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Proactive, state-based, incentive-driven policy for habitat conservation


America’s economic prosperity depends, in part, on an effective, efficient highway system. America’s ecological health depends in part, on an effective, efficient habitat system. Highway and habitat needs have often been in conflict in the past. Without more proactive efforts to integrate these two needs, such conflicts are likely to increase in the future. This need not be the case. Ecologists and conservationists in several areas of the country have identified networks of habitat areas that, if adequately conserved, would provide room in the regional landscape sufficient to conserve its native biodiversity. Integrating such habitat conservation plans into the earliest phases of transportation planning can help identify ways to avoid highway and habitat conflicts long before significant resources have been irretrievably committed. Where highway and habitat needs cannot be resolved through more integrated planning alone, minimizing impacts through engineering solutions, or off-site mitigation of habitat destruction can assure that our transportation and habitat systems evolve together to the benefit of both. This paper presents a four-part federal policy to achieve this objective. The Endangered Species Act of 1973 (ESA) has proved to be a landmark in conservation efforts. It has led to a new respect for the diversity of life and has been the foundation of remarkable conservation successes. But the list of threatened and endangered species has grown steadily over the past two decades; from 178 in 1976 to 1235 as of November 2000 (Http:// Another 5000-6000 species may eventually need to be listed (Stein 2000). Clearly, we are not doing enough to adequately address the underlying cause of species endangerment. Eighty-five percent of currently listed species and those likely to require listing in the future are in that condition, at least in part, because of the continuing loss of natural habitats (Wilcove 2000). A pro-active, statebased, incentive-driven policy for the conservation of key habitats, outlined here in broad concept, could complement the existing ESA and help develop a nation-wide system of habitat conservation areas that could maintain our native biodiversity and lessen the need for Federal regulatory intervention in the future.

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