Best Practices for Environmental Planning and Mitigation in Changing Landscapes
Environmental Considerations in Planning
Research Idea Scope
Transportation professionals, including planners and engineers, desire to avoid conflicts and reduce mitigation costs, thereby increasing the reliability and predictability of transportation design processes. Further, SAFETEA-LU requires involvement of participating agencies and partners to help improve and streamline the environmental process for transportation projects. While much has been done to address large mammal and carnivore mitigation and passage, thus helping to streamline environmental processes when these animals are present, this is less true with smaller animals, and particularly for aquatic or semi-aquatic animals. Best practices for design and mitigation to improve driver safety as well as to avoid wildlife conflict, especially in instances where roads are adjacent to or bisecting aquatic habitats, are sorely needed. Given new dimensions and environmental threats such as climate change, transportation agencies must have the tools to avoid, rather than to inadvertently contribute toward potential future regulation (e.g., Endangered Species Act) due to increased rarity of species, as wildlife moves to newer, more suitable habitats.
To address these needs, we have begun to develop a handbook describing and recommending best practices for small animals, using an ecosystem perspective to demonstrate considerations when land-to-land, land-to-water, or water-to-water passage, mitigation, retro-fitting, or other enhancement is concerned. In turn, this ecosystem perspective allows the reader to understand needs relative to adaptation to climate change or other rapid landscape-level changes. This handbook will encompass the suite of both direct and indirect effects of roads on small animals with attention to minimizing costs and conflicts while maximizing connectivity and natural ecological functions.The handbook has been approved for publication by The Wildlife Society as part of their Series through Johns Hopkins University Press. We propose to complete the handbook manuscript for publication, as a single-source, non-competitive contract specifically to ensure that it contains state-of-the-art, best practices for small animals, including very specific construction documents, diagrams, and other user-friendly guidance as well as case studies and lessons learned. This resource manual will provide the tools to facilitate improved (adaptive) approaches for instances where new targeted objectives are specified, as well as when a need arises to enhance an existing approach.
Urgency and Payoff
Small animals are generally less seen by the public at large, including on America’s roadways. This means that not only are they more vulnerable to being struck on the road, it is also less apparent when they are declining in populations. More and more, small animals are being studied by the scientific and wildlife management community, and more and more of these animals are being determined to be at risk due to habitat fragmentation (i.e., prevention of movement/greater isolation) as well as due to climate change. Thus, concepts and considerations of “safety” for these animals go beyond roadkill impacts and can mean ensuring population and metapopulation health. Therefore, best practices to address these animals can ensure that transportation agencies and practitioners are proactively avoiding conflict, and hence minimizing potential future regulatory constraints through the Endangered Species Act or National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).
Overall, this handbook can provide a framework for long-term sustainability of transportation projects. This handbook offers summary descriptions of: practical planning and design guidance, including operational and project delivery performance measures; the opportunities to minimize regulatory burdens and costs; the relationship of these ideas with the maximization of animal connectivity even with new or expanded human corridor (transportation) needs; and will address emerging issues, such as climate change, energy development, and related considerations. Integrating wildlife information as performance measures promises to be a better way to integrate wildlife biology into infrastructure planning, design and delivery (environmental analysis and decision support).
Priya Nanjappa, MS and Kimberly M. Andrews, PhD, Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies and University of Georgia