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Wildlife & Ecosystems

Recent Developments

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Listed below are recent developments pertinent to wildlife and ecosystems from the past six months.  If you would like to suggest a recent development on this topic, please submit a short description to AASHTO (including any pertinent links) on the Share Info with AASHTO form.

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Endangered Species Listing, Protection, Consultation Changes Proposed

The Fish and Wildlife Service and National Marine Fisheries Service have jointly proposed to revise several requirements for federal agencies under the Endangered Species Act. The proposed changes are grouped into three rules—one on listing and critical habitat, one on interagency consultations, and one on protections applied to threatened species rather than those in the more serious category of endangered species. The proposal would address the need for interagency consultations on the effects on “global processes” and remove the “blanket” Section 4(d) Rule. The proposal also would attempt to redefine what constitutes “adverse modification” of critical habitat and better define the scope of what must be considered in determining the impacts of any given action. For more information, link to the FWS announcement. (7-19-18)

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Report Analyzes Traffic Noise, Light Impacts on Wildlife Crossings

The National Center for Sustainable Transportation has issued a study regarding the impacts of noise and light on wildlife use of crossings under or over highways. Data on overnight road traffic noise along four California highways was used in addition to wildlife crossing structure historical data for 20 days during the summers of 2012, 2015, and 2016. Results suggest that wildlife use of crossing structures could be disrupted by traffic, especially for disturbance-sensitive species. The report also finds that the richness of sensitive species is negatively correlated with maximum noise. The report recommends that crossing structures in areas of predicted or likely wildlife presence should be protected from traffic noise and light. For more information, link to the report. (6-25-18)

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FWS Downlists Cactus Species, Cites Partnership with TxDOT

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has downlisted a species of cactus native to Texas from endangered to threatened status, thanks in part to a partnership with organizations and agencies including the Texas Department of Transportation. The Tobusch fishhook cactus, a small cactus with curved spines, is known to exist only on the Edwards Plateau of west-central Texas. FWS said the number of known plants has increased from fewer than 200 in 1979, to 3,300 in 2018, thanks in part to TxDOT’s efforts to monitor the species on highway rights-of-way. The agency also credited efforts from agencies including the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, Texas Land Conservancy, Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, The Nature Conservancy, and private landowners in the state. For more information, link to the announcement and the final rule. (5-15-18)

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FHWA Newsletter Focuses on Conservation for Northern Long-Eared, Indiana Bats

The revised conservation strategy for the Indiana bat and northern long-eared bat is addressed in the Federal Highway Administration’s (FHWA) new issue of its Successes in Stewardship newsletter. The revised biological opinion is based on feedback from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the FHWA to address user needs and clarify the scope of the programmatic consultation process as it affects transportation project delivery. Updates to the Information for Planning and Consultation Assisted Determination Key online consultation tool are also included. In addition, a rangewide In-Lieu Fee Program Instrument was established as a compensatory mitigation option for projects that are likely to adversely affect Indiana bats. For more information, link to the newsletter. (March 2018)

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Endangered Species Consultation Process Highlighted in FHWA Newsletter

The consultation process established under the Endangered Species Act is addressed in the October issue of Federal Highway Administration’s (FHWA) Successes in Stewardship newsletter. The process is used to ensure that any projects carried out will not jeopardize species or impact critical habitat by requiring collaboration between various agencies. The newsletter highlights the importance of communication and timing for ensuring that all relevant parties are involved and that projects are not delayed. The newsletter also addresses each step of the process which includes identifying the action area and requesting a species list; assessing whether the action will affect resources from the species list; understanding potential adverse effects of the project; and formal consultation with the National Marine Fisheries Service and the Fish and Wildlife Service. For more information, link to the newsletter. (October 2017)

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Study Evaluates Legal Requirements for DOT Participation in Conservation Plans

The National Cooperative Highway Research Program has issued a legal digest report describing legal requirements for state transportation agencies’ participation in conservation plans. The report describes habitat conservation plans (HCPs) and their relation to wetland mitigation banking, regional planning, and the National Environmental Policy Act. The digest covers mechanisms used in several states to set up, monitor, and maintain HCPs on private or public property through endowment funds and the use of conservation easements. It also includes recent updates to related federal regulations and policies. For more information, link to the digest. (10-2-17)

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NYSDOT Installs Critter Shelf For Safe Wildlife Passage

The New York State Department of Transportation and the Nature Conservancy have installed an under-road platform for wildlife in the Black River Valley to facilitate safe passage for animals to and from the forests of the Adirondacks. The 138 foot “critter shelf,” attached to one side of a corrugated steel culvert with brackets and cables, was placed above the water to provide dry passage for bobcats or other wildlife to cross under a busy road. The shelf is a low cost alternative to creating a wildlife overpass and was developed and successfully tested in Montana, helping to prevent populations from being isolated by highways. For more information, link to the announcement. (9-21-17)

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Arizona DOT Assesses Need for Wildlife Crossings on State Route 260

The Arizona Department of Transportation has issued a report on an assessment of the need for elk and deer crossings along a rural highway east of Phoenix. The report, Wildlife-Vehicle Collision Mitigation on State Route 260: Mogollon Rim to Show Low, provides details on the information collected and evaluated to determine ways in which ADOT could reduce the number of wildlife-vehicle collisions. The report is a joint research project conducted by ADOT and the Arizona Game and Fish Department. For more information link to the report. (August 2017)

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Minnesota Equips Mowers with Automated Vehicle Location Systems

The Minnesota Department of Transportation has released a report regarding its pilot project to equip mowers in the Metro District with automated vehicle location (AVL) systems. AVL systems provide real-time data on vehicle location, road surface conditions, vehicle position and temperature readings to enhance performance. The project required installation of AVL systems installed in 2015 and 2016, with goals of developing a software interface with refined data outputs; enabling data exchange with MnDOT servers for analysis; and creating completion reports to summarize the operator’s accomplishments. The report indicates that more trials are needed to understand how AVL systems will help reduce weeds on roadways. For more information, link to the report. (5-22-17)

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Maine DOT’s Atlantic Salmon Programmatic Featured in FHWA Newsletter

The Maine Department of Transportation’s programmatic consultation for the Atlantic Salmon is featured in the May issue of the Federal Highway Administration’s Successes in Stewardship newsletter. The article describes the programmatic biological assessment (BA) developed through a collaborative effort between the Federal Highway Administration, Maine DOT, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and Maine Turnpike Authority, and the subsequent programmatic biological opinion (PBO) issued by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The consultation has reduced approval time for projects by 75 percent and will allow informal consultations to be completed in two weeks and formal consultations in one month. For more information, link to the May issue of the Successes in Stewardship newsletter. (5-10-17)

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Comment Period Reopened on Proposal to Clarify Review Process for Critical Habitat Designations

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Marine Fisheries Service have announced the reopening of the comment period for an Aug. 24, 2012, proposed rule that would clarify and simplify requirements for impact analyses conducted for critical habitat designations under the Endangered Species Act. Comments now are due Feb. 6, 2013. For more information, link to the FWS Improving ESA Implementation webpage and to the Federal Register notice. (11-8-12)

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Featured Case Study

  • Case Study Photo

    Iowa DOT undertakes a massive project to move endangered mussels, protecting them from the I-74 bridge construction.

    Read Case Study >Photo: Iowa DOT

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