The Road to Ecosystem Safeguards

By Lee Anna Sherman

When a highway project meets a bog turtle, everything can come to a screeching halt. The project languishes as agencies scramble to find current habitat data and conservation maps for the endangered reptile.

If transportation planners and environmental protection agencies could join hands early in the process, costly delays could be avoided and sensitive ecosystems could be better protected. Enter a powerful new tool designed by researchers at the Institute for Natural Resources based at Oregon State. Using the Integrated Ecological Framework, planners can address the requirements of the Endangered Species Act and the Clean Water Act from Day One instead of bumping up against them when the project is already moving ahead.

“Particularly for wetlands and endangered species, regulatory conflicts and delays largely result from transportation planners and regulators having insufficient, incomplete or poor-quality data,” say OSU researchers Lisa Gaines, interim director for the institute, and Jimmy Kagan. “This new tool will help speed up transportation projects while beefing up environmental stewardship.”

Further testing and refinement of the tool is under way with continued support from the Transportation Research Board of the National Academies, which is looking ahead to rolling the framework out nationally.