Integrated Ecological Framework

Supporting a regional-scale ecosystem-driven approach to land use planning and project development

About This Project

In 2008, with support from the U.S. Federal Highway Administration, the Transportation Research Board funded a project to help identify the barriers and solutions to using a regional, landscape-scale, ecosystem-based approach to planning and project level decision-making as outlined in the publication “Eco-Logical.” Eco-Logical advocates for a multi-stakeholder planning process that integrates ecological needs at a regional, landscape scale to facilitate better environmental, economic and social benefits.

NatureServe worked on this project with a team of several organizations including Oregon State University, and member programs in Colorado, Michigan, Virginia, and Oregon. Venner Consulting addressed the research to identify the barriers to implementing Eco-Logical, and our team developed and tested a technical framework called the Integrated Ecological Framework or IEF. The IEF is a peer-reviewed technical guide that provides a step-by-step process for implementing the Eco-Logical approach. It supports transportation planners and natural resource specialists, and uses a standardized, science-based approach to identify ecological priorities and integrate them into transportation and infrastructure decision making. The IEF draws on well-established and innovative approaches to conservation analyses. In addition, it is informed by efforts currently underway at federal and state natural resource and transportation agencies to address known organizational, process, and policy challenges related to accelerating project delivery while still achieving net environmental benefits.

Research, testing, and initial outreach efforts have been completed, but follow-up work being led by Oregon State University and NatureServe on further developing an ecosystem crediting framework is in-progress.

Goal

The IEF is intended primarily to support mid to long-range transportation and infrastructure planning rather than individual project assessment and design. However, by proactively addressing information needs at the regional scale, the IEF supports better project level design, construction, and maintenance. The IEF products lay the foundation for implementing a watershed approach under the Clean Water Act, and lays the foundation for a regional-scale approach to conservation and consultation under the Endangered Species Act. This approach is meant to more effectively avoid environmental impacts, improve restoration and mitigation results, and generally streamline decision-making and leverage resources across multiple agencies.

Significance

There is compelling evidence that integrating regional-scale ecological needs early in transportation and infrastructure planning processes can achieve significant ecosystem, economic, and societal benefits.