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1BACKGROUND There is compelling evidence that integrating regional-scale ecological needs early in transportation and infrastructure planning processes can achieve signifi cant ecosys- tem, economic, and societal benefi ts. Many efforts are under way across the United States that promote and use these regional-scale ecological needs as part of a more integrated and collaborative approach to transportation and infrastructure planning and project development. These efforts are demonstrating that through early collabo- ration and proactive identifi cation and response to resource needs, transportation and resource agenciesâas well as local and regional governmentsâcan more purposefully avoid and minimize impacts, restore watersheds, and recover species. Before these re- cent efforts were under way, many opportunities to avoid, minimize, and contribute to environmental priorities were missed. Regulatory decisions did not require interagency involvement; short-staffed agencies were hard pressed to fi nd time to provide input on the planning level; and a majority of transportation plans moved forward without considering ecological needs. Transportation agencies face signifi cant costs to meet environmental mitigation requirements. Over $3.3 billion is spent annually on compensatory mitigation under the Clean Water Act (CWA) and the Endangered Species Act (ESA) (Environmental Law Institute 2007). Furthermore, environmental permitting can encompass 3% to 59% of road construction costs (Louis Berger & Associates, Inc. with BSC Group 1997). While these investments are considered costs to transportation projects, they represent one of the largest sources of funding for conservation action in the United States. The potential benefi ts from a more strategic application of these funds are therefore enormous, both for conservation and for streamlining and cost reduction for transportation improvements. 1 INTRODUCTION
2MANAGERâS GUIDE TO THE INTEGRATED ECOLOGICAL FRAMEWORK Realizing the high costs and lost opportunities, a team that represented nine federal agencies produced the publication Eco-Logical: An Ecosystem Approach to Developing Infrastructure Projects (Brown 2006). The Eco-Logical approach recom- mends a collaborative, integrated, watershed or regional-scale approach to decision making during transportation and infrastructure planning, environmental review, and permitting that emphasizes using resources more effectively to enhance the environ- ment, species viability, and watershed restoration. The benefits of integrating regional-scale natural resource or conservation plan- ning and highway planning are widely recognized; but as advances in computing capacity, data, and geographic information system (GIS) modeling have made it pos- sible to facilitate better, more informed, and scientifically sound environmental plan- ning, the need for practical and technical guidance on how to effectively implement these approaches became apparent. This guidance came through a research project funded by the Transportation Research Boardâs (TRBâs) Second Strategic Highway Research Program (SHRP 2) and resulted in the Integrated Ecological Framework (IEF) (Institute for Natural Resources et al. 2012). WHAT IS THE INTEGRATED ECOLOGICAL FRAMEWORK? The Integrated Ecological Framework (IEF) is a peer-reviewed technical guide that provides a step-by-step process for implementing the Eco-Logical approach. It sup- ports transportation planners and natural resource specialists, and uses a standard- ized, science-based approach to identify ecological priorities and integrate them into transportation and infrastructure decision making. The IEF draws on well-established and innovative approaches to conservation analyses. In addition, it is informed by efforts currently under way at federal and state natural resource and transportation agencies to address known organizational, process, and policy challenges related to ac- celerating project delivery while still achieving net environmental benefits. The success of the IEF depends on transportation and natural resource agencies working together to use not only cutting-edge science, tools, and current data, but also their respective expertise in transportation and conservation analyses and implementation. The IEF is intended to primarily support mid- to long-range transportation and infrastructure planning rather than individual project assessment and design. How- ever, by proactively addressing information needs at the regional scale, the IEF sup- ports better project-level design, construction, and maintenance. IEF products lay the foundation for implementing a watershed approach to Sections 301, 303, 401, andâmost oftenâ404 of the Clean Water Act. The IEF also lays the foundation for a regional-scale approach to conservation and consultation under the Endangered Spe- cies Act, Section 7. Federal agencies have defined these approaches as Strategic Hab- itat Conservation, or landscape and watershed-based approaches. These ecosystem approaches aim to deliver the greatest benefits under existing laws and regulations supporting aquatic resource restoration, species and habitat recovery, and regional- scale resilience.
3MANAGERâS GUIDE TO THE INTEGRATED ECOLOGICAL FRAMEWORK WHAT IS THIS GUIDE? This guide was developed for managers and decision makers who want to understand what is entailed in conducting a transportation/infrastructure planning process with the appropriate stakeholders, information, and expertise to ensure the best transporta- tion/infrastructure and conservation outcomes possible. It does not provide the level of technical detail provided in the SHRP 2 C06 report, but it does include some changes to the IEF steps and substeps based on feedback the C06 project team received. All significant changes to IEF steps and substeps are documented in Chapter 5. This guide does the following: Moves the reader from what the IEF is to how to implement it, providing a high- level description of the IEF steps and technical methods used; and Discusses the practical considerations needed to accurately scope the work and assemble the technical and scientific teams and stakeholders. Because transportation and infrastructure planning and delivery can take years, each step of the IEF is described as a discrete effort with prerequisites, inputs, and outputs. It is important to understand that the IEF is meant to be flexible rather than rigid and prescriptive in its implementation since the context and resources available vary by region and state. Not every step needs to be implemented, although some steps are dependent on outputs from other steps. The steps do not need to be conducted in the order presented, and there are several approaches to carrying out each step and sub- step. However, certain characteristics are essential to the successful implementation of the IEF. The following are the core aspects of the IEF that must be in place to achieve the goals described in Eco-Logical: Conducting analyses and making decisions within a regional context; Involving stakeholders in the planning region; Clearly identifying the important resources and their conservation requirements; Using a spatially explicit and quantitative assessment approach to planning; and Bringing in all these elements very early in the planning process. WHO SHOULD USE THE GUIDE? The guide was developed for managers and decision makers interested in obtaining a basic understanding of the IEF and/or considering implementing it in their agency or organization. Ideally, a partnership among the transportation agency, resource agency, and conservation nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) who are stakeholders in the planning region should jointly review this guide to initiate IEF implementation.
4MANAGERâS GUIDE TO THE INTEGRATED ECOLOGICAL FRAMEWORK BEYOND THE GUIDE A two-volume research report and a practitionerâs guide about the IEF provide use- ful examples, sources, and tools to use for conducting each step and substep. They were published by the TRB SHRP 2 Capacity Research Program and can be found at the TRB website (http://www.trb.org/Main/Blurbs/169515.aspx, http://www.trb.org/ Main/Blurbs/166938.aspx). For an overview of how the IEF fits into the entire transportation planning process, go to the Transportation for CommunitiesâAdvancing Projects through Partnership (recently renamed PlanWorks) website (http://www.transportationforcommunities.com). If additional assistance is desired, a number of organizations can provide assistance, ranging from training to advising to conducting technical work. For more information, contact the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) Office of Project Development and Environmental Review (environment.fhwa.dot.gov/strmlng/usctac.asp; 202-366-2065).