Developing Species Habitat Assessment and Survey Methodologies for Improved Project Delivery and Data Quality

Hannah Held (GDOT)
Laci Pattavina (Georgia Dept. of Natural Resources), Katrina Morris (GADNR), Jeffrey Garnett (GDOT), Chris Goodson (GDOT), Morgan Niccoli (GDOT)
Topic Area
Planning for Transportation Ecology

Thousands of practitioners conduct habitat assessments and seasonal surveys across the United States for the potential conservation of species associated with proposed transportation projects, but at great effort and cost. Despite the heavy investment, this process plays a critical role in making informed avoidance, minimization and mitigation decisions. The Georgia Department of Transportation (GDOT) assesses the potential impacts to approximately 325 state- and federally-listed species over numerous physiographic regions. A major consideration for GDOT is to ensure consistency and accuracy for habitat assessments by our in-house staff and consultant community to facilitate species protections when warranted. While safeguarding species is critical, GDOT must also guard against project delays due to misguided habitat suitability determinations that then require seasonal species surveys. Therefore, it is in the best interests of species conservation and project planning that there be a process for high-quality data collection. Since no single practitioner can be an expert in all species, GDOT partnered with its consultant community, the Department of Natural Resources (GADNR), and the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) to develop species-specific survey methodologies for all protected species in Georgia. Survey methodologies were developed and reviewed by species experts and designed to be concise, easy-to-follow guides for the general ecology practitioner. Each species guide was divided into habitat assessment and species detection sections to ensure that a step-by-step process was taken to fully assess potential species impacts for documentation and consultation purposes without conducting unnecessary seasonal surveys. Furthermore, new field data forms were created for each species to facilitate easy review and rapid transfer of data into Agency databases. The end result is a predictable process by which consultants can forecast an appropriate scope of work for contracts, GDOT can avoid project delays, and agencies can collect high quality data for adapting species ranges, future conservation measures and, hopefully, species recovery. We hope to share our process to help facilitate similar efforts in other states and receive feedback for areas in which we might continue to improve GDOT's goal of delivering a transportation system focused on innovation, safety, sustainability and mobility.

Abstract Keywords
Species Detectability
Data Quality
Project Delivery Efficiency