Conserving America's Wetlands 2008:
Four Years of Partnering Resulted in
Accomplishing the President's Goal
Department of Transportation
Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) Programs Maintaining the Wetlands Base
Under the Federal-aid highway legislation (Title 23, United States Code, Highways), state transportation agencies may use national Highway System and Surface Transportation Program funds to finance wetland and natural habitat conservation planning and implementation, as well as compensatory mitigation and re-establishment projects that offset unavoidable wetlands and natural habitat losses from transportation projects. The Department of Transportation/Federal Highway Administration has a goal of 1.5-to-1 wetland acre mitigation. Under the Federal-Aid Highway Program, FHWA has achieved over 52,000 acres of wetland mitigation since 1996, with the mitigation amount exceeding the amount impacted by over 33,000 acres. Through FHWA, the Department of Transportation also funds research on wetlands mitigation in connection with highways.
||Acres of Compensatory Wetland Mitigation||Acres of Wetland Impacts||Mitigation Ratio/Percent Increase||Acreage Gain|
|*Gains from mitigation programs are not counted as acres toward the
Presidents wetlands goal.
Note: FHWA discontinued its collection of nationwide data in 2005. This data is not representative
of migration in all 50 states.
In 1980, FHWA issued 23 CFR Part 777, Mitigation of Impacts to Privately Owned Wetlands, which gave sponsors of federally assisted highway projects the flexibility to use Federalaid funds to mitigate impacts to wetlands. The regulation was updated in 2000 to include more recent legislative, regulatory, and policy developments. The regulation specifies that funds eligible for mitigation and enhancement apply to all projects carried out under the Federal-Aid Highway Program.
Because federal aid highway programs operate under contract authority implemented through the states, total annual expenditures of federal assistance are at the discretion of the states within obligation limits established by Congress for each program. The total of all expenditures each year for a given program must be at or below the congressional obligation limit. But the federal government does not direct program expenditures under the annual limit; instead, the states determine how and where the funds are spent based on levels allocated to them by formula each year. Therefore, the states determine what portion of their total allocated funding authority will go to finance wetland mitigation and enhancement.
As a measure of performance under FHWAs net gain policy and commitments made under the Clean Water Action Plan, FHWA monitors annual wetlands impacts and mitigation under the Federal-aid highway programs nationwide. Monitoring began in FY 1996. Program-wide, the FY 2007 figures from 34 states indicate that Federal-aid highway projects provided 3.27 acres of compensatory wetland mitigation for each acre of impact, excluding preservation data from Florida. Florida reported approximately 2,700 acres of mitigation through preservation, in addition to the mitigation acreage they provided through re-establishment, enhancement, and creation. These data were not included in the Federal-aid program 2007 mitigation total. Data collected by FHWA over the past 12 years indicate that, nationwide, Federal-aid highway programs have achieved over a 170 percent gain in wetlands acreage (2.74:1 gain/loss ratio). Nationwide, between 1996 and 2007, Federal-aid highway programs reported a total of 33,141 additional acres of wetlands mitigation above the acres impacted. We believe this represents a substantial increase in wetlands functions and values over impacts.
While these data are important indicators, it should be noted that FHWA has not collected data on long-term mitigation success, ecological effectiveness, and other similar measures, which would be required for a complete assessment of a sustained net gain in wetland area, functions, and performance.
Costs of wetlands mitigation have increased several-fold during the past 25 years. Costs of mitigation were estimated in 1995 as approximately $16,000 per acre of mitigation nationwide, based on available data obtained from 1992 to 1994. This results in an estimated total cost from 1996 to 1999 for all federally assisted highway programs of approximately $50 to $80 million per year for replacement of wetlands (in pre-1995 dollars). A Government Accountability Office report to the Transportation Subcommittee on Highway Planning (August 1994) quotes data from 1992 for wetlands costs from 37 states. Annual costs reported for 1988 to 1992 averaged $79 million.
Research and Other Cooperative Efforts to Support the Wetlands Goal
The FHWA coordinates wetlands programs and research initiatives with other federal agencies, including EPA and DOI. FHWA wetlands research is not identified separately. FHWA, EPA, and USACE implemented guidance on how the TEA-21 preference on the use of mitigation banks can be exercised under the Section 404, Clean Water Act permitting process, one of the first actions completed under the National Wetlands Mitigation Action Plan.
The Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act: A Legacy for Users (SAFETEA-LU), enacted in 2005, requires metropolitan and statewide transportation plans(highway and transit) to include a discussion of potential environmental mitigation activities and potential areas to carry out these activities, developed in consultation with federal, state, and tribal wildlife, land management, and regulatory agencies.
In December 2007, FHWA announced 14 cooperative agreements totaling approximately $1.4 million with transportation and resource agencies and non-government organizations to promote integration of transportation and resource planning. These pilot projects will demonstrate methods and best practices to implement the multi-agency publication, Eco-Logical: An Ecosystem Approach to Developing Infrastructure Projects. These projects will encourage federal, state, and local partners to integrate environmental solutions and goals into planning for infrastructure development. Eco-Logical puts forth the conceptual groundwork for integrating environmental and infrastructure plans across agency and geographical boundaries, and endorses ecosystem-based mitigation approaches to compensate for unavoidable impacts caused by infrastructure projects. The selected pilot projects include wetlands mitigation activities.
Federal Aviation and Transit Programs
The programs of the Federal Transit Administration provide federal funding for wetlands mitigation related to assisted transit projects as part of project costs. As noted above, under SAFETEA-LU, transportation plans must address environmental mitigation.
Wetlands mitigation related to airport projects receiving federal assistance under Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) programs is an eligible project expense. In 1996, FAA issued a Wetlands Banking Mitigation Strategy to provide guidance to ensure that federally assisted airport projects and FAA projects effectively and efficiently meet Section 404 permit requirements and environmental responsibilities. This document provides a framework for the FAA to mitigate unavoidable impacts before they occur by purchasing credits from a wetlands bank. The use of wetlands mitigation banking is voluntary, and is considered on a project-by-project basis. If chosen as an option for an airport project, the airport sponsor may recover the cost of purchasing wetlands bank credits from Federal Airport Improvement Program funding. In July 2003, FAA signed an interagency memorandum of agreement thataddresses wetlands mitigation and re-establishment projects near airports and ways to reduce aircraft-wildlife strikes and maintain aviation safety.