the environment, demonstrating mindfulness of the natural and human environment while meeting the mobility and safety needs of the public. Cooperative partnering with local, state, and national organizations to promote broad strategies such as conservation banking to conserve habitat and ecosystems is a key step to successful stewardship. (FHWA IN Division image)

Conservation Banking: A Comprehensive Approach Protects Ecosystems While Accelerating Project Development

Bringing in a construction project on schedule and at cost while protecting the environment is a challenging feat. Specific requirements to mitigate the project's impacts on endangered species can add further levels of complexity. Now an innovative approach to species conservation is helping transportation agencies to simplify project development and implementation while providing more meaningful environmental benefits. "Conservation banking" broadens the traditional perspective of species protection, expanding it from project-site specific to the level of habitat or ecosystem. Conservation banks are large areas of land purchased and managed in perpetuity to provide and protect habitats for endangered or threatened species that may be adversely affected elsewhere. In return for contributing financially to a conservation bank, a transportation agency can acquire mitigation credits to offset the impacts of other projects. The first state to authorize the use of conservation banks was California, which issued formal policy guidance in 1995. Since then, several other states have adopted the practice. In May 2003, the U.S. Department of the Interior issued the first comprehensive Federal guidelines to promote the use of conservation banks.

Benefits of Conservation Banking

  • Reduces costs by mitigating project impacts through flexible, regional approaches rather than isolated, site-specific mitigation plans.
  • Provides more environmental value through large conservation easements and wildlife corridors between protected habitats.
  • Fosters predictability in conservation implementation and project development.
  • Protects resources with the greatest need as well as the greatest potential for recovery.
  • Demonstrates environmental commitment and environmental stewardship to resource and regulatory agencies, conservation organizations, and the public.

Larger and more sustainable than small, isolated mitigation measures traditionally undertaken at a project site, conservation banks provide more environmental benefits at less cost. They sometimes protect combinations of different habitat types and species or provide critical wildlife corridors to adjacent areas. Moreover, this comprehensive approach can streamline the environmental permitting and review processes. Using conservation banking, a transportation agency can work with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) to conduct Endangered Species Act Section 7 consultation on a programmatic basis, rather than by project. Project development is accelerated and construction delays are minimized.

FHWA's Vital Few Environmental Streamlining and Stewardship Goal sets expectations, measures, and methods for demonstrating environmental stewardship through activities such as conservation banking. FHWA encourages state departments of transportation (DOTs) and other transportation agencies to take opportunities that enhance environmental protection and to participate in partnerships that promote ecosystem conservation or broader, corridor-based or watershed-based mitigation strategies. To support this goal, FHWA is committed to developing a minimum of 30 exemplary ecosystem initiatives in at least 20 states or Federal Lands Highway Divisions by 2007. An ecosystem is a geographic area encompassing all living organisms (including humans) and their physical surroundings. Accordingly, ecosystem conservation provides benefits beyond the preservation of an individual species.

Partnering to Implement Conservation Banks

Many state DOTs are working with Federal, state, and local resource agencies, conservation organizations, and other partners in implementing conservation banks to preserve and maintain local and regional species populations and ecosystems. Examples are described below.

Alabama's Protection of the Gopher Tortoise

In January 2003, the Alabama DOT (ALDOT), the FHWA Alabama Division, and FWS finalized a plan to protect habitat for the threatened gopher tortoise in southwest Alabama. Gopher tortoise habitat is impacted by a number of proposed highway projects and encroaching development. Rather than working on a project-by-project basis, ALDOT acquired more than 600 acres for a gopher tortoise conservation bank. Conservation banking will allow ALDOT to protect the large and viable habitat needed to support a thriving gopher tortoise population. FWS has reviewed and approved the site, and ALDOT, FHWA, and FWS have begun to implement a plan to enhance the area as a long leaf pine habitat. In addition, the three agencies have developed maintenance procedures and criteria for capturing, testing, releasing, and monitoring the species.

Collaborating on a Wildlife Habitat Handbook

Although interagency coordination is necessary to successful environmental stewardship, the missions of individual agencies are sometimes at odds. To help solve this problem, an interagency team is developing a shared vision for maintaining the nation's wildlife resources while meeting each agency's unique mission. In October 2002, the team began drafting a Wildlife and Fisheries Policies and Practices Handbook. Participating agencies are learning to understand each other's roles, responsibilities, and processes; share information and data; and establish wildlife-related priorities. The team includes FHWA, FWS, the Bureau of Land Management, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the U.S. Forest Service, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the National Marine Fisheries Service, several state DOTs, and several state fish and wildlife agencies. A completed handbook is expected in 2004.

California's Multiple Project Conservation for Species of Concern

FHWA, the California DOT (Caltrans), and several local transportation agencies are planning five interchange improvements on Interstate 10. These improvements will impact sand dune habitat that houses two listed species of concern — the Coachella Valley fringe-toed lizard and milk vetch. Rather than develop discrete conservation measures for each project, the participating agencies have developed a mitigation strategy for the five interchange projects that will be carried out as each project goes through the environmental process. As a result, the FWS will issue a Programmatic Biological Opinion for the five interchange projects, which will expedite project delivery. Participating agencies are preparing a draft cooperative agreement and will begin acquiring land from willing sellers as soon as each project completes its environmental document. Approximately 1,800 acres will be conserved for the five projects.

Colorado's Programmatic Ecosystem Approach

In November 2002, the Colorado DOT (CDOT), FHWA, and FWS began implementing a programmatic ecosystem approach to streamline Section 7 consultation for transportation projects that may impact the Preble's meadow jumping mouse. The jumping mouse was listed as a threatened species in 1998 due to habitat degradation caused by development and impacts from transportation projects. Since 2001, CDOT has built nine check dams to restore a degraded riparian ecosystem in conjunction with several transportation projects near East Plum Creek. This area is part of the Front Range of the Southern Rockies, where the jumping mouse is known to exist within Colorado. The check dams raised the water table enough to maintain the riparian vegetation necessary for quality jumping mouse habitat. In addition, CDOT and FHWA restored nearly one mile of East Plum Creek as part of a bridge construction project. Today, this restored habitat is part of a Preble's meadow jumping mouse habitat conservation bank. In return for its mitigation work, CDOT received credits for future projects to occur in a defined service area.

Indiana's Habitat Conservation Plan for the Indiana Bat

In April 2002, the Indiana DOT, the FHWA Indiana Division, and four local government agencies finalized a habitat conservation plan (HCP) for the endangered Indiana bat as part of the improvement of transportation facilities around Indianapolis International Airport. These highway improvements will occur in an area of known Indiana bat habitat that is predicted to experience nearly $1.5 billion in economic development during the next ten years. Under the HCP, approximately 3,600 acres will be protected, including 373 acres of existing bat habitat. In addition, approximately 346 acres of hardwood seedlings will be planted for new habitat, and an outreach program and 15-year monitoring program will be developed.

Contact Information

Marlys Osterhues
FHWA Office of Project Development and Environmental Review
400 7th Street SW, Room 3222
Washington, DC 20590
Phone: (202) 366-2052
Fax: (202) 366-7660
Email: Marlys.Osterhues@fhwa.dot.gov

Look What's New!

  • National Transit Institute course "Linking Planning and NEPA: Towards Streamlined Decisionmaking." Executive Seminar pilot held July 2003. Technical Course to be piloted in late Summer 2003. For more information, contact Sean Libberton at the Federal Transit Administration at (202) 366-5112 or John Humeston at FHWA at (404) 562-3667.

"Successes in Stewardship" is a Federal Highway Administration newsletter highlighting current environmental streamlining practices from around the country. To subscribe, call (617) 494-6352 or email esnewsletter@volpe.dot.gov.

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