Biologists at WSDOT work to protect fish, wildlife and habitat resources from transportation projects through many different regulations. Some of these regulations are federal such as the Endangered Species Act, National Environmental Policy Act and the Migratory Bird Treaty Act; and others are state regulations. The WSDOT Environmental Services Office has developed guidance for regional biologists, local agencies, consultants and maintenance crews to limit impacts to natural resources while following federal and state regulations.
The Endangered Species Act (ESA) has many influencing factors on activities conducted at WSDOT. The ESA requires that federal agencies supporting projects (such as WSDOT projects) do not jeopardize the continued existence of listed endangered and threatened species or their habitat. To ensure compliance with the requirements of the ESA, a process of environmental evaluation, documentation, and review is initiated. The process is initiated through a Biological Assessment (BA) that evaluates the potential effects of a project on listed and proposed fish, wildlife and plant species as well as critical habitats that are likely to occur in the vicinity of the project. This document serves as the basis for consultation with the regulatory agencies, USFWS or NOAA Fisheries.
WSDOT has developed guidance, quality standards, training and an author qualification program for preparing Biological Assessments and the WSDOT consultation process.
If you would like to receive email updates when biological assessment guidance is added or updated, please sign up for our BA Authors list (A list for people who prepare biological assessments).
WSDOT recommends three protocols and templates for evaluating wildlife, fisheries, or vegetation resources on transportation projects. The protocols and templates are useful when preparing Fish, Wildlife and Vegetation Discipline Reports during the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA)/State Environmental Policy Act (SEPA) process.
Templates and protocols used in Biological Assessments during Endangered Species Act consultations are available on the Biological Assessment pages.
Some of the most influential federal and state regulations affecting the work of WSDOT biologists include the Endangered Species Act, Bald Eagle Protection Act of 1940 (amended in 1962 to include golden eagles), Magnuson Stevens Act, Migratory Bird Treaty Act, and sections of the Washington Administrative Code and the Revised Code of Washington pertaining to fish, wildlife, and habitat.
I-90 Wildlife Underpass Crossing
WSDOT has a Habitat Connectivity policy directive (Executive Order 1031, "Protections and Connections for High Quality Natural Habitats") which mandates consideration of habitat values and wildlife movement needs in all transportation activities.
WSDOT and the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife were leads in the development of a Statewide Habitat Connectivity Analysis that identified areas needed to provide for wildlife movements. The products from this analysis will help WSDOT anticipate safety issues related to wildlife-vehicle collisions and contribute to the conservation of wildlife, including listed species. It is intended to be used as guidance for identifying highway segments where wildlife movements are important to consider in transportation plannin, project development, and operation of the transportation system. In the near future, it will be integrated with other information that the agency uses to establish priorities for investing in more wildlife-friendly highways. These investments include installation of roadside fencing, crossing structures, or a combination of the two. There are several ongoing projects in which wildlife crossing issues play a key role. Some of the current project examples include:
Julia Kintsch and Dr. Patricia Cramer recently completed a WSDOT-funded research project that developed a method to rank the suitability of existing bridges and culverts (pdf 8.69 mb) for passing wildlife. Examples of approaches to retrofitting roads to make them wildlife-friendly were compiled in a Passage Enhancement Toolbox(pdf 88 kb ). The project also included monitoring of structures in Washington using motion-triggered cameras. The black bear, right, is one of thousands of examples of wildlife that were photographed as they crossed under highways. A short video (wmv 17.2 mb) has been built from a selection of images captured by these cameras.
Additional information on Habitat Connectivity (pdf 1.17 mb) at WSDOT is available.
Wildlife Carcass Removal Database
Deer and Elk collision problem areas in Washington State (Click image for larger map)
WSDOT maintenance crews submit data on wildlife (primarily deer and elk) carcasses removed from state highways. WSDOT Geographic Information Systems and biological staff make these data available for mapping and general queries to help with project planning and identification of problem areas.
These data are being used, along with other information, to identify the most important locations for installation of fencing and crossing structures to reduce wildlife mortalities and improve highway safety. However, additional information is needed to identify important wildlife movement corridors where highway crossings are mostly successful, not resulting in collisions (see previous section on Statewide Habitat Connectivity Analysis).
Also, carcass removal data are not a complete record of collisions. Animals sometimes survive a collision or expire outside of the road right-of-way. Others may be picked up by citizens or other agencies (like the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife) and not reported to WSDOT. The accuracy of collision locations varies. Maintenance staff are encouraged to report locations to the nearest tenth of a mile but locations can be rounded to the nearest half or whole mile post.
Commonly asked questions and answers about reducing the risks of wildlife vehicle collisions can be found in this Question and Answer page.
Federal law protects transportation agencies from liability associated with the collection of data that is needed to improve the safety of highways. This includes wildlife collision data. Requestors of carcass removal data are asked to review information on the legal issues and limitations of these data prior to their request being filled. To request carcass removal data, contact: Kelly McAllister.
Wildlife Related WSDOT Research:
Other Related Resources:
Biologists in the Environmental Services Office have been developing guidance for WSDOT maintenance personnel to assure that highway maintenance activities do not impact protected terrestrial species that occur on WSDOT bridges throughout the state. Commonly asked questions and answers about wildlife on bridges can be found in this Question and Answer page.