The goal of the project to update the Eco-Logical tool was to correct deficiencies in the ecotype basemap. With the rapid population growth over the last decade and the continuous expansion of the built-up area in the Houston metropolitan region, a fair proportion of the ecosystem resources delineated for the 2010 Eco-Logical application release had been fragmented or was lost entirely to development. Updating the ecotype basemap was considered essential to the application’s future utility. H-GAC however also took the opportunity to upgrade the underlying ArcGIS analytics platform and expand tool’s capabilities, to make the updated Eco-Logical application attractive to a wider range of users.
Eco-Logical Advisory Committee
To guide the update effort, H-GAC convened an advisory committee that consisted of environmental and planning professionals representing federal and state resource and regulatory agencies, natural resource conservation organizations, and regional transportation. The committee met periodically to review the progress and to take decisions on matters related to the update effort.
Advisory Committee members included representatives from:
- US Fish and Wildlife Service
- Texas Forest Service
- Texas Parks and Wildlife
- The Nature Conservancy
- Katy Prairie Conservancy
- Houston Wilderness
- Texas Dept. of Transportation (Planning & Env)
- Harris County Engineering
- Metropolitan Transportation Authority of Harris County
- Houston-Galveston Area Council
Both the delineation of the new landcover basemap and the re-design of the Eco-Logical application/interface were performed by staff from the Socio-Economic Modeling Group of the H-GAC Community and Environmental Planning Department.
The basemap was developed by blending the generalized ecological land types within the 8-County H-GAC Metropolitan Planning Region with the non-ecological landuse map. This created a seamless spatial dataset that defined the ecological landcover for the entire region. Having the complete ecological landcover coverage makes it possible to compare the relative proportion of natural ecotype communities against the developed land within a study boundary. View the Land Cover Data Development report for more information.
In addition to identifying where a project coincides with valuable ecological resources, the application was enhanced with additional query capabilities. New functions introduced in the tool include:
Red Flag Investigation
This investigation reports on the infrastructure, water resources, mining activities, hazardous material concerns, ecological information, cultural resources, and vulnerable population within a defined boundary and provides information that may be used in environmental reviews and a wide range of research studies.
This analysis reports the ecotype land cover within a defined study area and additionally lists socio-economic information such as the existing and projected landuse, announced developments, population, and jobs.
Built-in queries identify ecotype stands that exceed a specified acre size or density (percentage of land cover) to inform and support conservation planning efforts.
Eco-Logical Tool Benefits
Eco-Logical was conceived to alert transportation project sponsors and planners to the probable toll their projects would have on the environment. Now, with the added enhancements, roadway designers can save time and money by using the tool to identify potential environmental concerns related to their project alignments early in the development process. Furthermore, conservation planners can identify and focus efforts on protecting high priority environmental resources in the region. Beyond these however, the flexibility, expandability, and adaptability of the tool make it a valuable one-stop source of information for a wide variety of social and environmental data inquiries focused on the H-GAC 8-County planning region.