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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 VERMONT AGENCY OF TRANSPORTATION WILDLIFE CROSSING TEAM; BUILDING AN INTER-AGENCY PLANNING TOOL TO ADDRESS ECOLOGICAL CONNECTIVITY IN VERMONT

VERMONT AGENCY OF TRANSPORTATION WILDLIFE CROSSING TEAM; BUILDING AN INTER-AGENCY PLANNING TOOL TO ADDRESS ECOLOGICAL CONNECTIVITY IN VERMONT

(2003)

Wildlife movement and related road crossing strategies are becoming an increasingly important factor in the development of transportation projects in Vermont – whether these projects involve reconstruction on existing alignment or new construction. The Vermont Agency of Transportation (VTrans) and the Vermont Department of Fish and Wildlife (VDFW) have identified wildlife movement and habitat connectivity as important factors to consider in the transportation project development process from three perspectives: human safety, environmental stewardship, and fiscal responsibility. Moreover, we have begun to construct wildlife crossing structures, in collaboration with VDFW, in some recent transportation projects. Unfortunately, there is a lack of wildlife road crossing data to support the inclusion, location, design, and construction of these crossings in many parts of the state. Currently, much of the information that is used in the design and location of wildlife crossing structures is from an existing database of road crossing and road mortality information for white-tailed deer, moose and black bear that is maintained by the VDFW. To assist in making, and implementing, these sometimes very expensive project decisions, VTrans desires to have a resource review team to gather wildlife movement, habitat and road mortality data relevant to specific projects. VTrans, in collaboration with VDFW, Keeping Track, Inc., and Jim Andrews of Middlebury College, has developed an inter-agency Wildlife Crossing Team. The primary objective of this initiative is to develop a data gathering protocol to assess habitat fragmented or otherwise affected by Vermont roads, and to train a group of VTrans staff to utilize that protocol as a project planning tool. The goal of this effort is to gather sufficient data regarding wildlife movement and habitat conditions, in the early stages of the transportation project development process, to make substantive recommendations, in conjunction with VDFW, to project managers and designers so that wildlife movement and ecological connectivity can be considered in the design and construction of appropriate VTrans projects. Through this process wildlife movement and habitat connectivity can become an integral part of the environmental review process at VTrans – similar to how historic, archaeological, and other natural resources are considered. It is hoped that this effort will take wildlife movement and habitat connectivity beyond an issue of compliance and become a more standard consideration for transportation projects in Vermont where appropriate. This paper will discuss the development of this inter-agency wildlife crossing team.

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.

Cover page of USING GENETICS TO STUDY ROAD IMPACTS ON BEARS IN FLORIDA

USING GENETICS TO STUDY ROAD IMPACTS ON BEARS IN FLORIDA

(2003)

Funding source: Florida Department of Transportation Total Budget: $407,000 Project Period: April 2001 – April 2004 The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) has documented an increase in the number of transportation-related bear deaths (roadkill) since the late 1970’s. In addition to impacts on bear populations, vehicle collisions with bears often are traumatic for the people involved and may cause significant collateral damage and personal injury. For these reasons, and because of the lack of definitive information on the subject, the FWC partnered with the Florida Department of Transportation to design a project that would quantify the impacts of roadkill on bear populations in Florida. Our study design incorporates two main features: population size enumeration and range delineation for bears in six core areas across Florida. As genetic analyses have improved and laboratory costs decreased, DNA techniques have been used for a wide variety of studies on bears. Our methodology involves sampling bears via hairs left on barbed wire strands surrounding bait sites (hair snare) randomly placed in a systematic grid across each study area. We will then derive population abundance estimates by using individual identification from the DNA analysis within a mark-recapture framework. We will determine both core and peripheral bear range across Florida. Core bear range is defined as that which contains breeding females and peripheral range as that which contains bear signs but no evidence of breeding females. Using an estimate of minimum patch size needed for bears, we sectioned the entire state into 10,000-acre blocks to determine whether bears are present or absent in each block. We polled local residents and area biologists to help ascertain areas occupied by bears. We will extrapolate densities derived from the mark-recapture abundance estimates to the entire area of core bear range within each of the six areas. The final product will be a detailed range map and corresponding population estimate for each of the core populations. We will calculate the impacts of roads within each core population and across the state by determining the proportion of roadkill in relation to abundance estimates derived from the DNA analysis. The numbers generated from this analysis will be compared to literature and published data on sustainable mortality rates for black bears. We will document and examine the relationship between roadkill, road density, traffic volume, and estimated abundance for trends in these parameters. We will identify areas of significant impact and, if necessary, make recommendations on how to improve the relationship between roads and black bears in these areas. Lastly, we will examine the updated bear range maps for signs of fragmentation and isolation related to roads.

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 WILDLAND ROAD REMOVAL: RESEARCH NEEDS

WILDLAND ROAD REMOVAL: RESEARCH NEEDS

(2003)

Wildland road removal is a common practice across the U.S. and in some parts of Canada. The main types of road removal include ripping, stream crossing restoration, and full recontour. Road removal creates a short-term disturbance that may temporarily increase sediment loss. However, research and long-term monitoring have shown that road removal both reduces erosion rates and the risk of road-induced landslides. Research is needed to determine whether road removal is effective at restoring ecosystem processes and wildlife habitat. We propose several research questions and the types of studies needed to further road removal efforts. With greater understanding of the impacts of road removal, land managers can more effectively prioritize which roads to leave open and which roads to consider for future road removal projects.

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 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.