A multidisciplinary activity for using a
field guide in context

When a big project is planned for a sensitive environmental space, the "developers" must write an Environmental Impact Statement describing the impact of the project, often a building, on the environment around it. Certainly the land under the building will not be available for plants and animals any more, and the land will often no longer be part of any corridor of wildlife movement. But more subtle changes can happen to the land around the project: run-off water, for example, will alter the soil moisture; pollutants , including noise, from increased traffic and parked cars will affect the activties of wildlife. After all, even a simple building changes the light and temperature of a piece of land.

Yet we need some new homes, stores, and airports as our population grows, so we are increasingly called upon to make tough decisions. How can we measure the impact of a project on its immediate area, and its area downwind and downstream, in order to evaluate these alternatives?

In this activity students will pick a proposed building project for their community and develop an Environmental Impact Statement. They may choose to present it to the groups involved in the project, and or their school, neighborhood and town community.

1. Warm up by brainstorming all the ways a new building impacts the land and life on that land. You might include the building process and disposal of its waste, changes in temperature and light, the effect on traffic and parking, the impact on the livability of its neighborhood, the resources the new building brings to people in its vicinity.

2. Review a few interesting Environmental Impact Statements (EIS) on the web.

Draft Environmental Impact Statement for the Interagency Bison Management Plan for the State of Montana and Yellowstone National Park

1998 Draft Environmental Impact Statement and General Management Plan

An airport at Badgery's Creek
"This is a summary of the Final Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) on the proposal to construct and operate a major domestic and international airport for Sydney at Badgerys Creek. It focuses on the environmental and economic impacts of the proposal, rather than on the process that was followed."

Consider this sentence in the Sydney EIS!
"Given the existing degraded stream conditions and the associated low conservation value of streams, the predicted major stream impacts from the airport options are unlikely, in an absolute sense, to result in profound deleterious changes to the stream biota. It is likely that fish would become even more dominated by the pollution tolerant species and therefore be subject to an even greater decrease in the biodiversity of native fish species. The scale of impacts expected from each airport option is considered to be local; however, Option A would result in fewer impacts to fewer streams than Options B and C."


3. Consider what goes into an EIS.

The US has developed a form for Environmental Impact Statements.

A REQUIREMENT for the EIS is a description of the affected environment, and anticipation of direct or indirect impact upon this environment of the proposed plan. Look at a few plans again. What do they include, exclude?

The HEART of the EIS is the statement of key issues and alternatives that need to be addressed before the proposed building proceeds.


3. Start your own EIS Project

Pick a building project in your neighborhood, or imagine a building project in an empty lot. You might have to pick the backyard of the school! Develop your own class outline of an EIS to fill out.


4. Brainstorm some impacts of a building project.

Groups of students could meet to brainstorm a list of possible impacts, and later join their list into a master list. They could work with sets of maps that place the site in a wide variety of contexts, including watershed maps.

5. Characterize the site itself.

Visit, describe, and further characterize the natural setting for the proposed building. Is the land wet or dry? Size? Biome? Surrounded by? Location in watershed? Aesthetic significance? Historic significance? Agricultural significance? Do a Site Characterization with your handheld.



6. Characterize life on the site (FIELD GUIDE)
Get a baseline of flora and fauna (to species if possible)
Then look for ways to do long-term monitoring. What would you look for?






7. Find out the local history: Have the plants and animals changed over the last fifty years? Can older people remember how the land has been used during their lifetime? (See SURVEY)








7. Consider the importance of life on the site.

What are the most common species? Are there any endangered species? Are there introduced species? Are the species critical to the support of other species? (See Species Identification, Endangered Species)







8. Alternatives and Compensations
What are the choices for the builders? Try to develop 3 alternatives. Perhaps the building could be set in a particular way on the land, a way that maintains a corridor for animals, or keeps much of the farmland for leasing.

Consider the Sydney alternatives (maintaining a corridor, maintaining remnants, and not considering the flora and fauna) detailed in the flora and fauna section.

Are there ways to compensate for changes to the natural habitat caused by building? (relocation of species? Rebuilding of habitats? Protection of remnants?)

Use the What-if Builder, now available for the handheld, too, to develop these options.


9. Project Writing and Presentation

Students could assemble in teams to present their draft Environmental Impact Statements to the class. Have they taken many needs into account? Have they taken a position on the advisability of building? Have they presented some alternative plans?

Return to ISLAND Index