Incorporating Ecological Resources into Long-range Transportation Planning
Environmental Considerations in Planning
Research Idea Scope
Environmental conflicts encountered in transportation related projects are too often discovered well into the planning process when funds are identified and committed and preliminary engineering work is underway. At this point, the ability to alter the project in a substantial way and to consider a broad suite of ecological concerns becomes limited. Having specific information concerning rare species, unique natural communities, forest resources, aquatic resources and wildlife habitat available and formatted for planning applications would greatly benefit transportation planning at state, regional and local levels. Unfortunately, there is no comprehensive, state-wide, up-to-date source of ecological information designed for this purpose. The Pennsylvania Natural Heritage Program has several efforts underway to better represent and synthesize primary ecological information for planning purposes. Beginning with high priority species of special concern in Pennsylvania, we are developing ecological based, spatial representations of each occurrence of these species in the state. We will do the same for unique natural communities. Known as Conservation Planning Polygons (CPPs), these polygons are derived from the habitat needs of individual species and groups of species as defined by current research and professional biological interpretation. We are also undertaking a project that will identify other important ecological resources, including those as represented in the Pennsylvania State Wildlife Action Plan, and the conservation priorities related to those resources. Referred to as Conservation Opportunity Areas (COAs), these areas together with CPPs will represent a comprehensive set of conservation information for Pennsylvania. With limited funding, we have been able to process approximately one third of the records contained in the state environmental review database (PNDI). We are seeking funding to expedite the process that we have begun and to create a conservation planning dataset that will include CPPs and COAs and other important ecological resources. This information will be available for a variety of land use and transportation planning needs and will increase the efficiency of planning as well as improve the conservation outcome of completed projects.
Urgency and Payoff
This work will increase the transparency of the transportation planning and environmental review process by providing more accurate and consistent representation of important ecological resources. It will provide site-based information to state agencies carrying out the environmental review process and to transportation agencies and planning entities engaged in planning for projects. When complete, the datasets and maps will stand as the most comprehensive information sources on rare species and exemplary ecological resources in the commonwealth. Greater efficiency in planning and the consequent cost savings should be quite substantial.
Jeffrey Wagner, Natural Heritage Program, Western Pennsylvania Conservancy