US Department of Transportation

FHWA PlanWorks: Better Planning, Better Projects

IEFStep 9 : Update Regional Ecosystem Framework and Plan

Integrated Ecological Framework Step

Purpose & Outcome


Ensure that the REF and integrated plan become a living database.

  • Updated REF and cumulative effects analysis.
  • Updated conservation and restoration priorities.


TIP: To access more information on sub-steps, please visit the complete Guide to the Integrated Ecological Framework.

  1. Integrate any revised conservation plans into the regional integrated plan/ecosystem framework and, where appropriate, individual resource spatial information
  2. Update the area/resource conservation requirements, responses, and indicators in collaboration with stakeholders (e.g., assess regional goals, update to minimum required area for species and/or habitat, review confidence threshold for achieving goals, review weighting values of resources in REF, evaluate responses to land use and infrastructure).
  3. Update the implementation status of areas in the REF to review those areas that are contributing to REF goals and priorities, and determine if additional conservation/protection action is required.
  4. Update the cumulative effects analysis with new developments, new disturbances, proposals and trends (e.g., ecosystem-altering wildfire, new policies, plans, proposals, and trends such as new sea level rise inundation model).
  5. Conduct regular review of progress, including effectiveness at meeting goals and objectives, current take totals, and likelihood of exceeding programmatic take allowance.

Technical Questions

  • Has the status of species or habitats changed? How does this affect REF goals?
  • Do areas on the landscape critical to meeting goals identified in REF need additional protection or restoration action?
  • How often should the REF be revised to incorporate new conservation data or plans?
  • How often should the cumulative effects analysis be updated?
  • Are indicators used to track conservation progress capturing the correct trends?
  • Are transportation project delivery indicators improving (e.g., streamlined decision-making and/or better conservation outcomes)?
  • How can modifications be moved forward to alter mitigation and restoration priorities previously identified but not yet implemented?


  • New conservation or restoration plans
  • New information on species
  • New information developed by Landscape Conservation Cooperatives
  • New developments, new disturbances, proposals and trends (e.g., ecosystem-altering wildfire, new policies, plans, proposals, and trends such as new sea level rise inundation model)

Case Study Examples

Click on the arrows below for detailed information on each case

Tools & Methods

Click on the arrows below for detailed information on each tool or method.

  • Description: BASINS is designed to be used by regional, state, and local agencies to perform watershed- and water-quality-based studies and as a system for supporting the development of total maximum daily loads (TMDLs). Version 3.1 is compatible with ArcView 3.1, 3.2, or 3.3. It is not compatible with the current ArcGIS suite of applications. Version 4.0 contains an installation program for use in an open source GIS program (MapWindow).

  • Description: CAPS is an ecological community-based approach for assessing the ecological integrity of lands and waters and prioritizing land for habitat and biodiversity conservation. The approach defines ecological integrity as the ability of an area to support biodiversity and the ecosystem processes necessary to sustain biodiversity over the long term. The approach assumes that by conserving intact, ecologically-defined communities of high integrity, most species and ecosystems can be conserved.

  • Description: A series of assessment methods and guidance for monitoring ecological conditions and risks

  • Description: Identifies perennial and ephemeral streams in Oregon. Uses field indicators that identify evidence of flow.

  • Description: To supplement the rapid bioassessment protocols (Plafkin et al. 1989; rev. Barbour et al. 1999) by illustrating how Region 10 States have adapted the RBPs for the northwestern U.S.; to define the minimum components necessary to conduct stream bioassessment; and to encourage consistency of sampling methods to facilitate data sharing. Ordinal scale, nominal scale, and quantitative output.

  • Description: Fairfax County developed a Stream Protection Strategy as part of on-going progress towards a watershed management program. The Strategy includes methods that build upon and incorporate extant bioassessment programs and will allow the Stormwater Management Branch to better anticipate, prevent, prioritize, and correct adverse impacts to the County's stream resources. The Strategy incorporates biological sampling (e.g. benthic macroinvertebrates and fish) and rapid physical habitat and geomorphology assessments. Descriptive, ordinal scale, nominal scale, and quantitative output.

  • Description: The Conservation Fund's strategic conservation services use a green infrastructure planning approach-simultaneously focusing on the best lands to conserve and the best lands to accommodate development and human infrastructure-to help communities, state and federal agencies, and businesses balance environmental and economic goals through strategies that lead to smarter, sustainable land use; Green infrastructure plans: Development of comprehensive green infrastructure plans that identify community priorities and goals, inventory current community assets, map green space networks, develop strategies for implementation, and build capacity for communities to achieve their conservation visions; Decision support tool design and implementation: Integrate data, knowledge and analyses (e.g. ecosystem services, optimization, suitability analysis) to support land use decision making and prudent use of resources; Mitigation support: Identify and evaluate mitigation opportunities for agencies and business organizations from Habitat Conservation Plans, transportation improvement projects, military compatible- use buffer programs and pipeline/transmission/energy corridors.

  • Description: To establish a standardized general protocol "that can be used when conducting any stream habitat survey, evaluation, monitoring program, appraisal, or special project.when precise, defensible methods are needed to substantiate management objectives, priorities, or effectiveness [of management treatments]" (Simonson et al. 1994). Descriptive, ordinal scale, nominal scale, and quantitative output.

  • Description: To aid managers in discerning the relationships between wildlife populations (for elk and mule deer) and habitat sustainability. The model produces a range of population values with related management implications (e.g., grazing, burning) that can be used in the planning process. Developed to resolve fence and forage conflicts on private and public lands. Quantitative output.

  • Description: IFIM is a tool to assess in-stream flow problems, ranging from simple diversions to complex storage and release schemes. It provides resources managers with a decision support system for determining the benefits or consequences of different water management alternatives. Descriptive, ordinal scale, nominal scale, and quantitative output.

  • Description: PII is a protocol allows the user to evaluate potential development sites using checklists and rank them against a reference site. Objectives are to: (1) assist developers in deciding whether to proceed with development; (2) provide a procedure to determine pre-construction study needs to verify use of potential sites by wildlife; and (3) provide recommendations for monitoring potential sites postconstruction to identify, quantify, or verify actual impacts (or lack thereof).

  • Description: The Land Change Modeler (LCM) for Ecological Sustainability is an integrated software environment for analyzing land cover change, projecting its course into the future, and assessing its implications for habitat and biodiversity change. Commissioned by the Andes Conservation Biology Center of Conservation International, LCM is vertical application developed by Clark Labs and integrated within the IDRISI GIS and Image Processing software package. The Land Change Modeler for Ecological Sustainability is oriented to the pressing problem of accelerated land conversion and the very specific analytical needs of biodiversity conservation. LCM is organized into five areas: analyzing past land cover change, modeling the process of change, predicting the course of change into the future, assessing its implications for biodiversity, and evaluating planning interventions for maintaining ecological sustainability.

  • Description: LEAM urban land-use transformation modeling begins with drivers, those forces (typically human) that contribute to land-use change. Model drivers represent the dynamic interactions between the urban system and the surrounding landscape. Each driver is developed as a contextually independent sub-model which allows for calibration before being run simultaneously in the LEAM model. Environmental, economic and social system impacts of alternative scenarios such as different land-use policies, growth trends, and unexpected events can be tested out in the LEAM modeling environment. Scenario results and impact assessments can be displayed in a number of ways: as simulation movies, through a built-in mapping tool, in graph or chart displays, or simply as raw data. LEAM's visual representation of each scenario's outcome provides an intuitive means of understanding the potential of decisions and acts as a catalyst for discussion and communal decision-making. All driver models figure into creating the development probability model, while the impact models respond to the land use change that is triggered by the development probability model. Impacts assessed by the LEAM model are also used in the creation of sustainable indices and indicators that can feed back into the model drivers for new policy formation.

  • Description: To assess status and trends in water quality nationwide and to develop an understanding of the major factors influencing observed conditions and trends. Descriptive and quantitative output.

  • Description: Platts et al. (1983) presents standard techniques for measuring aquatic, riparian, and biotic attributes and stresses the precision and accuracy of each measurement. In this way, the authors aim to provide the field practitioner with tools and information to build on and evaluate for assessing particular aquatic habitat and biological features. Platts et al. (1987) expands upon Platts et al. (1983) with a "comprehensive set of the latest methods for ... use in managing, evaluating, and monitoring riparian conditions...." Descriptive, ordinal scale, nominal scale, and quantitative output.

  • Description: Developed to monitor habitat conditions for Oregon streams

  • Description: Identify and describe naturally occurring, ecologically distinct, spatial units in river. Uses include inventory, research (sampling designs based on stratification of river valley segment types), and basis for resource management. Descriptive output.

  • Description: The original 1992 version of MnRAM was developed to provide a practical assessment tool that would help local authorities make sound wetland management decisions as they assumed responsibility for regulating wetland impacts. The current version represents a more refined procedure that provides numeric, rather than the original descriptive, ratings. It may be applied to existing wetlands or potential restoration sites. Descriptive and ordinal scale output.

  • Description: The Miradi software tool helps conservation practitioners implement the Open Standards for the Practice of Conservation. Miradi provides an easy-to-use, interview-style interface that walks a project team through each step of the process of designing, managing and monitoring their project according to the best practice standards established and tested by the world's major conservation organizations.

  • Description: To provide a technique that (1) assesses 4 major functions and 7 values of vernal pool wetlands, (2) is standardized and rapid (in the sense that the procedure can be completed in one day or less), (3) is well-documented with scientific literature, mainly from Oregon, and (4) can be used to prioritize vernal pool complexes and compare them before and after restoration or impact. Ordinal scale output.

  • Description: Developed to provide "a practical technical reference for conducting cost-effective biological assessments of lotic systems."

  • Description: To provide a simple, rapid reconnaissance-level assessment of stream quality conditions on a watershed scale. Descriptive and ordinal scale output.

  • Description: Restore integrates models of watershed function and economic characterizations of restoration options with stakeholder-determined constraints and priorities to provide a tool for stakeholders to identify feasible restoration strategies and evaluate the ecological and economic effectiveness of these strategies at addressing watershed-level function. The approach involves integrating 1) models of hydrology, water quality, biodiversity, and habitat quality at the watershed scale, 2) socioeconomic analyses of stakeholder constraints on feasible restoration options and 3) economic analysis of restoration options to develop a GIS-based decision tool for generating and evaluating restoration strategies consistent with stakeholder goals.

  • Description: Development of a multivariate model of reference stream conditions for the Virginia Coastal Zone using biological, ecological, and geomorphological variables.

  • Description: Provides techniques from numerous published sources for collecting a minimum set of high quality data necessary to quantify the physical character of streams for monitoring, impact assessment, inventory, response to management actions, etc. Descriptive and quantitative output.

  • Description: The Unified Stream Assessment is a rapid technique to locate and evaluate problems and restoration opportunities within an urban stream corridor in Maryland.

  • Description: Contains the field operations and bioassessment methods for evaluating the health and biological integrity of wadeable freshwater streams throughout the US. These methods can be used to determine stream condition assessment and/or to monitor the effects of impacts on aquatic 155 organisms, particularly benthic acroinvertebrates. Descriptive, ordinal scale, nominal scale, and quantitative output.

  • Description: To identify and classify subwatersheds that are vulnerable to changes in land use based on estimates of current and future impervious cover; and to identify subwatersheds that warrant restoration actions. Descriptive output.