Efficient Planning for Conducting EIS Surveys Given the Complexities of Wildlife Species Detection

Kimberly M. Andrews, University of Georgia
Hannah Held, Georgia Department of Transportation; David Hedeen, Georgia Department of Transportation
Topic Area
Planning for Transportation Ecology

There are many challenges with which we are faced in the avoidance and mitigation of the impacts of road projects on wildlife. At the forefront of the process is determining whether an animal is present within the zone of activity and could be affected by the transportation system and process (construction, operations, and maintenance). There are numerous ecological complexities driven by wildlife activity and their use of habitats. These activity patterns and habitat selection processes vary greatly over time and there are further complexities within species behaviors. Many animals, large or small, are secretive, defaulting toward avoiding detection and conflict. Our presence, being a larger predator of perceived risk by almost all animals, most commonly results in flight or immobilization responses by the very species for which we are surveying. Georgia Department of Transportation worked with state and federal natural resource agencies and species experts to create and review species-specific survey methodologies for all species of interest (e.g., state concern, federally listed or petitioned). Many environmental consultants and wildlife biologists do not house the in-depth knowledge specific to all species and all habitat relationships of which we need to be aware to conduct thorough and effective surveys nor is there much time to review all of these details. Hence, methodologies were crafted as concise, bulleted summaries that include images for each species. These methodologies have been compiled into a manual for environmental personnel and consultants. There are accompanying materials for species descriptions along with survey objectives that are standard across all species. The species-specific protocols are a chronological presentation of survey phases: habitat detection, species detection, and mitigative action if a species is detected. They include detailed information about how, when, and where to find species, with notes on seasonal and inter-annual variation and demographic sources of variation. For instance, during summer, gopher tortoises are nesting so eggs must be excavated if a relocation is deemed necessary. Indigo snake use of an uplands area may take multiple years to detect so suitable habitat should be surveyed annually until the project is Let. Our goal in presenting this project is to promote the successful partnership and union of expertise that has allowed us to develop what we believe to be comprehensive surveys for wildlife species and to receive feedback from the transportation ecology community on practices that have proven successful in other states. In sharing knowledge among states and regions, we can work together to achieve the complex, yet necessary, balance in optimizing species detection while minimizing the time invested in species detection and the cost of conducting field assessments.

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