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27 ECOSYSTEM-BASED MITIGATION APPROACHES The IEF promotes the use of mitigation approaches that are more successful in sup- porting environmental needs, and in the long term reduces impacts andâpotentiallyâ the number of environmental permits needed. The following are just a few reasons why using a broader-scale, ecosystem-based approach to selecting mitigation sites can improve the site selection process and reduce expenses. â¢ Compensatory mitigation sites located in close proximity to conservation or pro- tected lands can contribute to a created, enhanced, or restored wetlandâs success in compensating for losses by increasing its connectivity, size, and overall contribu- tions to wetland functions in that watershed (Kramer and Carpenedo 2009). â¢ Compensatory mitigation approaches that use information about biophysical sys- tems and consider multiple resources to evaluate the site are most likely to yield the highest number of ecologically valuable outputs (Cambridge Systematics 2011). â¢ Using consolidated, off-site compensation options, supported by a regional-scale approach to mitigation, may provide ecological economies of scale like the in- creased protection afforded to species by larger, unfragmented habitat patches (Murcia 1995; Schwartz 1999; Drechsler and Watzold 2009). ECOSYSTEM SERVICES Although the societal value of ecosystem production functions is rarely taken into ac- count in the selection and design of compensatory mitigation projects (Ruhl and Gregg 2001; Cambridge Systematics 2011), they provide valuable ecosystem services to people close to the conservation areas (Engel et al. 2008). Wetlands are well known for their 4 PRACTICAL CONSIDERATIONS
28 MANAGERâS GUIDE TO THE INTEGRATED ECOLOGICAL FRAMEWORK ability to filter excess pollutants and nutrients, reduce flood hazards, absorb storm surge, and provide unique recreational or scientific opportunities (Mitsch and Gosselink 2000; Zedler 2003). Economic valuation studies have found that wetlands also can generate aesthetic benefits (Mahan et al. 2000), contributing to an increase in property values (Doss and Taff 1996; Greenspace Alliance and DVRPC 2011); thus wetlands in close proximity to larger housing communities have increased economic value. SAVINGS IN ADMINISTRATIVE AND TRANSACTION TIME The IEF process supports more coordinated, efficient decision making among trans- portation and regulatory resource agencies, as well as consolidation of regulatory per- mitting and consultation processes. In addition to integrated processes, collaborative, ecosystem-based approaches to compensatory mitigation encourage increased use of consolidated, off-site, compensatory mitigation sources, such as mitigation banks, conservation banks, or in-lieu fee mitigation programs, presenting opportunities to capture economies of scale and reduce compliance costs for regulatory permittees (U.S. Environmental Protection Agency 2008; U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service 2003). LEVERAGING RESOURCES AND REDUCING LITIGATION Programmatic mitigation uses processes that support a collaborative, regional-scale approach to mitigation. These collaborative, holistic, regional-scale approaches al- low transportation and resource agencies to eliminate redundant investments, share data, and identify potential mitigation sites more effectively. This, along with the use of consolidated, off-site compensation, can reduce field site visits and time spent ap- proving and monitoring mitigation sites. Collaborative, regional-scale approaches to mitigation also lower overall financial expenses by establishing regulatory assurances. Those assurances reduce vulnerability to litigation or punitive damages, while also al- lowing transportation agencies to more accurately forecast expected project costs and their associated environmental compensation components (Brown 2006; Cambridge Systematics 2011). Many transportation programs have adopted a streamlined, regional-scale approach to infrastructure planning and experienced substantial transaction cost sav- ings and time savings compared with traditional, project-by-project compensatory mitigation. In 2001, for example, the North Carolina Department of Transporta- tion reported that 55% of its transportation developments were delayed by wetland mitigation requirements; after the department ramped up streamlined transportation planning and mitigation through its Ecosystem Enhancement Program (EEP), there were no delays in transportation improvement projects associated with EEP (Venner Consulting and URS Corporation 2013). The regional-scale approach to the compen- satory mitigation process can generate significant ecological conservation, economic, and societal benefits. The IEF process also increases the effectiveness of existing plan- ning and environmental assessment processes and may reduce the need for later on-site work through avoided impacts.
29 MANAGERâS GUIDE TO THE INTEGRATED ECOLOGICAL FRAMEWORK OTHER CONSIDERATIONS Drawing on experience from pilot IEF (or similar) projects, guidance on the time, cost, staffing expertise, and information needed to conduct core parts of the IEF are summarized here, along with key suggestions for effectively and efficiently conducting the IEF. Experience has shown that initially an increased investment is needed to cre- ate a multiagency collaborative partnership and a robust REF, but these investments will make decision making more efficient and outcomes more effective, likely saving costs in the longer term. The IEF process can be readily adapted to fit the needs and resources available to a particular region, but several factors that will affect the time, effort, and cost to conduct the IEF need to be considered: â¢ Time frame within which results are needed to inform a planning effort with a set deadline; â¢ Resources required for the desired level of effort and currently available resources, including DOT/MPO funds, partner funds, and in-kind contributions to initiate the work; â¢ Existing staff capacity and expertise and availability of resources to supplement with outside expertise if needed; â¢ Geographic scope and complexity of the project; â¢ Availability of existing relevant analyses, data, and other information and impor- tant information gaps that need to be filled; â¢ Available hardware and software (although with the increasing availability of ba- sic GIS capability within many agencies, this is a less-frequent limitation); and â¢ Number of partners and the relative benefits of their participation and contribu- tions (a larger number of partners increases the complexity of coordinating the partnership and making decisions). TIME FRAME As with many broad collaborative and data-driven projects, implementing the IEF can be time intensive and require an extended commitment of time. For example, the development of the REF, scenarios, and initial cumulative effects assessment (IEF Steps 2â4) often takes between 12 and 18 months. This time frame does not take into account the partnership-building phase (Step 1) and assumes that there is a core, dedi- cated team and that staff and other experts can provide timely inputs and review so the technical work can progress without delays. COST As with time frame, a large number of variables affect the cost of the IEF. For IEF Steps 2â4, an estimate of $150,000â$200,000 (2012 dollars) is not unreasonable. This amount will cover only the direct costs for technical and ecological services. Direct
30 MANAGERâS GUIDE TO THE INTEGRATED ECOLOGICAL FRAMEWORK costs can be greatly reduced through in-kind contributions of science and technical services by partners. Costs should be shared among the multiple partners that will benefit from this work. KEY INFORMATION INPUTS Information needed to conduct an IEF includes spatial and nonspatial data from a large variety of sources depending on the nature and location of the region. The SHRP 2 C06 report An Ecological Approach to Integrating Conservation and Highway Plan- ning, Volume 2 (http://www.trb.org/Main/Blurbs/166938.aspx) provides much more detail on specific data and sources for each step; and Table 3.1 provides a general sum- mary of the types of data needed and ideas for information gatheringâhighlighting when these efforts may be challenging and require thoughtful budgeting.