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Transportation for Communities - Advancing Projects Through Partnerships


Applications - Integrated Planning - Natural Environment and the IEF

natural environment
The TCAPP Approach

  • Helps to better avoid and minimize impacts on natural resources through early and ongoing collaboration.
  • Can result in more predictable, streamlined, and transparent permitting.
  • Assures resource agencies that mitigation investments will be implemented and transportation agencies that mitigation investments will be counted.
  • Focuses time and money on the protection of critical natural resources.
  • Facilitates assessment of cumulative impacts.
  • Helps establish monitoring and performance measures.

Working with Resource Specialists

Transportation practitioners rely on input from natural resource specialists. More information about the interests and roles of natural resource specialists is available in the Partner Portal.

Why do transportation practitioners care about the natural environment?
Federal regulations require transportation planners to “protect and enhance the environment.” During environmental review, transportation practitioners must ensure their federally-funded projects comply with the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and other environmental laws, and are permitted by resource agencies.

How can TCAPP help transportation practitioners consider the natural environment?
TCAPP provides tools to step up the level of collaboration among transportation practitioners and natural resource specialists to:

  • Avoid impacts on priority conservation areas
  • Locate mitigation for the greatest benefit to multiple resources
  • Better achieve the goals of resource protection laws

The goal is streamlined transportation decisions with better outcomes for the natural environment.

Info Four areas of information support this integration:

  1. Natural Environment and the Decision Guide is a quick, high-level, summary of how information about the natural environment informs transportation key decisions.
  2. The Integrated Ecological Framework (IEF) is a detailed, step-by-step, technical process that guides you through the integration of transportation and ecological planning.
  3. Linking the IEF and the Decision Guide shows how data, analysis, and decisions from the IEF inform transportation key decisions.
  4. Examples from Practice show how the IEF approach has been applied.
Linking the IEF and Transportation Decision Guide
  • Decision Guide
  • Integrated Ecological Framework (IEF)
  • Examples from Practice

Natural Environment and the Decision Guide

The Decision Guide is the foundation of TCAPP. It consists of all of the key decisions in four phases of transportation decision making: long range planning, programming, corridor planning and environmental review. For each key decision TCAPP provides:

  • Purpose and outcome
  • Data inputs
  • Questions that decision makers ask
  • Connections among transportation decision making and other processes (like ecological planning)
  • Connections among the phases of transportation decision making

Info For a snapshot of natural environment inputs at each Key Decision, roll over the Decision Guide graphic below. Click on any Key Decision for detailed information. The inputs are based on a robust ecological planning process like the IEF. Key Decisions that are grayed-out have no specific inputs from the natural environment.

Dg-darkgrey-titlebar-corner-left LONG RANGE TRANSPORTATION PLANNING

LRP-1

Available data, goals, and relationships from ecological planning are gathered. Resource and transportation specialists decide to work together and determine a supporting process.

LRP-1 Approve Scope of LRTP Process
LRP-2

Goals and priorities identified in ecological planning are considered and a shared transportation and ecological vision is approved.

LRP-2 Approve Vision and Goals
LRP-3

Evaluation criteria, methods, and performance measures identified in ecological planning (including any associated with a crediting strategy) inform this key decision.

LRP-3 Approve Evaluation Criteria, Methods and Measures
LRP-4

There are no specific natural environment inputs to this key decision.

LRP-4 Approve Transportation Deficiencies
LRP-5

Funding strategies and mitigation costs identified through ecological planning inform this key decision.

LRP-5 Approve Financial Assumptions
LRP-6

Transportation strategies that would impact priority areas for conservation and restoration identified through ecological planning are avoided.

LRP-6 Approve Strategies
LRP-7

Transportation plan scenarios and ecological data are mapped together to identify potential impacts and opportunities for joint action on conservation and restoration priorities.

LRP-7 Approve Plan Scenarios
LRP-8

A preferred scenario from an ecological perspective is considered. Analysis and information about potential direct and cumulative effects and mitigation needs inform the adoption of a preferred scenario.

LRP-8 Adopt Preferred Plan Scenario
LRP-9

There are no specific natural environment inputs to this key decision.

LRP-9 Adopt Finding of Conformity by MPO
LRP-10

A joint decision is made about a conservation and mitigation strategy for the preferred scenario. Agreements are put in place.

LRP-10 Adopt LRTP by MPO
LRP-11

There are no specific natural environment inputs to this key decision.

LRP-11 Approve Conformity Analysis

Dg-darkgrey-titlebar-corner-left PROGRAMMING

PRO-1

Consider how identified revenue sources may support advance mitigation.

PRO-1 Approve Revenue Sources
PRO-2

Ecological planning can provide information about the cost and value of mitigation and conservation.

PRO-2 Approve Methodology for Identifying Project Costs and Criteria for Allocating Revenue
PRO-3

There are no specific natural environment inputs to this key decision.

PRO-3 Approve Project List Drawn from Adopted Plan Scenario or Solution Set
PRO-4

Prioritized mitigation projects from ecological planning inform this key decision.

PRO-4 Approve Project Prioritization
PRO-5

There are no specific natural environment inputs to this key decision.

PRO-5 Reach Consensus on Draft TIP
PRO-6

The adopted TIP informs the ecological plan.

PRO-6 Adopt TIP by MPO
PRO-7

There are no specific natural environment inputs to this key decision.

PRO-7 Approve TIP by Governor and Incorporate into Draft STIP
PRO-8

There are no specific natural environment inputs to this key decision.

PRO-8 Reach Consensus on Draft STIP
PRO-9

There are no specific natural environment inputs to this key decision.

PRO-9 Approve STIP with respect to Conformity and Fiscal Constraint

Dg-darkgrey-titlebar-corner-left CORRIDOR PLANNING

COR-1

Available data, goals, and relationships from ecological planning are gathered. Resource and transportation specialists decide to work together and determine a supporting process.

COR-1 Approve Scope of Corridor Planning Process
COR-2

Relevant opportunities to enhance the natural environment in the corridor identified through ecological planning inform this key decision.

COR-2 Approve Problem Statements and Opportunities
COR-3

Goals and priorities identified in ecological planning are considered and a shared transportation and ecological vision is approved.

COR-3 Approve Goals for the Corridor
COR-4

Determine the availability of data from the ecological plan to support the scope of environmental review and analysis.

COR-4 Reach Consensus on Scope of Environmental Review and Analysis
COR-5

Evaluation criteria, methods, and performance measures identified in ecological planning (including any associated with a crediting strategy) inform this key decision.

COR-5 Approve Evaluation Criteria, Methods and Measures
COR-6

Use the priority areas for conservation and restoration identified through ecological planning to avoid transportation solution sets that would impact these areas.

COR-6 Approve Range of Solution Sets
COR-7

A preferred solution set from an ecological perspective is considered. Analysis and information about potential direct and cumulative effects and mitigation needs inform the adoption of a preferred solution set. A joint decision is made about a conservation and mitigation strategy for the preferred solution set.

COR-7 Adopt Preferred Solution Set
COR-8

Use evaluation criteria, methodology, and performance measures from ecological planning to prioritize transportation and ecological actions in support of the preferred solution set.

COR-8 Approve Evaluation Criteria, Methods and Measures for Prioritization of Projects
COR-9

Prioritized ecological actions inform this key decision. Agreements are put in place.

COR-9 Adopt Priorities for Implementation

Dg-darkgrey-titlebar-corner-left ENVIRONMENTAL REVIEW/NEPA MERGED WITH PERMITTING

ENV-1

Available data, goals, and relationships from ecological planning are gathered. Resource and transportation specialists work together and determine a supporting process and/or decide to implement earlier agreements.

ENV-1 Reach Consensus on Scope of Environmental Review
ENV-2

There are no specific natural environment inputs to this key decision. Resource agencies receive the Notice of Intent.

ENV-2 Approve Notice of Intent
ENV-3

Ecological goals and priorities are analyzed to inform a compatible and/or complementary project purpose and need.

ENV-3 Approve Purpose and Need/Reach Consensus on Project Purpose
ENV-4

The ecological planning region informs the study area for environmental review.

ENV-4 Reach Consensus on Study Area
ENV-5

Evaluation criteria, methods, and performance measures identified in ecological planning (including any associated with a crediting strategy) inform this key decision.

ENV-5 Approve Evaluation Criteria, Methods and Measures
ENV-6

Use the priority areas for conservation and restoration identified through ecological planning to avoid transportation strategies that would impact these areas.

ENV-6 Approve Full Range of Alternatives
ENV-7

Through joint analysis, the amount and relative degree of potential impacts of alternatives in relation to resource conservation priorities are determined.

ENV-7 Approve Alternatives to be Carried Forward
ENV-8

Ecological impacts and mitigation needs for alternatives carried forward for detailed study are determined. Any advance mitigation strategies implemented according to early agreements are validated.

ENV-8 Approve Draft EIS with Conceptual Mitigation
ENV-9

There are no specific natural environment inputs to this key decision. The public notice is issued by permitting agencies.

ENV-9 Approve Resource Agency Public Notice
ENV-10

There are no specific natural environment inputs to this key decision.

ENV-10 Approve Preferred Alternative/
LEDPA
ENV-11

The final jurisdictional determination is used to update ecological plans.

ENV-11 Approve Final Jurisdictional Determination
ENV-12

Determine avoidance and minimization measures that are consistent with the conservation priorities identified in the ecological plan.

ENV-12 Reach Consensus on Avoidance and Minimization for the LEDPA
ENV-13

There are no specific natural environment inputs to this key decision.

ENV-13 Approve Final EIS
ENV-14

Update the ecological plan and ensure any early agreements are reflected in special conditions.

ENV-14 Approve the Record of Decision
ENV-15

Update the ecological plan and ensure any early agreements are reflected in permit conditions.

ENV-15 Render Permit Decision and Approve Avoidance and Minimization
 
More about the Integrated Ecological Framework

The IEF is a step-by-step, peer-reviewed, and science-based process that guides transportation and resource specialists in the integration of transportation and ecological decision making.

The IEF responds to two critical needs:

  • Identify potential impacts on regulated resources very early in the planning process so they can be avoided or minimized.
  • Assure that any mitigation that must occur will provide effective, measurable, and high-quality environmental outcomes.

The IEF process addresses key questions:

  • What areas and resources will be directly impacted by transportation?
  • What are the cumulative impacts on those resources?
  • What areas could be used for mitigation? Which areas would maximize benefits for multiple resources?
  • Can anticipated long-range mitigation needs for a region be combined to maximize ecological benefits instead of project-by-project mitigation?

Info The nine steps in the IEF are depicted below. Hover over each step to discover its purpose. Click on a step to access detailed information about implementation, including: anticipated outcomes; sub-steps; technical guidance; and supporting tools, decision-making questions, data and case studies.

INTEGRATED ECOLOGICAL FRAMEWORK
Step 1 Step 1

Build and Strengthen Collaborative Partnerships and Vision

Build a vision of what is most needed for natural resources in the region.

Step 2 Step 2

Characterize Resource Status and Integrate Natural Environment Plans

Develop an overall conservation/restoration strategy that integrates conservation/restoration priorities, data, and plans.

Step 3 Step 3

Create Regional Ecosystem Framework (Conservation Strategy + Transportation Plan)

Integrate the conservation and restoration strategy with transportation and land use data and plans to create the Regional Ecosystem Framework (REF).

Step 4 Step 4

Assess Effects on Conservation Objectives

Identify preferred alternatives that meet both transportation and conservation goals using the regional ecosystem framework.

Step 5 Step 5

Establish and Prioritize Ecological Actions

Establish mitigation and conservation priorities and rank action opportunities.

Step 6 Step 6

Develop Crediting Strategy

Develop a consistent strategy and metrics to measure ecological impacts, restoration benefits, and long-term performance.

Step 7 Step 7

Develop Programmatic Consultation, Biological Opinion or Permit

Develop memoranda of understanding, agreements, programmatic 404 permits or ESA Section 7 consultations for transportation projects.

Step 8 Step 8

Implement Agreements, Adaptive Management and Deliver Projects

Design transportation projects in accordance with ecological objectives and goals, incorporating as appropriate the programmatic agreements, performance measures and ecological metrics to improve project outcomes.

Step 9 Step 9

Update Regional Ecosystem Framework and Plan

Update the effects assessment to determine if resource goal achievement is still on track.

The IEF represents the technical process of integrating transportation and ecological planning. IEF steps and key decisions are linked through the two-way flow of data, analysis, and decisions.

Ideally, the IEF process is conducted in conjunction with long range planning. However, it is possible to begin at any key decision and use the IEF to support better environmental and transportation decision making.

natural environment instructions

A printable summary, Linking the IEF and Transportation Decision Guide, is available in the TCAPP Library.

Examples from Practice

IEF Success Stories

Comparing three test applications of the IEF process to actual practice showed that:

  • The IEF process results were similar to actual practice for the identification and mitigation of direct ecological impacts in all three tests
  • The IEF process results were better than actual practice for the identification and mitigation of cumulative ecological impacts
  • The IEF process was efficient and resulted in early information about ecological resources and impacts

The IEF process was initially tested in three pilot programs. Examples from those pilots are summarized on this page. See An Ecological Approach to Integrating Conservation and Highway Planning Volume 2 for details. Additional Eco-Logical Successes are summarized on FHWA’s website.

Info Click on the arrows below for detailed information about each example.
  [Expand all Details]

  • arrow down image

    Colorado Pilot Project: South I-25 Corridor

    • Steps 1-5 of the IEF process were used to identify priority natural resource areas, avoid impacts, and select mitigation for the South I-25 Corridor in the Denver, Colorado area. An EIS for the South I-25 Corridor had been completed and results were compared to the pilot approach. The IEF approach promoted a more accurate assessment of cumulative impacts by including spatially explicit analyses using data not included in the original assessment, and by defining a larger, ecologically based assessment area.

    • Step 1: Build & Strengthen Collaborative Partnerships and Vision

    • Pilot efforts were focused on Step 1a – identify a preliminary planning region. The pilot project is within the Denver Regional Council of Governments (DRCOG) planning area. The DRCOG spans two very different eco-regions: the forested, mountainous areas of the Southern Rockies and the remaining fragments of the Shortgrass Prairie. The boundary used for the analysis was the Shortgrass Prairie portion of the DRCOG area.

    • Step 2: Characterize Resource Status and Integrate Natural Resource Plans

    • Existing sources provided spatial data representing baseline conditions. Data from DRCOG captured changes in transportation, urban growth, and other planned infrastructure at a landscape scale. Natural resources data included key wildlife areas, natural heritage occurrences, priority conservation areas, wildlife corridors and highway crossing areas, and wetlands. NatureServe Vista was used to combine all layers representing land use into three broad categories: species occurrences, natural communities, and priority conservation areas.

    • Step 3: Create Regional Ecosystem Framework

    • To spatially represent the source, type, and magnitude of current and anticipated transportation impacts, pre-construction and post-construction scenarios were identified. NatureServe Vista was used to compare resources in both scenarios and view the results against predetermined resource retention goals.

    • Step 4: Assess Effects on Conservation Objectives

    • The scenario evaluation produced a report and several visualization layers. The report summarizes the performance of each scenario in terms of the number of acres and percentage of resources that met conservation goals. The raster layers identified locations where natural resources intersect with potentially harmful land uses. The tool identified the expected direct impacts of the South I-25 Corridor and the cumulative impacts of the corridor project when combined with other infrastructure projects and anticipated land use changes.

    • Step 5: Establish & Prioritize Ecological Actions

    • NatureServe Vista's Site Explorer was used to examine the effects of alternative land uses and policies on a site or set of sites. It provides an inventory of natural resources, the number and percentage of compatible occurrences, and the achievement of resource retention goals, with which transportation planners can develop multiple alternate off-site mitigation scenarios that meet goals and can be shared with stakeholders and decision makers.

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    Oregon Pilot Project: US 20 Pioneer Mountain to Eddyville

    • Steps 1–6 of the IEF process were used to identify priority natural resource areas, avoid impacts, and select mitigation for improvements to a section of US 20 between Pioneer Mountain and Eddyville in Oregon. An EIS for the US 20 project had been completed and results were compared to the pilot approach. The IEF process recommended mitigation in larger priority-wetland areas in the watershed that would provide opportunities to create or enhance salmon habitat.

    • Step 1: Build & Strengthen Collaborative Partnerships and Vision

    • Pilot efforts were focused on Step 1a – identify a preliminary planning region. The project is in the Oregon Coast Range within the Yaquina River watershed. The relatively small Yaquina watershed was selected for analysis, allowing for a focused look at species, habitats, and impacts.

    • Step 2: Characterize Resource Status and Integrate Natural Resource Plans

    • The ecological resources to be considered in the analysis were "adopted" from analyses available from the Oregon Biodiversity Information Center. This included data for at-risk species, habitats, and vegetation and from two regional assessments and one watershed assessment. Salmon are the only federally listed aquatic species present in the site and managed by NOAA Fisheries. NOAA provided Internal models of fish habitat presence and importance.

    • Steps 3 and 4: Create Regional Ecosystem Framework and Assess Effects on Conservation Objectives

    • ArcGIS and the Envision DSS tools were used to create the REF and assess effects. Because the ecological targets within the transportation project area were limited, the focus of the analysis was on the changes in the particular species and habitats, based on the project area footprint.

      The conservation assessment identified two significant habitats in the region affected by the project: coastal Sitka spruce forest and dry Douglas-fir forest. Moving the highway out of the Yaquina River watershed into young upland forest that had recently been clear-cut achieved as much conservation benefit as would be possible by a highway project in the basin.

    • Step 5: Establish & Prioritize Ecological Actions

    • The pilot revealed that the onsite wetlands proposed as mitigation in the project EIS were not high-priority wetlands. Using the data and methods of this project, three high-priority wetland sites in the basin were identified as suitable mitigation, based on their size and overall importance to the at-risk fish in the watershed.

    • Step 6: Develop Crediting Strategy

    • Existing tools were used to evaluate the potential credits from two of the three potential mitigation sites. Pilot staff determined that the lands already in conservation ownership had little priority for restoration, while the private lands in these sites had significant potential, and would easily meet project mitigation needs. The crediting analysis included analysis of regulated resource crediting, analysis of credit markets, and recommendations based on future needs

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    Michigan Pilot Project: US 131 Corridor

    • The goals of this pilot were to evaluate the efficacy of the IEF when applied to an alternative corridor assessment; evaluate NatureServe Vista's efficacy for building an REF without a spatially based local, regional, or statewide conservation plan in place; and evaluate the efficacy of utilizing several wetland datasets for mitigation. The IEF approach was compared to a 1997 corridor analysis for US 131. The IEF process indicated a different alternative that had fewer impacts and would have reduced mitigation requirements. The IEF's use of more detailed ecological data and a decision support tool that allowed for a very precise and quantitative impact assessment for each resource made the difference.

    • Step 1: Build & Strengthen Collaborative Partnerships and Vision

    • Pilot efforts were focused on Step 1a – identify a preliminary planning region. The US 131 Corridor is within the St. Joseph River watershed. A watershed approach was already being used to develop a wetland functional assessment database and was therefore adopted to define the planning region for this study.

    • Step 2: Characterize Resource Status and Integrate Natural Resource Plans

    • Spatial data used to identify conservation priorities in the region comprised federal and state listed species, rare and/or exemplary natural communities, large contiguous natural landscapes, potential high quality natural vegetation patches, potential unique or high quality lakes, potential unique or high quality stream segments, and existing wetland functions.

      All data layers were imported into Vista as individual conservation elements in a simple overlay without weights. The results showed that conservation values differ significantly from place to place within the pilot region, and that the majority of natural resources are highly fragmented and scattered across the landscape.

    • Step 3: Create Regional Ecosystem Framework

    • The 1997 corridor study of five alternatives was used as the transportation plan to determine which alternative corridor would have the least impact on the region's natural resources. The five 1-mile wide corridors analyzed were incorporated into Vista as five different scenarios.

    • Step 4: Assess Effects on Conservation Objectives

    • Each corridor was evaluated to measure its impact on each of the resource types. The GIS analysis showed that Corridors A and B would have the least negative impact on the priority conservation areas in the pilot region, but Corridor B performed slightly better overall. Yet Corridor A had been chosen in the original corridor study. The Vista tool and the accompanying natural resource data allowed relatively quick analysis. If these had been available for the original US 131 corridor study, environmental concerns may have been addressed more easily and earlier in the decision making process.

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