Asheville Field Office Project Review Guide

Overview

The Endangered Species Act (ESA) requires Federal agencies to consult with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) to ensure their activities won’t jeopardize the continued existence of listed species or adversely modify designated critical habitat. This step-by-step guide walks you through that consultation process, and along the way creates a biological assessment or biological evaluation for submission to the Service.

Before you begin

  • This guide is only valid for the following North Carolina counties:  Alexander, Alleghany, Anson, Ashe, Avery, Buncombe, Burke, Cabarrus, Caldwell, Catawba, Cherokee, Clay, Cleveland, Davidson, Davie, Forsyth, Gaston, Graham, Haywood, Henderson, Iredell, Jackson, Lincoln, Macon, Madison, McDowell, Mecklenburg, Mitchell, Polk, Rowan, Rutherford, Stanly, Stokes, Surry, Swain, Transylvania, Union, Watauga, Wilkes, Yadkin, and Yancey. For other North Carolina counties, contact the Raleigh Field Office.
  • We respond to project review request within 30 days.  For projects requiring consultation, with a complete biological assessment or biological evaluation (BA/BE) we complete informal consultation within 60 days or formal consultation within 135 days.
  • At the bottom of this page, you’ll find several helpful documents, including a description of the key elements of a BA/BE.

 

Step 1: Define the action area action area
All areas to be affected directly or indirectly by the federal action and not merely the immediate area involved in the action.

Learn more about action area

The action area is all areas affected, directly or indirectly, by the Federal action and is not limited to the "footprint" of the action nor by the Federal agency's authority.  It encompasses temporary and permanent changes to land, water, and air caused by activities that are reasonably certain to occur and that would not occur but for the proposed action. To determine the action area, begin by marking the project footprint on a topographic map

Identify the effects of the action – impacts caused by the proposed action (including other activities that would only occur because of the proposed action), are reasonably certain to occur, and may affect critical habitat or any listed species present. These effects may occur later in time or outside the project footprint. They can include:

  • Ground disturbance (including access roads)
  • Changes in water quality and quantity (both surface and ground water)
  • Stormwater run-off
  • Air quality
  • Lighting effects
  • Noise disturbance

The geographic extent of these effects defines your action area and will be used in the Service’s Information for Planning and Consultation (IPaC IPaC
Information for Planning and Consultation (IPaC) is a project planning tool that streamlines the USFWS environmental review process

Learn more about IPaC
) system in Step 3.

Step 2: Describe the action

To determine how your project may interact with listed or proposed species and their habitats, a detailed account of all project elements is necessary.  Provide a detailed project description, including:

  • Project purpose.
  • Federal nexus, i.e. the federal agency involved and their role.
  • Maps with enough detail to discern project boundaries and action area.  Such maps include, but are not limited to: vicinity map with address and latitude/longitude in decimal degrees; property boundary or parcel maps; aerial and topographic maps; site plans – plan view, typical cross-sections, and engineering specifications. SHP or KML files are appreciated.
  • Construction methods, including equipment, materials, description of percussive activities, use of lighting (e.g., type, location), and construction timing (time of year, time of day/night, etc.).
  • Project and permitting timelines.
  • Long-term operation and maintenance activities (e.g., mowing, herbicide, etc.).

 

Step 3: Generate an official species list and begin a species determination table

Using the Service's Information for Planning and Consultation system (IPaC, https://ecos.fws.gov/ipac/) determine if any listed, proposed or candidate species may occur in the action area.  Species being considered for ESA listing, or “at-risk species,” aren’t included in your official species list; but we encourage you to consider them. To generate an official species list:

  1. Log into IPaC (https://ecos.fws.gov/ipac/).
  2. Find your location and define your action area based on your Step 2 findings (you may be prompted to provide a name and description of your project).
  3. Verify the accuracy of the action area and press continue to obtain an official species list.  It will not have a “not for consultation” watermark.
  4. Print the PDF version of this list.  If there are no listed species, skip to Step 5.
  5. If the official species list indicates listed, proposed, or candidate species may be present in the action area, create a species determination table with the following columns: species/resource, presence in the action area, information used, recommended determination, conservation measure incorporated into the project.  Add the species from the official species list to the species/resource column, and continue to Step 4.

 

Step 4: Determine presence of listed species and their suitable habitat

Using information provided by IPaC, the Natural Heritage Program, or other reliable sources, identify suitable habitat for each species on your species determination table, and determine if it occurs within the action area.  Information used could include, but is not limited to, botanical species lists, stream bed substrate and flow regime descriptions, soil type, etc.

For each species, does the action area contain suitable habitat? Complete the species determination table to reflect your answer. If no suitable habitat is present skip to Step 5.

Species/Resource Name

Presence in Action Area

Information Used

Recommended Determination

Conservation Measures Incorporated into Project

Michaux’s sumac

Suitable habitat present

-OR-

Suitable habitat not present

Explain what info was used to determine presence of suitable habitat

If no suitable habitat present, enter “No effect, otherwise leave blank until next step

If no suitable habitat present, enter “N/A,.” otherwise leave blank until next step

 

For species with suitable habitat present, determine ifthe species is present.  We may recommend surveys to determine presence.  Alternatively, one can assume species presence.  For plant surveys, please reference the optimal survey times for plants list (found in the consultation resources link at the bottom of this page).  Those surveying for listed animals must have a section 10(a)(1)(A) permit from the Service, or be conducting surveys with a permitted individual/agency, if there is a chance that animals will be captured and handled  Surveys must follow applicable guidelines and thoroughly search suitable habitats within the action area and during the appropriate survey windows.  Surveys outside appropriate survey times may have no bearing without prior coordination with the appropriate Service biologist. Complete the species determination table per the example shown.

Species/Resource Name

Presence in Action Area

Information Sources

Recommended Determination

Conservation Measures Incorporated into Project

Michaux’s sumac

Suitable habitat present; species not present

-OR-

Suitable habitat present; species present

Explain what info was used to determine presence of suitable habitat and species

No effect (if suitable habitat is completely avoided)

-OR-

May Affect, NLAA1 or LAA2

If no effect, denote as N/A

-OR-

List proposed conservation measures that include avoidance and minimization measures.

1NLAA = Not likely to adversely affect, i.e., all effects are beneficial, insignificant, or discountable.  Beneficial effects have contemporaneous positive effects without adverse effects to the species or habitat.  Insignificant effects relate to the size of the impact and include those that are undetectable, not measurable, or cannot be evaluated.  Discountable effects are those extremely unlikely to occur.

2LAA = Likely to adversely affect, i.e., listed species will be negatively affected by the action or its consequences. 

When the Federal agency proposing the action determines that a "may affect" situation exists, they must initiate formal consultation or seek written concurrence from the Service that the action is not likely to adversely affect listed species (50 CFR 402.14(a)).

 

Step 5: Determine if critical habitat is present

Critical habitats are legally designated areas with physical or biological features (PBFs) essential to the conservation of listed species and that may need special management or protection.  Federal agencies must ensure their actions don’t appreciably diminish the value of critical habitat for listed species.  Designated critical habitat has a legal status and definition and isn’t synonymous with “suitable habitat.” Your IPaC-generated species list will also tell you if critical habitat is present in the action area. If critical habitat is present, determine if the essential PBFs are present. Add a row to the species determination table and complete following the examples below.

Species/Resource Name

Presence in Action Area

Information sources

Recommended Determination

Conservation Measures Incorporated into Project

Appalachian elktoe critical habitat

Designated critical habitat present; PBFs not present

-OR-

Designated critical habitat present; PBFs present

Explain what info was used to determine presence of critical habitat presence and PBFs.

No adverse modification

-OR-

Adverse modification1

If no adverse modification, denote as N/A.

-OR-

If adverse modification, list proposed conservation measures to reduce likelihood of adverse modification.

 

1Adverse modification is a direct or indirect alteration that appreciably diminishes the value of critical habitat for the conservation of a listed species.  Such alterations may include, but are not limited to, alteration of the physical or biological features essential to the conservation of a species or that preclude or significantly delay development of such features.  This determination requires formal consultation with the Service.

Step 7: Addressing northern long-eared bat

Skip to Step 9 if your IPaC species list does not include northern long-eared bat (NLEB). For threatened species, the Service can implement a special rule under section 4(d) of the ESA to customize ESA protections.  The NLEB has a 4(d) rule, and under that rule, most purposeful take is prohibited and incidental take without a permit is prohibited:

  • At hibernation sites (includes disturbing or disrupting hibernating individuals and alternation of hibernation habitat, including cave or mine entrance, when bats are not present), or within ¼ mile of a known hibernation site.
  • Within a 150-foot radius of a known, occupied maternity roost during the pup season (June 1- July 31).

Regarding your project, are you conducting any of the following types of activities?

  • Tree cutting or removal.
  • Percussive activities (e.g., blasting, pile driving, jackhammering).
  • Constructing or operating wind turbines.
  • Removal, maintenance, or modification of bridges, culverts, or other structures, including out buildings.
  • Prescribed burning.
     

If no, then your determination is “no effect”.  If NLEB is the only species/critical habitat on your official species list and you are not conducting any of the activities listed above, you do not need to contact the Service.  Skip to Step 9.  If NLEB is not the only species, add NLEB to your table. If yes, you are conducting one or more of the listed activities,  is your project entirely outside the highlighted areas on this map? If yes, these projects meets the criteria for the 4(d) rule exemption and your determination is “may affect”. Add your recommended determination to the table and continue to Step 8. If no, your recommended determination is also “may affect” and a documented maternity colony or hibernation site may be in the action area.

Species/Resource Name

Presence in Action Area

Information sources

Recommended Determination

Conservation Measures Incorporated into Project

Northern long-eared bat

Suitable habitat present

-OR-

 No suitable habitat present

-OR-

Suitable habitat present; a documented maternity colony or hibernacula may be in the action area

Explain what info was used to determine presence/absence of suitable habitat

No effect

-OR-

May Affect, NLAA1 or LAA2-OR-

May Affect, NLAA1 or LAA2, documented maternity colony or hibernation site may be in the action area.

If no effect, denote as N/A

-OR-

If may effect, note if the project meets 4(d) rule exemption

-OR-

If may effect, list proposed conservation measures that include avoidance and minimization measures.

1NLAA = Not likely to adversely affect, i.e., all effects are beneficial, insignificant, or discountable.  Beneficial effects have contemporaneous positive effects without adverse effects to the species or habitat.  Insignificant effects relate to the size of the impact and include those that are undetectable, not measurable, or cannot be evaluated.  Discountable effects are those extremely unlikely to occur.

2LAA = Likely to adversely affect, i.e., listed species will be negatively affected by the action or its consequences. 

Step 8: Completing the species determination table

The “Species/Resource Name”, “Presence in the Action Area”, and “Sources of Info” columns in your species determination table should be complete.  Use the table below to assist in completing the “Recommended Determination” column in your species determination table if not already complete.  It shows possible determinations for scenarios listed in your table.

Species/Habitat Presence in Action Area (ESA)

ESA Section 7 Section 7
Section 7 Consultation The Endangered Species Act (ESA) directs all Federal agencies to work to conserve endangered and threatened species and to use their authorities to further the purposes of the Act. Section 7 of the Act, called "Interagency Cooperation," is the mechanism by which Federal agencies ensure the actions they take, including those they fund or authorize, do not jeopardize the existence of any listed species.

Learn more about Section 7
Determination

No suitable habitat present or avoidance of suitable habitat

No effect

Suitable habitat present; species not present based on surveys conducted during the optimal survey windows

NLAA

Suitable habitat present; species present

-OR-

Suitable habitat present; no valid survey results

May affect (NLAA OR LAA)

No critical habitat present

-OR-

Critical habitat present; no PBFs

No adverse modification

Critical habitat present, PBFs present

Contact our office to determine if the project will result in adverse modification

 

If a "may affect" determination is made, please include all measures proposed to avoid and minimize the potential impacts to each species/resource in the “Conservation Measures Incorporated into Project” column.  This will help you determine if a may affect determination is "likely to adversely affect" (LAA) or "not likely to adversely affect" (NLAA) the species/resources and assist the Service in review of that determination.  Use these tips to avoid common determination flaws.  Once your table is complete, go to Step 9.

If a determination of LAA or adverse modification is recommended for any species or critical habitat, you may be asked for more thorough and in-depth BA/BE than this step-wise process provides for.  Please contact our office for future guidance.

 

Step 9: Compile your project review package, which will service as your BA/BE

After completing Steps 1-8, compile the information listed below:

 

Step

Items

Required

1

Project Description

Y

2

Map of project boundary and action area

Y

3

Official species list (from IPaC)

Y

4

Habitat assessments

Y

4

Species survey results (include any completed reports)

If applicable

5

Critical habitat map

If applicable

7

Northern long-eared bat documentation

If applicable

8

Completed species determination table, including voluntary conservation measures

Y

 

Other documentation to support your  effects determination

If applicable

 

Submit your package electronically following the guidelines below:

  1. Format and size:  Consolidate documents into a single PDF, smaller than 25MB.  If a single email would be larger than 25MB, please consolidate items into the least number of documents and e-mails as possible.
  2. Subject line: In your email subject title, indicate the name of your project and the project county.
  3. Receipt confirmation: All project reviews will receive a return receipt to inform you that your project has been successfully submitted to this office.
  4. Keep records: Maintain a complete copy of the project review package in your files since it will become an integral part of your official record of compliance.
  5. If you know the name of the consultation biologist reviewing your project, please email your package directly to them.  If not, email your package to Rebekah Reid at the email listed below for forwarding to the appropriate biologist.

 

If you have questions or comments concerning this process, please contact Ms. Rebekah Reid at the email listed below.

 

Fish and wildlife biologist
Ecological Services
Expertise
Review of Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and Tennessee Valley Authority projects,
Endangered species habitat conservation planning,
Pollinator conservation
Area
NC
Asheville, NC
Fish and wildlife biologist
Ecological Services
Expertise
Review of Federal Highway Administration and N.C. Department of Transportation projects for fish, wildlife, and plant impacts
Area
NC
Asheville, NC