Brooke Stansberry and John Cochnar
by Brooke Stansberry and John Cochnar on March 19, 2012
U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (USFWS),
Nebraska Ecological Services Field Office
To quote Federal Highway Administrator Victor Mendez, "Every Day Counts (EDC) is designed to identify and deploy innovation aimed at shortening project delivery, enhancing the safety of our roadways, and protecting the environment." In 2008, the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), Nebraska Department of Roads (NDOR), Nebraska Game and Parks Commission (NGPC), and the USFWS started developing a programmatic process for complying with both the Endangered Species Act (ESA) and the Nebraska Nongame and Endangered Species Conservation Act (NESCA). This programmatic approach mirrored Administrator Mendez’s EDC initiatives.
For Nebraska, traditional project by project environmental review resulted in a backlog of projects for NDOR and FHWA, disrupting the focus on planning efforts, and contributing to project delivery delays. This project by project consultation also created difficulties for the USFWS and NGPC, who, with limited staff resources, were challenged to complete project reviews in a timely manner. Consultation was occurring late in the planning process, resulting in less flexibility for incorporating project modification to accommodate species considerations due to transportation project delivery timeframes. Ultimately, less time was being spent working towards meaningful conservation cooperatively.
Due to scheduling pressures, increasing workloads and a desire to create efficiencies in the transportation environmental program, FHWA and NDOR decided that developing a programmatic approach to consultation would be beneficial for Nebraska’s transportation program and for Nebraska public trust resources. Programmatic consultation is a way to address an agency’s multiple actions on a program level. This approach to consultation can also save valuable time for both the transportation and resource agencies through consistency and standardization. The purpose of our Nebraska process has been to provide an efficient, consistent, streamlined approach to regulatory compliance with fish, wildlife, and plant resource protection in Nebraska by implementing a standardized analysis, documentation and concurrence procedures for use by the participating agencies when constructing and improving transportation facilities.
In December 2011, the four agencies signed a Programmatic Agreement as to how the agencies would comply with ESA and NESCA. Standardized effect determinations were agreed to based on construction activity type, onsite species records/habitat conditions, and also included the development of standardized conservation conditions (measures) for all state and federally-listed species. Further, the USFWS and NGPC both sent FHWA and NDOR concurrence letters that successful implementation of the agreed to Programmatic Process would not likely adversely affect federal and state listed endangered and threatened species in Nebraska. This Programmatic allows all agencies to meet their individual agency missions efficiently and consistently while decreasing staff workloads and enhancing species conservation on a program level. The Programmatic has also strengthened agency partnerships where all partners now understand, appreciate, and respect the requirements and limitations of the other partners. All partners recognize the responsibilities to not only protect public trust resources, but also plan and deliver a project on time to the traveling public.
Due to limited staff resources, the USFWS in Nebraska intends to use some of the tools that were jointly developed from this Programmatic Process as a means to also streamline non-transportation project reviews. This new way of doing business in the USFWS will "make more time" for us to focus attention on providing actual on-the-ground conservation delivery for federal trust resources and species recovery efforts. We highly support the effort that has taken place in the development of this Programmatic Process and recommend that other federal and state agencies utilize our Process as a way to develop a similar process for their needs.