Lessons from Transportation Agency Participation in Regional Conservation Initiatives
Research Team: Jaimee Lederman (lead) and Martin Wachs
UC Campus(es): UCLA
Problem Statement: Transportation agencies struggle to maximize the benefits of transportation infrastructure while minimizing environmental harm. The Endangered Species Act (ESA) requires that public and private project developers mitigate any harm to endangered species and receive a permit from US Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS). Projects are typically permitted individually, but Regional Habitat Conservation Plans (RHCP) streamline permitting by allowing one permit to cover projects in multiple jurisdictions for up to 75 years. There is broad-based support for coordination across jurisdictional boundaries to address the increasingly regional scale of environmental issues. Unfortunately, multi-jurisdictional collaborations often face political and financial roadblocks.
Project Description: This dissertation examines institutional collaborations that integrate capital investments (e.g. highway and rail projects) with RHCPs under the ESA. It addresses ways of maintaining these collaborations over time. For this project, 21 RHCPs were examined, including analysis of planning documents and semi-structured interviews with RHCP, FWS, and transportation agency representatives. The case studies include urban, suburban, and rural counties in multiple states, focusing on California and Texas. The report shows acceleration of transportation projects garners political support for RHCPs and increases the biological efficacy of conservation initiatives. Transportation agencies benefit from reduced permitting time, costs, and fewer lawsuits. Participation promotes synergy between transportation and local funding that bolsters successful implementation of RHCPs. RHCPs can guide environmentally-responsible development patterns through several mechanisms —including strategic land acquisitions that limit urban growth and creating market incentives— even where they lack formal land use control.