Skip to main content
eScholarship
Open Access Publications from the University of California

Tahoe Research Group/Tahoe Environmental Research Center Publications

The John Muir Institute of the Environment supports innovative interdisciplinary research, teaching and outreach activities which respond to problems in the environment and strengthen the scientific foundation for environmental decision making.

The John Muir Institute of the Environment champions research and service at the University of California, Davis which benefits the biological, physical and human environment. The institute provides campus-wide leadership, hosts centers and projects, and seeds research and educational initiatives to solve environmental problems. Their activities link traditional academic and administrative units by providing the intellectual setting for interaction between researchers, regulatory agencies, policy-makers and the public to find solutions to complex environmental problems.

Cover page of AN INNOVATIVE AND ELEGANTLY SIMPLE WAY TO DO SOMETHING FOR BLUEBIRDS (AND TAKE LITTLE TIME AWAY FROM TRANSPORTATION MAINTENANCE DUTIES)

AN INNOVATIVE AND ELEGANTLY SIMPLE WAY TO DO SOMETHING FOR BLUEBIRDS (AND TAKE LITTLE TIME AWAY FROM TRANSPORTATION MAINTENANCE DUTIES)

(2006)

Bluebird boxes were attached to the back of small road signs and are maintained by the maintenance sign crew with minimal time away from their primary duties. Because locations were chosen where bluebirds had already been seen, success has been 100% since the project started in 2001. In 2002, 120 bluebirds were fledged and approximately 120 tree swallows as well. So far in 2003 there have been 30 pair of nesting bluebirds. We have had more problems this year with English sparrows killing bluebird chicks. Last year two boxes suffered from raccoon predation but that has not been repeated since the sign poles were greased. Costs were for materials only, boxes were built by the winter night crews when they were not plowing.

Cover page of USE OF LOW FENCING WITH ALUMINUM FLASHING AS A BARRIER FOR TURTLES

USE OF LOW FENCING WITH ALUMINUM FLASHING AS A BARRIER FOR TURTLES

(2005)

I examined the effects of road mortality on a population of western painted turtles (Chrysemys picta belli) in west-central Montana; these turtles make up the majority of road mortalities in a section of highway that bisects the Ninepipes National Wildlife Refuge. The objective of my barrier fencing experiment was to determine whether turtles were able to breach fencing designed to direct turtles towards crossing structures and thereby keep them off the road. I constructed 45.7-cm-high turtle enclosures out of 2- by 5-cm fencing with and without 10- or 15-cm-high flashing attached at the top. Turtles were placed in the enclosures, and behavior was observed for one hour. Of 124 turtles, only four (3.2%) were able to climb to the flashing. No turtles climbed over the flashing within the time allowed. In enclosures without flashing, two (3.8%) were able to breach the fencing. The results of this experiment will help in the design of appropriate barriers to keep turtles off the road and direct them towards crossing structures.

Cover page of ENVIRONMENTAL STEWARDSHIP IN NYSDOT HIGHWAY MAINTENANCE

ENVIRONMENTAL STEWARDSHIP IN NYSDOT HIGHWAY MAINTENANCE

(2003)

The New York State Department of Transportation operates and maintains approximately 16,500 miles of highway that occupies approximately 1 percent of the state’s land area. Due to the tendency of the highway system to follow streams, coastlines and other natural landscape features, this 1% of land is located within, over and adjacent to many very sensitive and important environmental areas. Considering that NYSDOT, like most transportation departments, is now shifting its efforts more and more towards improving, operating and maintaining the existing transportation infrastructure, as opposed to building large-scale new alignment projects, the role of incorporating environmental improvements into maintenance and operational programs is increasing in importance. The project objective was to Proactively reach out to internal and external partners to identify priorities anddevelop multi-agency strategies and projects that improve environmental conditions along NYSDOT’s rights-of-way and roadsides. The approach required thorough internal teamwork involving many regional groups and external partnering with resource agencies and environmental organizations in order identify, develop and coordinate prioritized environmental stewardship projects. These “best practices” are then implemented during highway maintenance activities. NYSDOT has 11 regional offices with each region having a Landscape Architecture/Environmental Services unit located within the Regional Design Group. Although, located within the Design Group, these Units provide environmental services to all regional groups - including maintenance. In addition, in 2001, a senior environmental specialist (a.k.a. maintenance environmental coordinator or MEC) was assigned to each regional maintenance group to supplement existing programs by dedicating full-time effort coordinating environmental issues in the maintenance group. One aspect of this effort has been a focus on incorporating environmental right-of-way and roadside “Best Practices” into regional maintenance programs. Critical elements of this strategy include fostering internal teamwork within the region and developing partnerships with external groups. By using internal knowledge and resources and external expertise and assistance, the Department’s organizational strengths can be efficiently and effectively managed to expand right-of-way roadside environmental stewardship programs. Examples of 2002 “best practices” to be discussed include: (1.) control methods for invasive plants; (2.) installation of water level control structures at chronic nuisance beaver locations; (3.) installation of water quality improvement structures near drinking water supplies; (4.) turtle mortality abatement efforts; (5.) alternative mowing strategies to enhance grassland songbird nesting habitat; (6.) establishment of living snow fences; (7.) osprey nesting enhancements; (8.) methods to reduce deer vehicle collisions; (9.) migratory bird protection on bridges; (10.) herbicide education programs; and (11.) small petroleum spill abatement measures. These strategies and Best Practices are applicable to any national, provincial, state or local transportation department with an interest in incorporating environmental improvements into daily maintenance activities.

Cover page of EFFECTS OF SOIL DISTURBANCE FROM ROADWORKS ON ROADSIDE SHRUB POPULATIONS IN SOUTH-EASTERN AUSTRALIA

EFFECTS OF SOIL DISTURBANCE FROM ROADWORKS ON ROADSIDE SHRUB POPULATIONS IN SOUTH-EASTERN AUSTRALIA

(2003)

In many fragmented agricultural regions of south-eastern Australia, roadside vegetation provides important refuges for threatened native fauna and isolated populations of plant species. However, as roads are transport corridors for humans and their vehicles, species survival is affected through destruction and modification of remaining habitat by human activity. The effects of soil disturbance from roadworks on the structural dynamics and spatial patterning of roadside Acacia populations was investigated in the Lockhart Shire study area, NSW, Australia. Classification and ordination of size structures of Acacia pycnantha, A. montana and A. decora showed distinct groups of colonising, stable and senescent populations. Soil disturbance from previous roadworks was recorded in 88 percent of populations, and there was a significant relationship between major recruitment pulses and roadworks events in Acacia populations. Spatial pattern analysis using the Network K-function showed significant clustering of older senescent populations, and Discriminant Function Analyses revealed that road verge width, road category, disturbance intensity, and distance to nearest town were highly significant variables in relation to disturbance regimes from roadworks activities. These results have highlighted the importance of understanding human logic regarding roadworks activities, in ongoing management of roadside vegetation, and has important consequences regarding conservation of these unique environments.

Cover page of FEDERAL LANDS HIGHWAY EXPERIENCE AND INITIATIVES WITH CONTEXT SENSITIVE SOLUTIONS

FEDERAL LANDS HIGHWAY EXPERIENCE AND INITIATIVES WITH CONTEXT SENSITIVE SOLUTIONS

(2003)

Context sensitive solutions (CSS) is a collaborative, interdisciplinary approach to a transportation project, which involves all stakeholders, early and continually, to develop a transportation facility that equally addresses safety, mobility, and the preservation of scenic, aesthetic, historic, and environmental resources and community values. Federal Lands Highway (FLH) designs and constructs highway projects within our nation’s most environmentally and culturally sensitive areas:nationalparks, national forests, national wildlife refuges, and other important Federal public lands. This long-standing mission of working in extremely sensitive areas requires the use of CSS, and, therefore, FLH is recognized as being an expert in the use of CSS. Federal Lands Highway, along with five states each representing the regions of the American Association of State Highway Transportation Officials (AASHTO), functions as a “pilot state.” In its role as a “pilot state,” FLH is charged with promoting CSS principles, showcasing its projects that exemplify CSS principles, and with training its staff. Currently, Federal Lands Highway is leading an effort within FHWA to develop training in CSS, which would primarily target all FHWA staff, both in the Federal-aid and Federal Lands Highway divisions of FHWA.

Cover page of COLLISIONS BETWEEN LARGE WILDLIFE AND MOTOR VEHICLE IN MAINE: 1998 - 2001

COLLISIONS BETWEEN LARGE WILDLIFE AND MOTOR VEHICLE IN MAINE: 1998 - 2001

(2003)

The Maine Interagency work group on collisions between wildlife and motor vehicles actively tracks the recorded occurrences of crashes of animals with vehicles. As part of its ongoing program of public education, the group first used the maps in 1999. The data are gained from crash reports filed by law enforcement personnel. The Maine Department of Transportation’s traffic statistic’s section analyses the information. The effort is then developed into map graphics by the department’s cartographic unit. Associated crash data and driving tips are also included on the maps. These are circulated to other state agencies, towns, schools and tourism facilities throughout the state and have received a variety of positive responses. Information on crash locations as mapped is utilized by the work group to determine chronic crash locales and for potential sites to install mitigation methodologies.

Cover page of STRAWBERRY ISLAND PHASE III EROSION CONTROL AND WETLAND HABITAT RESTORATION: A CASE STUDY IN THE SUCCESSFUL APPLICATION OF IN-LIEU FEE MITIGATION

STRAWBERRY ISLAND PHASE III EROSION CONTROL AND WETLAND HABITAT RESTORATION: A CASE STUDY IN THE SUCCESSFUL APPLICATION OF IN-LIEU FEE MITIGATION

(2003)

The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (NYSDEC), together with the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation (NYSOPRHP) and New York State Department of Transportation (NYSDOT), is conducting a riverine wetland restoration project at Strawberry Island. Strawberry Island is located at the divergence of the Tonawanda and Chippawa Channels of the Niagara River, near the City of Buffalo, in western New York. The majority of the funding for the project comes from New York’s 1996 Clean Water / Clean Air Bond Act, which was approved by voters and signed by Governor George E. Pataki. Additional funding was provided by NYSDOT as an in-lieu fee solution to unavoidable impacts to freshwater wetlands. The island, which was once more than 200 acres in size, has been severely impacted by sand and gravel mining as well as natural erosive forces. By 1993 the island had been reduced to less than six acres. Critical water levels, existing bottom topography, weather-related impacts, and recreational and commercial boating along with utilization by fish and wildlife all need to be considered. This paper describes the island history, design, regulatory approval process and construction activities utilized to protect /restore this ecologically sensitive site. Construction was completed in November 2001. Preliminary results suggest that erosion to the island has been halted and a flourishing wetland community is developing. Strawberry Island is located at the divergence of the Tonawanda and Chippawa Channels of the Niagara River near Buffalo, New York. The island was first surveyed in 1814 and found to be approximately 100 acres in size. By 1912, the island had grown to over 200 acres, when dredged materials from the construction of the Erie Canal and Black Rock Lock were placed on the site. From 1926 until 1953, the island was mined for sand and gravel to construct roads and other infrastructure for the growing City of Buffalo. By the time the mining ceased, barely twenty-five acres of the original island remained. Archived maps and aerial photography suggest that portions of the island were once productive riverine wetlands. Since that time, erosion from high-water storm events, ice scour and boat traffic have reduced the island to approximately six acres (Leuchner 1998). In the spring of 1997 both Phase I and II were completed. An aquatic habitat restoration project was completed with funding from the New York State 1996 Clean Water/Clean Air Bond Act. Rip-rap breakwaters were constructed, and wetland soil was transported from a nearby freshwater wetland. Additional wetland plants were established to supplement natural revegetation of the wetland areas, totaling three acres. The goal of the Phase III project was to protect Strawberry Island from further erosion, and restore a small portion of wetlands that were once more abundant in the river corridor.

Cover page of STREAMLINING THE REVIEW OF ROUTINE TRANSPORTATION

STREAMLINING THE REVIEW OF ROUTINE TRANSPORTATION

(2003)

The 1999 listing of Puget Sound (PS) chinook salmon (Oncorhynchus tshawytscha) in Washington State was the first time a listing of a threatened or endangered species under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) of 1973, as amended, affected a metropolitan area. Since that time, transportation officials, as well as other entities, have had to retool their processes for environmental permit acquisition because of the addition level of review requirements specified under ESA. The initial short-term solution for both action and regulatory agencies was to hire more staff. However, despite the additional staff at Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) and National Marine Fisheries Service (NOAA Fisheries), project review for ESA consultations under Section 7 remains a very complicated, and thus prolonged process. Therefore, in 1999, WSDOT submitted a programmatic biological assessment (PBA) for a full programmatic consultation with NOAA Fisheries. The objective of the PBA was to reduce the number of routine transportation projects that require an individual biological assessment (BA) to be written by the action agency and then reviewed by NOAA Fisheries. WSDOT and NOAA Fisheries have developed a defined set of specific standard conditions and conservation measures. The PBA covering nine transportation programs conducted within the Washington State was completed in 2002. The completion of the PBA consultation provides WSDOT certainty when designing transportation infrastructure, while fulfilling their requirements under ESA. Standard conditions and conservation measures included in the PBA consultation provide a relatively simple approach that, when followed, will result in a transportation project that can be constructed in a timely manner, and in many cases improve the baseline environment for ESA listed and candidate salmonid species.

Cover page of INTENSITY OF HUMAN USE, BACKCOUNTRY ROADS, AND ANALYSIS OF HUMAN ACCESSIBILITY

INTENSITY OF HUMAN USE, BACKCOUNTRY ROADS, AND ANALYSIS OF HUMAN ACCESSIBILITY

(2003)

Intensity of human use (IHU) is a conceptual geographic characteristic that describes an area’s rank on the continuum from high use (e.g., urban area or active strip mine) to low use (roadless wilderness). Customary measures of IHU, such as human population density or road density, lose their utility at the low-use end of the spectrum — and it is here that human activities may have their greatest ecological effect on some ecological resources, such as wildlife habitat. Conceptually, we suggest that IHU is determined by four factors: IHU=P*D*A/C, where A is human accessibility, P is the population of potential visitors, D is attraction to a destination, and C is the dilution effect of alternate destinations. In our vehicle-centric culture, roads are essential determinants of human accessibility. Each time a road is built or opened, some area surrounding the opened road becomes more accessible, and each time a road is closed or reclaimed some area becomes less accessible. Our modeling efforts have focused on small enough areas that factors P, D, and C are essentially constant. Our geographic information system (GIS) model of A expresses inaccessibility (roughly the reciprocal of A) as minimum travel time T(x, y) from a paved road. The model depends on three digital geographic descriptors: elevation, land cover, and transportation. Calculations derive from estimates of vehicular speed on unpaved roads and walking speeds off-road. At present, our model ignores alternate off-road transportation modes, such as horse, motorized dirt bike, or all-terrain vehicle (ATV), although these can be easily incorporated under the basic model structure.

Cover page of ENVIRONMENTAL PLANNING IN FLORIDA Florida’s ETDM Process: Efficient Transportation Decision Making While Protecting the Environment

ENVIRONMENTAL PLANNING IN FLORIDA Florida’s ETDM Process: Efficient Transportation Decision Making While Protecting the Environment

(2003)

The Florida Department of Transportation has developed a completely new process for how the State of Florida plans transportation projects and accomplishes environmental review and consideration of sociocultural effects. The new process for transportation decision making was developed by FDOT working in conjunction with federal and state agencies to develop an entirely new process that efficiently meets statutory requirements and delivers projects which respect and protect Florida’s resources. The new process is called “Efficient Transportation Decision Making” or the ETDM Process. The objectives of the multi-agency working group that developed this process were outlined by Congress in Section 1309 of the Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century (TEA-21): • Provide early and continuous involvement of agencies and the public in the review process. • Integrate environmental review and permitting processes. • Establish coordinated time schedules for agency action. • Establish effective dispute resolution mechanisms. • Provide access to information through use of technology. FDOT assembled 23 federal and state agencies at the initial “summit” in February 2000 to ask for their support and commitment to develop this process. Summit participants developed a “vision statement” for the new process. Their agencies then participated in a series of multi-agency meetings to identify the elements of a process that would improve efficiency (early involvement, easy access to good data, continuous agency and community involvement, teamwork, a method to screen projects early, and an effective method for handling disputes). Early agency involvement is provided through two “screening” events, which occur early in project planning and before significant engineering work proceeds. These events are the “Planning Screen” and the “Programming Screen.” Agency input received early in planning may identify the need for wildlife crossings, community-expressed concerns or other needs for reconfiguration of a project to avoid or minimize adverse effects. This early awareness improves the project cost estimates, which can affect project priorities. Coordination is achieved through Environmental Technical Advisory Teams (ETATs) which are formed for each of the seven FDOT districts. ETAT members review project information and provide input about technical scopes of work required for project development. These focused scopes of work are expected to improve the quality of information considered and will allow the FDOT to address key issues of concern. All coordination is achieved using the Environmental Screening Tool (EST). This is an Internet-accessible interactive database system with GIS which allows ETAT members and the public to view project plans and the effects on resources. Stakeholder input is documented in the EST and visible to all parties involved in transportation decision making. The EST is described more fully in a companion paper. A key provision in the ETDM Process is that disputed projects do not advance to the FDOT Work Program until dispute resolution has occurred. A methodology for resolving disputes is built into the new process and focuses problem resolution at the local level where consultation among ETAT members is expected to resolve most disputes prior to elevation within agencies.