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Joseph A. Burns CWB
National Threatened and Endgangered Species Program Leader
Watershed, Fish, Wildlife, Air, Rare Plants
1400 Independance Ave SW - MS1121
Washington, D.C. 20250-1121
(202) 205-0919

Sandra Jacobson
Wildlife Biologist
USDA Forest Service
Pacific Southwest Research Station
(530) 759-1707


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Decision Support Tools for Highway Development Projects

This section contains tools useful to biologists who are working on a highway development project. Most of the tools will be useful for the planning and design phase as opposed to the construction or operations phase.

Currently, most natural resource specialists are not engaged in the planning phase of projects early enough to provide meaningful input. It is important to start engaging with transportation departments as soon as you become aware that a project is being considered. Opportunities for meaningful engagement change as projects develop, and some types of input are only possible at certain points along the way. Of course, with projects of any type, options for meaningful input decrease as time goes by, but this is especially true with highway development projects because of the high cost of designing infrastructure elements (like bridges) and the rigidity of most of the timelines.

Eco-Logical: An Ecosystem Approach to Developing Infrastructure Projects

A multiple agency collaborative effort resulted in a document called Eco-Logical that is a new approach to integrating environmental considerations in highway development projects. FHWA has strongly encouraged the adoption of Eco-Logical approaches through training and funding grants for exemplary projects. The document and programs can be found here.

USFS Region 6 Rapid Assessment of STIP

Each state develops a planning and funding document called a Statewide Transportation Improvement Plan (STIP). These documents are online for each state, and contain vast amounts of information. Although they have several purposes, one of the purposes is to provide transparency in the highway development projects that have been funded in the planning cycle. All of them vary greatly in the way information is presented, and most are heavily jargon-laced, so people in non-transportation positions including natural resource specialists might have a difficult time sorting out information of use to them.

In 2010, Region 6 of the Forest Service conducted a rapid assessment of the highway development projects on National Forest System lands in Region 6 (Oregon and Washington) that were likely to have either threats or opportunities to terrestrial wildlife resources. The purpose of the project was not only to locate important projects coming up in this funding cycle (of this STIP), and while doing so to improve the process by which the information was collected and distributed to the natural resource specialists who needed it.

Rapid Assessment of 2008-2012 Highway Development Projects in Region 6: Threats and Opportunities to Terrestrial Wildlife (pdf, 13 MB)

STIP Tracking Tools

Products from the Region 6 STIP Rapid Assessment include STIP Tracking Tools that can be customized for each forest. The STIP Tracking Tool was modified from a successful model that has been used and refined for several years by Rick Clark, FS liaison to Wyoming DOT.

The Rapid Assessment created expanded STIP Tracking Tools for Oregon and Washington national forests. Each of these have slightly different information because STIPs do not have standardized terminology.

Recognizing Typical Threats and Opportunities

Although no two highway projects will have equal threats to terrestrial wildlife resources, nor opportunities to restore ecological function, it is possible to categorize certain types of projects. Along with the Resource Needs Assessment above, these tools help to consider the range of possible outcomes in a given project.

Highways are infrequently modified in major ways, and most improvements not only have design lives of many decades, but often last longer than their design life. Decisions made on each project have very long term effects, and it is an opportunity foregone if land managers do not engage when they have the opportunity.

Page Last Modified: July 21, 2015

Additional Information

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