Wildlife and Roads: Decision Guide Step 1.1

Progress Bar

Step 1 Step 1.1 Step 1.2 Step 1.3

Identify Scope of Transportation Plan/Project

1.1 Identify Scope of Transportation Plan/Project: In this very first step users will determine the spatial and temporal (time) extent of the proposed transportation program or project and the information resources necessary to help predict potential effects of the plan/project.

1.1.1: Introduction to the Road Planning Context

1.1.2: Assessing Point in the Planning Process & Temporal Constraints

1.1.3: Assessing the Spatial & Landscape Scope of Plan/Project

1.1.4: Determine Road Classification, Potential Agency Partners

Back to Top


1.1.1 Introduction to the Road Planning Context

Back to Top Roads—Whose Authority?

There are approximately 7.2 million km (4.46 million miles) of roads in North America that are administered predominantly by local entities. Of the 6.3 million km (3.9 million miles) of public roads in the U. S. A., 77% are owned by local towns, cities, and county governments. In Canada there are 901,903 km (560,082 miles) of roads (measured on a two-lane equivalent basis) of which 317,920 km are paved. Local entities administer 73% of these roads. Provincial Ministries of Transportation in Canada control 25% of roads. In the United States, state Departments of Transportation administer 19.6% of roads, including most of the interstate system. The remainder of the roads in North America includes roads to private properties such as subdivisions, mines, ranches, or forestlands, and on lands administered by federal land agencies. The USDA National Forest administers 600,300 km (373,000 miles) of roads, the most of any federal agency. (Statistics taken from Forman et al. 2003, Gunderson et al. 2005).

In the United States, highways are built and upgraded by state Departments of Transportation but are funded and regulated by the federal government in accordance with the Federal-Aid Highway Program, enacted in 1916. This act also required the formation of state highway departments (DOTs). DOTs accept and manage federal funds for all localities in the state. Since the 1960's, counties and municipalities have played a larger role in road construction. With the passage of the Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act (ISTEA) by Congress in 1991, funding and responsibilities for roads has shifted from the national to local level with greater state and local authority (Forman et al. 2003). The U.S. Department of Transportation Federal Highway Administration provides financial and technical support for the construction, improvement, and preservation of U.S. highway system. The Federal Highway Administration's annual budget (2006 = ~$30 billion) is funded by fuel and motor vehicle excise taxes. These funds are returned to the states who decide how the money will be spent for specific road and highway projects. Federal Highways gives the final approval for those plans. When mitigation for wildlife is planned, funding typically comes from these allocated monies. State DOTs work with Federal Highways to coordinate highway projects and mitigation and to coordinate county transportation projects funded by Federal Highways. Road projects at the county level are not regulated by federal law and planning and mitigation processes vary.


In Canada, the federal government plays a less dominant role than in the United States (Forman et al. 2003). Almost all road funding comes from cities and provinces. Each province has a Ministry of Transportation responsible for provincial highway construction and management. The Canadian government owns 15,080 km (9,365 miles) of roads located in nature reserves and national parks, as well as specific highways. The construction of the Trans Canada Highway, which runs across the entire width of Canada, was carried out by the provinces using federal standards. Transport Canada, the federal agency responsible for roads, has developed as system to incorporate environmental considerations into all aspects of transportation decision making using the principles of and international standard called the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) 14000 series of standards. See Transport Canada.

Federal Lands in the United States

Federal lands in the U.S. are managed primarily by five agencies: the Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), which manages the National Refuge System, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), the National Park Service (USNPS), the Forest Service (USFS), and the Department of Defense (USDoD). These agencies along with the Federal Highways' Federal Lands Highway Program are tasked with providing safe and adequate access to public lands. These roads are both paved and unpaved. When a state-owned road or highway is proposed to extend across these lands, or a current road is upgraded (e.g., lanes added), the state department of transportation must work with the responsible agency from the planning stages to the completion of the project to ensure wildlife and ecological concerns are met.

Back to Top The Current Planning Process in the U.S.A.

The transportation planning process is carried out in two phases: a) planning, and b) project development, which are executed at local and state levels. During the transportation planning process, local and state entities plan transportation systems up to 30 years in advance. In the past, the only environmental issues mandated for consideration were those related to air quality standards. That has changed. The passage of the 2005 Transportation Act (known as SAFETEA-LU) mandates that long range plans be created with the consultation of natural resource agency personnel to identify potential environmental conflicts and mitigation activities. For more on SAFETEA-LU, see section III below New Changes to the Planning Process. The project execution or development phase includes all actions necessary to implement a specific project. This phase begins five to 10 years prior to project construction and typically involves engineers, planners, environmental specialists, project designers, and maintenance personnel. During this phase, site specific details of design, construction, and maintenance are developed. In the past, most federal environmental requirements pertained to project development but not the planning process prior to this stage. SAFETEA-LU has changed that. During the project development phase, transportation departments typically begin to look at the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) specifications and other federal and state laws for environmental considerations. For those laws see section 1.2.7 Review of Regulatory Reasons for Being Concerned with Wildlife. All projects that involve major federal actions (e.g., funding or when specific federal laws are involved) must abide by NEPA. In the past this was the time in the project planning when wildlife and ecosystems were considered. Starting in 2007, states are required to include these considerations much earlier in the process, long before a project has been developed. At the project development stage the public is given notice in the Federal Register if the project is expected to have environmental consequences.

In order to create a state-wide long term transportation plan, the state department of transportation has to include plans generated at local levels by urban and rural entities. In more rural areas without metropolitan planning organizations, transportation planning is carried out by a rural planning organization or the state DOT in conjunction with the state natural resource agencies. If federal lands are involved, federal natural resource agencies and the public are involved. In more developed areas (>50,000 residents) there usually is a Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO). Local officials act through the metropolitan planning organizations, which prioritize projects to be funded for construction and produce two documents: a two-three year plan called the Transportation Improvement Plan (TIP), and a long range plan. Every three to five years the Department of Transportation reconsiders and revises the long term plan using the combined TIPs from around the state. This five year plans is known as the Statewide Transportation Plan (STIP). This process of including local plans allows locally elected officials acting through metropolitan planning organizations to determine which federally assisted projects will be implemented in their areas. There are steps in this process for public input (e.g., when the MPO's are working with the public for comment).

The state departments of transportation create 20 to 30-year long range plans with the information from local plans and public input, and post these on their websites (click here for website listing all state Department of Transportation websites). If wildlife and other ecological resources are considered at this time, there are increased opportunities for mitigation measures. Statewide Transportation Improvement Plans (STIPs) provide general guidance for state transportation programs for a five-year time frame, but leave most choices (e.g., when a project is begun) to the metropolitan planning organization at the local or regional level (Gunderson et al. 2005). It is in the STIP that a project becomes official. No single agency is fully responsible for all aspects of transportation planning. The state departments of transportation work in cooperation with local entities, state and federal agencies, non-profit organizations concerned about transportation, and the general public for input on what the community and natural resource effects may be. Even the state legislature may give input to the planning process, often by deciding how federal and matching funds are allocated. Federal funds provide 50% of the funding for transportation, with the states required to match each federal dollar. The federal funding is distributed to the states by the Federal Highways Administration and the states decide how to allocate funds to specific projects, with the approval from Federal Highways.

The USDA Forest Service developed a guidebook to describe transportation planning basics from a natural resource agency's perspective. Although the guidebook was written under the previous surface transportation bill, TEA-21, the outline of the planning process still applies. Click here to view the Innovative Approaches to Transportaion Guidebook (PDF).

Back to Top Recent Changes to the Planning Process

The typical transportation planning methods of the past are changing in the face of a greater need for coordinated planning among agencies over longer time frames and with better knowledge of the larger landscape contexts and the ecological communities affected. There are three new developments in planning that are important to understanding the new transportation planning process: Integrated Planning, Eco-Logical, and the U.S.A. 2005 Transportation Act—SAFETEA-LU.

Integrated Planning

Integrated planning is a developing approach to integrate transportation and land use planning. This planning process attempts to provide methods for multiple agencies and the public to collect, share, analyze, and present data from different sources. It is an iterative process of planning and implementing future development with multiple partners that includes assessing development and ecosystem needs over large scales and multiple years. For more information see the Federal Highways Planning and Environmental Linkages and the Defenders of Wildlife publication, Second Nature in section Sources for More Information below.


Eco-Logical is an ecosystem approach to developing infrastructure projects that offers a framework for gaining greater interagency cooperation in planning and carrying out conservation measures. It is summarized in a document (available on-line, Eco-Logical: An Ecosystem Approach to Developing Infrastructure Projects, and listed below) that provides a general approach to infrastructure planning (with great emphasis on transportation planning) that allows Federal, State, Tribal, and local partners to work together to make infrastructure more sensitive to wildlife and their ecosystems. Eight federal agencies and the DOTs of four states developed this agreement and guide as the starting point for identifying and addressing the greatest conservation needs associated with the development of infrastructure projects.


The latest transportation act for the United States was passed in 2005. SAFETEA-LU is the acronym for the Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act: A Legacy for Users (SAFETEA-LU). It required states to develop long range transportation plans with a minimum 20-year outlook and a reasonable opportunity for public comment. Section 6001 of the act requires 20-year plans to include:

  • Consultations with resource agencies, such as those responsible for land-use management, natural resources, environmental protection, conservation and historic preservation, which shall involve, as appropriate, comparisons of resource maps and inventories
  • Discussion of potential environmental mitigation activities and potential areas to carry out these activities, including activities that may have the greatest potential to restore and maintain the environmental functions affected by the plan
  • Participation plans that identify a process for stakeholder involvement
    To read Section 6001, visit the SAFETEA-LU text.

Section 6002 of SAFETEA-LU establishes a new environmental review process for highways, transit, and multi-modal projects. This new process, mandatory for all environmental impact statements (EISs), requires a new public comment process on the purpose and need of the project. The range of alternatives encourages more participation from more agencies and organizations, and the public.

To read Section 6002, visit the SAFETEA-LU text.

The new SAFETEA-LU provisions will mean that state departments of transportation will be reviewing documents created by natural resource agencies and consulting with professionals in those organizations in the long range and short term planning processes to identify potential environmental and wildlife-specific effects of proposed transportation projects. This earlier-in-the-process inclusion of wildlife and ecosystem needs will help identify and possibly avoid transportation impacts on critical areas, and potentially identify mitigation options with enough time to budget and plan for them.

Back to Top Sources for More Information

American Wildlands Safe Passage Program: A Guide to Transportation Planning and Projects Affecting Wildlife in the U.S. Northern Rockies

Conservation Provisions of Interest in SAFETEA-LU by Defenders of Wildlife

A Guide to Citizen Participation in the Transportation Planning Process by Defenders of Wildlife (PDF)

Defenders of Wildlife's Second Nature: Improving Transportation without Putting Nature Second

U.S. Forest Services Guidebook; Innovative Approaches to Transportation (PDF)

Federal Highways Planning and Environmental Linkages

Eco-Logical: An Ecosystem Approach to Developing Infrastructure Projects

Federal Highways State Departments of Transportation Web-sites

Transport Canada's Environmental Management Systems

Back to Top Literature Cited

Forman, R. T., D. Sperling, J. A. Bissonette, A. P. Clevenger, C. D. Cutshall, V. H. Dale, L. Fahrig, R. France, C. R. Goldman, K. Heanue, J. A. Jones, F. J. Swanson, T. Turrentine, T. C. Winter. 2003. Road Ecology: Science and Solutions. Island Press, Washington, D.C., USA.

Gunderson, L. H., A.P. Clevenger, A. T. Cooper, V. H. Dale, L. Evanns, G. L. Evink, L. Fahrig, K. E. Haynes, W. W. Kober, S. B. Lester, K. H. Redford, M. N. Strand, P. Wagner, J. M. Yowell. 2005. Assessing and Managing the Ecological Impacts of Paved Roads. Committee on Ecological Impacts of Road Density. Transportation Research Board. The National Academies Press, Washington, D.C.

Back to Top


1.1.2 What You Can Do Anytime In the Planning Process and Important Time Constraints

A typical transportation planning process takes upwards of 20 or more years from the inception of the long range transportation plan to the final construction of a specific project. If one is interested in learning about specific transportation projects or about potential projects planned for their area they can do any of the following:

  • Check with the provincial Ministry of Transportation (Canada) or state Department of Transportation (the United States) website for: 1) the Long Range Transportation Plan and 2) the State Transportation Improvement Plan (STIP) which includes projects planned for the next five years. Click here for U.S. Federal Highways Administration Website of all state Departments of Transportation. Click here for Transport Canada site of links to Ministries of Transportation
  • Call the local regional district office of the state/provincial Department of Transportation/Ministry of Transportation and ask to speak with someone in the planning department or environmental division concerning projects or environmental matters in your specific area of interest. Also check with the state Federal Highways personnel
  • Make an ad-hoc inquiry. The planning phase between the long range plans and the five-year STIP is a period of prioritizing which long term goals become realized as projects supported at the state and local level. We are not aware of a standardized process in which states carry out this phase and points for input, other than the incorporation of local metropolitan planning organizations' (MPO) Transportation Improvement Plans (TIPS, see section 1.1.1 Introduction to the Road Planning Context for more information). This critical phase may present opportunities for agency personnel and citizens to provide input concerning potential natural resources that may be affected by potential projects and to present alternatives. Inquiries to state and local transportation agency professionals may help to illuminate opportunities for input into this planning phase.
  • Be Proactive. If you can identify a potential transportation project scheduled for the future of an area that may have species, ecosystems, and natural processes that could be affected by such a transportation project:
    1. Contact your state wildlife agency to learn more about the ecological issues in that area and to inform them of your concerns;
    2. Contact your local Department of Transportation/Ministry of Transportation environmental division, planning and design departments, and other potentially concerned individuals within the agency and make your concerns known and ask more about the schedule of the potential plans and design for that project so you can understand where there is an opportunity for input
    3. Work with those familiar with transportation planning to propose a mitigation project within the transportation project. The chances of successfully incorporating mitigation improve with the number of years in advance of the construction phase the wildlife concerns are considered. This long range approach of including mitigation within already proposed new or improvement projects have been proven to be one of the most successful methods of having wildlife mitigation installed in a timely and affordable manner.
  • Work with your regional and state level transportation professionals to find solutions in the case of a transportation project that has already begun construction. It is difficult to include any changes to a transportation project once construction has begun. There may be opportunities to minimize construction impacts and to add minor retrofits to existing or proposed structures that could help mitigate transportation corridor effects. The state wildlife and fish agencies are responsible for the protection of wildlife and may be able to help. If there is a federally listed endangered or threatened species involved, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife representative for your state/area is another source of potential solutions.
  • Contact regional and state-level transportation agency personnel, particularly those in the environmental division if there is no transportation project scheduled. Often, the potential still exists to install wildlife mitigation. Successful wildlife mitigation projects have been installed outside the typical transportation planning process. Here is how one grass-roots organization identified a need for action and took steps to implement solutions in Washington State. Their efforts in cooperation with the transportation and natural resource agencies can be found at the I-90 Wildlife Bridges Coalition website.

The planning stage of a project has a bearing on the options available for funding, personnel, and the timing of implementing mitigation solutions. We encourage readers to become involved prior to project design phase, which is often before National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) documents are considered. It is important to become involved as early as possible in the design because after the first designs are developed, the cost and time impact to make design changes are substantial.

The NCHRP 25-27 project, 'Evaluation of the use and effectiveness' Interim report documents the results of a continent wide survey of transportation and natural resource professionals who consistently identified the need for EARLY INVOLVEMENT of natural resource agencies in transportation planning as the number one priority for transportation ecology with respect to wildlife. However, there is a need to develop a process to involve the public and resource agencies in project identification and notification prior to a project's inclusion on the State Transportation Improvement Plan (STIP). The U. S. 2005 Transportation Act SAFETEA-LU Section 6001 and Section 6002 may provide a framework for these discussions to more readily occur.

Sites for More Information:

Federal Highways Website of all state departments of transportation

Transport Canada Website of all Departments of Ministries Links

Washington State's I-90 Wildlife Bridges Coalition

U.S. Forest Services Guidebook; Innovative Approaches to Transportation (PDF)

Conservation Provisions of Interest in SAFETEA-LU by Defenders of Wildlife

A Guide to Citizen Participation in the Transportation Planning Process by Defenders of Wildlife (PDF)

Back to Top


1.1.3 Assessing the Spatial and Landscape Scope of Plan/Project

Identify the project area

The project area can mean the area of a specific transportation project, or could be approached from an ecological view-point based on an ecosystem process; e.g., water flow, or species distribution near a road or railway area. If the project is defined by transportation plans, then the transportation agency's information regarding the area can be found in either the long range plans or the State Transportation Improvement Plan (STIP) (check the specific DOT website). The project area can also be defined and/or modified by the team of professionals and the public working on the project, who often incorporate an assessment of potential environmental effects on the proposed project. The project area may eventually be modified based on information gained later, but at this point in the planning, the extent of the highway segment, the geographic extent of the wildlife use near the highway, and dispersal needs of wide-ranging species can be considered.

The entire project area does not need to be evaluated at the same level of detail. To ensure that all affected wildlife will be considered, a large area in the earliest stages of the project can be included. At later stages in the process, the project area can be redefined.

NOTE: This Decision Guide uses the term 'Project' in a general sense. Projects can be interagency, large scale habitat connectivity analysis, long range transportation planning, or highway projects such as construction or even resurfacing. Not all points will apply to all types of projects.

Back to Top


1.1.4 Determining Road Classification and Potential Agency Partners

Road Classification

The jurisdiction of the road or railway determines who the working partners will be and can include county, state, federal-aid, or federal lands highways (such as the U.S. Forest Service or Parks Canada). Each jurisdiction involves different opportunities and constraints for mitigation options. Identifying the responsible agency will help identify the team of key participants for the project. The state department of transportation or provincial ministry of transportation will be able to assist in understanding these options.

Agency Partners

A transportation project and the plans associated with them are not the responsibility of a single transportation agency. There are many partners from the local to federal levels. Typically transportation agency professionals contact the state natural resource agencies who are responsible for wildlife, waterways, and state public lands near a proposed project. Federal agencies involved almost always include the U.S. Federal Highway Administration or Transport Canada, the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service if any federally protected species are involved, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Environmental Protection Agency if wetlands and waterways are nearby, and federal land owning agencies such as the U.S. Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, U.S. National Park Service or Parks Canada, U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service (National Wildlife Refuges), and the Department of Defense if their lands are impacted.

The USDA Forest Service has developed a guidebook to describe some transportation planning basics from a natural resource agency's perspective. Although the guidebook was written under the previous surface transportation bill, TEA-21, the outline of the planning process still applies. Click here to view the Innovative Approaches to Transportaion Guidebook (PDF)

Back to Top

Decision Guide Overview Step 1: Resource Evaluation Step 2: Identify Solutions Step 3: Select & Create Plan Step 4: Construction Step 5: Monitor & Evaluate