Sujai Veeramachaneni (GDOT), Felicity Davis (GDOT), Chris Goodson (GDOT), Anna Yellin (WRD), Meg Hedeen (GDOT), Carrie Keogh (Emory University)
Protected plant species that prefer open and forest edge habitats can find unexpected homes in regularly maintained transportation rights-of-way. Avoidance and minimization of these resources is a critical goal for the Georgia Department of Transportation (GDOT) during design and construction of proposed transportation projects. When protected plant surveys identify protected plant populations in rights-of-way which can be avoided by proposed projects, GDOT designates an Environmentally Sensitive Area (ESA) to be signed and maintained in perpetuity. While designating ESAs is not a new practice, GDOT desired a consistent tracking system for, sometimes historic, ESA records. Only a couple known ESA sites had dedicated management plans, another challenge for conservation of these important plant populations. Starting in 2018, GDOT partnered with the Georgia Department of Natural Resources – Wildlife Resources Division (WRD) and Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), as well as Emory University, to assess current practices and develop a plan for tracking and managing ESA sites across Georgia. Tracking, management and recovery development efforts involved contributions from and coordination between many parties both external and internal to GDOT. Existing practices and proposals for improvement were developed by Emory University students participating in a service learning course. WRD provided element occurrence data that intersect existing rights-of-way, while existing ESA locations continue to be identified by GDOT District personnel and consultants surveying for proposed transportation projects. A template ESA management plan was developed to help record site information for tracking and recovery efforts, including site-specific management actions that will be easily accessible for GDOT District Maintenance personnel. Development of this tracking and maintenance system is on-going, but the future of rare plant recovery in roadway rights-of-way seems bright.