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Long-range multi-species advance mitigation: CDOT’s shortgrass prairie initiative process and benefits


In January 2000, the Colorado Department of Transportation, Colorado Department of Natural Resources Division of Wildlife, the Federal Highway Administration, and the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) and partners at public and private resource organizations came together to design an alternative way to address species impacts in the eastern third of the state, on the central shortgrass prairie. Previously consultations on listed and proposed species had been very time-consuming for all the agencies involved, without yielding noticeable benefits for the species, particularly in the case of “no-effect” and “may effect-not likely to adversely affect” decisions. At the same time, Colorado was facing increasing listings in the shortgrass prairie, including some very widespread species with the likelihood to have large economic impacts. A process leading to a programmatic agreement among the agencies was developed to deal with the driving issues detailed below and produce benefits for the environment and proactively recover and avoid federal listing of a large number of declining species. The Shortgrass Prairie Initiative provides programmatic clearance for CDOT activities on the existing road network in the eastern third of Colorado for the next 20 years, addresses three listed and over 20 declining species with the greatest likelihood of being listed, and covers 90,000 acres of right-of-way in four of CDOT’s six regions. As part of this initiative, the FWS, FHWA, and CDOT are investing resources that would otherwise be spent a project-by-project clearance process in more comprehensive and proactive species conservation. Methodologically, the project focused on impacts to habitats rather than species individuals and estimates potential impacts using best available data in GIS, supplemented by expert opinion. The resulting project offers programmatic clearance with 1:1 habitat conservation, greater predictability in project timelines, cost savings in several categories, and more effective habitat/species preservation. The project’s uniqueness stems from its primary focus on declining rather than listed species, coverage of major as well as minor projects, and the scale at which conservation

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