PROTECT THE ENVIRONMENT
Protecting the environment is the core responsibility of this office, but environment means more than just plants and animals. OLE wants to avoid harming cultural resources, wetlands, rivers, threatened and endangered species and their habitats. When looking at the location of all these items in relation to a road project, our goal is to avoid affecting them. If we can not, the Iowa DOT will minimize the area to be affected and then mitigate those impacts. Examples of mitigation would be digging up artifacts and placing them in local museums, transplanting endangered plants in a suitable habitat or building a new wetland to replace one taken for construction.
The subject area of “cultural resources” is a broad one and refers, generally, to the history of human occupation on the land. Pre-historic cultural resources refers to scientific evidence found of Native American people living in Iowa before the coming of the European settlers — by definition, generally more than 150 years ago. Historic cultural resources refers to evidence found — or still existing — of occupation by the early settlers and those who followed — again by definition, generally more than 50 years old, but less than 150 years in age.
OLE consults with the state historic preservation officer to protect cultural resources during the planning for Iowa DOT projects. The Programmatic Agreement defines how that consultation will be accomplished in accordance with the laws of the United States.
The Threatened and Endangered Species section of OLE is responsible for ensuring Iowa DOT projects do not endanger or harm state and federally protected species or destroy their habitat. There are 13 federally listed animals and five plants within Iowa. The State of Iowa has listed an additional 72 animals and 150 plants that are threatened or endangered. During the planning phase of each project, the area is evaluated to determine the potential for each plant or animal to be found on the site. If the animal or plant is found in or near the project boundaries, steps are taken to avoid or mitigate any potential impacts to them. One example of a species needing special consideration by our office is the Topeka shiner, a small minnow.
Also considered part of the environment are scenic byways, bike paths, and individual communities. OLE strives to maintain scenic byways, expand bike paths where possible, and be sensitive to low income or minority areas.