To increase recreational use on public lands, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposed on April 2 a new set of regulations governing the use of electric bicycles or e-bikes within the National Wildlife Refuge System – a move that supports two directives issued by the U.S. Department of the Interior, the Secretary’s Order 3366 to increase recreational opportunities on public lands and Secretary’s Order 3376 directing Department of the Interior bureaus to obtain public input on e-bike use.
The proposed rule also closely follows e-bike policy established by Director’s Order 222 in October 2019 that allows refuge managers to consider the use of e-bikes on any refuge roads and trails where traditional bicycle use is allowed, provided it is consistent with a refuge’s statutory purpose and the refuge manager determines it to be a compatible use.
The agency noted in a statement that the proposed rule defines permitted e-bikes as ‘two- or three-wheeled vehicles with fully operable pedals and a small electric motor of one horsepower or less.”
However, neither traditional bicycles nor e-bikes are allowed in designated wilderness areas and may not be appropriate for back-country trails, USFW added – noting that the focus of this guidance is on expanding the traditional bicycling experience to those who enjoy the reduction of effort provided by this new technology.
The USFW added that a majority of states – listed here – have adopted e-bike policies, with most following model legislation that allows for three classes of e-bikes to have access to bicycle trails.
A “historic agreement” finalized between the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the University of Illinois-Chicago on April 8 will encourage transportation and energy firms to voluntarily participate in monarch conservation by providing and maintaining habitat on potentially millions of acres of rights-of-way corridors on both public and private lands.
Both signed an integrated, nationwide Candidate Conservation Agreement (CCA) and Candidate Conservation Agreement with Assurances (CCAA) for the monarch butterfly on energy and transportation lands throughout the lower 48 states.
The USFW noted in a statement that those are formal yet voluntary agreements between the agency and both public and private landowners to conserve habitats that benefit at-risk species and that it integrated both CCA and CCAA programs so energy and transportation partners and private landowners can provide conservation seamlessly throughout their properties, where there may be a mix of non-federal and federal lands.
A CCAA is for non-federal partners only and provides assurances to participants in the form of an “enhancement of survival permit” that no additional conservation measures will be required of them if the covered species later becomes listed under the Endangered Species Act (ESA).
The American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials supported this effort in a two-page letter to the U.S. Department of the Interior on March 12; seeking “expedited approval” of voluntary national CCAAs to further encourage the creation of pollinator habitats in highway rights-of-way – especially the Monarch butterfly.
“AASHTO salutes the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service for approving this essential agreement,” said AASHTO’s executive director Jim Tymon. “This decision gives state DOTs the ability to meet their highest priority to provide safe roads for the traveling public while simultaneously safeguarding the health of habitat for essential pollinators like the Monarch Butterfly.”
“The regulatory protections provided by this CCAA allow transportation agencies to continue vegetation management practices with less concern that these actions will lead to an increase in the costs of regulatory compliance if the monarch is listed under the ESA,” the organization said in its letter.
The USFW said that agreement participants will carry out conservation measures to reduce or remove threats to the species and create and maintain habitat annually. And although this agreement specifically focuses on monarch habitat, the conservation measures will also benefit several other species – especially pollinating insects.
“Completing this agreement is a huge boost for the conservation of monarch butterflies and other pollinators on a landscape scale,” noted Aurelia Skipwith, USFW director, in a statement. “This is a great example of how … working proactively with our partners in the energy, transportation and agriculture industries to provide regulatory certainty for industry while addressing the conservation needs of our most at-risk species.”
“By engaging early in voluntary conservation, utilities and departments of transportation can avoid increased costs and operational delays as a result of a potential listing. This provides tremendous value to industry and will also yield big benefits to the monarch butterfly,” added Iris Caldwell, program manager of the University of Illinois-Chicago’s Energy Resources Center, which will administer the agreement.
“Not only is this the largest CCAA in history and completed on one of the fastest timelines thanks to our incredible partners, but it also represents an extraordinary collaboration between industry leaders and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service that can serve as a model for addressing challenges to other at-risk species,” Caldwell said.
The American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials Committee on Transportation System Security is sponsoring a series of “virtual panel discussions” to help state department of transportation leaders stay up-to-date on the latest news regarding the COVID-19 pandemic.
The panels will feature updates from the Federal Highway Administration, Transportation Security Administration, and Department of Homeland Security regarding the latest transportation implications of the COVID-19 outbreak. State DOT leaders will also get updates from other state and local transportation agencies from across the country, with an opportunity for open discussion.
The panels are also envisioned to serve as a “support group” for state DOTs facing COVID-19 emergency situations. But they are also forums for gathering and learning from the transportation impacts of the current pandemic and how they can be applied to future emergencies, including natural disasters such as hurricanes.
Another discussion thread will deal with how to improve multi-agency partnerships and emergency response efforts – especially in terms of building multi-agency ties before, and not during, emergency efforts. There will also be an emphasis on fine-tuning continuing of operations or COOP plans to help state DOTs maintain transportation systems during disease pandemics, as managing contagion outbreaks requires different protocols compared to COOP plans for wildfires, hurricanes, and the like.
The virtual panel series will be hosted weekly for the month of April. Additionally, a survey of state DOT needs or areas of interest regarding COVID-19 response and recovery will be launched at the April 8 session. Feedback collected will be used to inform subsequent sessions and additional technical assistance in response to the immediate and near-term response needs identified by state and local transportation agencies.
For registration details, please use the links below:
Wednesday, April 8, from 3:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m. Eastern: click here.
Wednesday, April 15, from 3:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m. Eastern: click here.
Wednesday, April 22, from 3:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m. Eastern: click here.
As transportation-fueled greenhouse gas emission concerns rise across the country, wholesale deployment of electric vehicles (EVs) still faces roadblocks as advocates try to develop an expensive infrastructure to support EVs that most people won’t buy.
Only one-third of U.S. adults said they would buy or lease an all-electric car, with the majority citing the scarcity of public charging stations and the EV’s high purchase price, according to a report from Morning Consult. EV purchases are rising, but they comprise only 2 percent of all light-duty vehicles.
“The barriers to buying EVs and building out EV infrastructure are closely connected,” said Tim Sexton, assistant commissioner, and chief sustainability officer for the Minnesota Department of Transportation. Most EV owners charge at home or at work, which makes it “difficult for private charging companies to be profitable until the EV market share grows,” he added.
According to the U.S Department of Energy (DOE), the country currently has nearly 25,000 public charging stations. DOE’s interactive map tool shows where the stations are, what kind of station (Level 1, Level 2, or DC Fast Charging) is at each location, and can plot an optimal EV route for nearby charging stations. The center also keeps track of how many charging stations are in each state.
However, consumer “range anxiety,” a lack of public awareness of EV purchasing and ownership benefits, plus a complex labyrinth of infrastructure financing have prompted some states to seek a regional approach to electrifying the highways.
To address those issues, three coalitions of states – one on each coast and one in the west – are developing model EV policies, creating consumer awareness campaigns, and building partnerships with businesses, utilities, local governments and public interest groups. It is slow going, but they are starting to show some results.
The Transportation and Climate Initiative is one coalition that includes transportation, environmental and energy officials from states in the Northeastern Association of State Transportation Officials, plus Virginia. One of the group’s goals is to enable drivers “to drive their plug-in cars and trucks from northern New England to D.C. and anywhere in between.” TCI aims to finalize a new multi-state memorandum of understanding in the coming months.
Washington, Oregon, and California are installing hundreds of new EV charging stations in part due to their membership in the West Coast Electric Highway initiative. Those three states are now home to more than 8,800 charging stations – more than a third of all such EV stations in the entire country.
Finally, there is the Regional Electric Vehicle or REV West coalition of eight states – Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah, and Wyoming – which aims to enable anyone to “seamlessly drive an electric vehicle across the Signatory States’ major transportation corridors.”
Even small progress on building out an EV infrastructure will encourage people to switch to electric vehicles, Minnesota DOT’s Sexton said. “Public EV chargers are critical for long-distance travel, and it helps normalize EVs,” he explained. “The more chargers people see, the more ‘normal’ the idea of driving an EV becomes.”