Project Planning and Review

[Back to Home]

Project planning assistance and review are free services provided by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Our biologists can review a project as part of:

  • Technical Assistance: Project that will not involve Federal permitting or funding
  • Informal 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
    Project involving a Federal action, permit, fund, or license that is not likely to adversely affect species or critical habitat
  • Formal ESA Section 7 Consultation: Project involving a Federal action, permit, fund, or license that is likely to adversely affect species or critical habitat
  • Section 10 of the ESA applies to non-Federal actions that are likely to take listed species. This process includes development of a Habitat Conservation Plan which will be accompanied by an Incidental Take Permit. The Georgia Ecological Services Field Office will provide information to help you decide if this is the right choice for you. We recommend you coordinate with our office early if you anticipate this to be the most appropriate path for your project. 
  • Emergency Consultation (See the Southeastern Emergency Endangered Species Act Section 7 Consultation Resources)

Learn more about Technical Assistance , Section 7 Consultation, and Habitat Conservation Plans.

First Steps: Where can you begin?

All reviews begin at the Information, Planning, and Conservation (IPaC) Tool, where landowners, consultants, agencies, and anyone that requires U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service review of a project may request an official species listFor projects related to the Georgia Department of Transportation (GDOT), please refer to the Districts and Agency Contacts map available on the GDOT Ecology webpage to determine the appropriate USFWS contact. Please send all other requests for project reviews to

IPaC Commercial (1:50 min; 11.23.2020)
IPaC 10-minute tour (10:59 min; 06.08.2021)
Requesting an Official Species List on IPaC (11:26 min; 8.25.2022)

Georgia Conservation Planning Toolbox

Our Conservation Planning Toolbox provides free resources for project managers and anyone interested in practices that help protect imperiled species in Georgia.

A tiny sea turtle hatchling crawls across the sand to the ocean at Blackbeard Island National Wildlife Refuge in Georgia.
A collection of guidance and resources for project planners and conservation-minded community members

7 Steps To Submit a Project Review Package

  1. Describe Action Area and Project Activities
  2. Consider At-risk and Listed Species That Occur in Project Area
  3. Evaluate Suitable Habitat
  4. Species Effect Determinations
  5. Critical Habitat Effect Determinations
  6. Consider Other Federal Trust Resources
  7. Submit Project Review Package

Step 1: Describe Action Area and Project Activities

Before you begin working in IPaC IPaC
Information for Planning and Consultation (IPaC) is a project planning tool that streamlines the USFWS environmental review process

Learn more about IPaC
, consider how your project may interact with listed or at-risk species and/or their habitats. Under the Endangered Species Act, the Action Area includes “all areas to be affected directly or indirectly by the Federal action and not merely the immediate area involved in the action”. A detailed account and analysis of all project activities is necessary to encompass all temporary and permanent changes to “land, water, and air” caused by activities that would not occur but for the proposed action and are reasonably certain to occur. The Action Area also includes areas that are used to help offset project impacts (e.g., areas where species are to be relocated, mitigation areas, etc.). Document a detailed project description including: 

  • Project activities
  • Project purpose
  • Project timeline
  • Maps delineating project location and Action Area
  • Range of impacts, such as ground disturbance, changes in water quality and quantity (surface and groundwater), air quality, artificial lighting, noise disturbance 
  • Construction and maintenance methods, equipment, and materials being used 
  • Project planning maps and diagrams, including relevant engineering specifications or drawings

Back to top

Step 2: Consider At-risk and Listed Species That Occur in Project Area

Contact the Georgia Department of Natural Resources Environmental Review Team. Our state agency maintains a database and has differing expertise and/or regulatory responsibility. If the agency provides documentation that a federally listed, proposed, or candidate species may be present within the project footprint or Action Area, include this response in your project review package.

Initiate Endangered Species Act review using the Service’s Information for Planning and Consultation tool. The Official Resources List will include all federally-listed threatened, endangered, or candidate species, Critical Habitats and migratory bird habitat that may occur within your project area. Until the proposed project is implemented, we recommend checking IPaC every 90 days to ensure that you have current information about listed, proposed or candidate species information for the project.

How to Use IPaC to request an Official Species List:

  1. Go to the IPaC website: and select GET STARTED.
  2. You will be asked to define your project location (i.e., Action Area as described above). You can do this one of several ways:
    • Method 1: Use the Find Location box by entering an address or latitude and longitude (in decimal degrees). Then use the Define Area box by using the drawing tools to draw the boundary of your project area.
    • Method 2: You may use the Upload Shape File button if you have a GIS shape file of your project area using a .zip folder containing all necessary files
    • Method 3: You may use the Select by County button if you are uncertain of your specific project location. You may also use the Select by State button for a general list of species statewide.
    • Confirm your project location by selecting Continue. You may also select Start Over if you need to redefine your project location.
  3. Once you have defined your project location, you will be taken to a page which provides information regarding the resources in the area. You can use the navigation on the left-hand side of the page to explore the resources present within your defined project area. Click on the species to learn more about it, including project design guidelines (for some species) and a description of suitable habitat.
  4. Request an Official Species List:
    • Click Define Project on the left-hand side of the page.
    • Log-in with your existing IPaC account or create an account in order to proceed.
    • Create a Project Name. A suggested format is: Name of your agency or company, project proponent (if applicable), project name, project code and/or application/permit I.D. number
    • For Project Description, be sure to include details on the various components of your project, timing, and duration. Please be sure your description addresses the “effects of the Action” (i.e., includes any applicable secondary actions). You will see your project name, project description, and project location on the following page. From here, you will be able to complete the initial step of the official ESA review, which is obtaining an official species list.
    • Click Start Review on the right-hand side of the page.
    • Click Continue on the page which describes the steps of the ESA Review process.
    • You will be prompted to request a species list. Click Yes, Request A Species List.
    • Fill in all relevant Contact Information. Verify your project name, description, and location. Provide your lead agency and a project classification.
    • Click Submit Official Species List Request. This request will automatically generate a project tracking number (i.e., consultation code) for your project and will automatically generate an official letter from the USFWS which includes an official species list that is valid for 90 days. This letter will be sent to you at the e-mail address you provided with your IPaC account.
    • If you need to update the species list, select “Need an updated species list?” on the IPaC homepage page. You will need the consultation code and e-mail address used to request the original species list. The consultation code and e-mail address are listed in the official letter. You will get an updated species list under the same consultation code that makes project tracking easier.

Video Demos:

IPaC Commercial (1:50 min; 11.23.2020)
IPaC 10-minute tour (10:59 min; 06.08.2021)
Requesting an Official Species List on IPaC (11:26 min; 8.25.2022)

Back to top

Step 3: Evaluate Suitable Habitat 

Determine whether listed, proposed, or candidate species may occur based on the habitat within the Action Area. For each species included in the IPaC report, use the best available information (e.g., Georgia DNR Biodiversity Portal, Five-Year Reviews and other information available on the USFWS species profiles pages, habitat assessments/surveys) to determine whether the Action Area contains suitable habitat. Habitat assessments or surveys must be conducted by a qualified professional during appropriate survey times. Handling or research on endangered plants and animals is a regulated activity. State and federal permits may be required for certain species. 

  • If you can confirm suitable habitat is absent within the Action Area, document what source(s) of information you consulted and justification for this conclusion. 
  • If you determine that suitable habitat may be present or are uncertain whether habitat may support listed species, a detailed habitat assessment is recommended. 
  • If suitable habitat occurs within the Action Area, species surveys are recommended. Document that suitable habitat is present along with the source(s) of information you consulted and justification for this conclusion. Include any survey reports in your project review package.
  • If suitable habitat occurs within the Action Area but surveys are not conducted, include this information in your project review package. It may be necessary to assume presence for species in these circumstances and consider implementing appropriate avoidance and minimization measures, accordingly.

Table 1. General guidelines for evaluating whether species on the IPaC Endangered Species list may be present in an 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
. If species-specific survey guidelines are available, follow those guidelines to carry out surveys and to interpret results, as appropriate.

Is the species’ habitat present in the Action Area? Species survey results Conclusion Next step Comments 
No Not warranted Species not present in Action Area Consultation not required Consider potential for the species’ habitat to become established in the Action Area. 
Yes Survey(s) confirm that species are absent in the action area Species not present in Action Area1 Consultation not required 1Plan and implement surveys and interpret results in coordination with USFWS and/or in accordance with USFWS-recommended survey protocols. 
Yes Survey data in the action area are unavailable or inconclusive Assume species is present in Action Area 

Initiate consultation 


Yes Survey(s) confirm that species are present in the action area Species is present 

Initiate consultation 


Back to top

Step 4: Species Effect Determinations 

Identify stressors or effects to the species and to the essential physical and biological features of any critical habitat that overlaps with the Action Area. Are any species likely to be exposed to stressors caused by the proposed action? Consider all consequences of the action and assess the potential for each life stage of the species that occurs in the Action Area to be exposed to the stressors. Deconstruct the action into its component parts to be sure that you do not miss any part of the action that could cause effects to the species. 

For each species included in the IPaC report, conclude whether the project will have “no effect” or “may affect” a species.  

  • A ‘no effect’ conclusion would be appropriate if the proposed action – or other activities that are caused by the proposed action – would have no consequences to listed species or critical habitat. Concurrence from the Service is not required. 
  • A ‘may affect’ determination would be appropriate if the proposed action – or other activities that are caused by the proposed action – may have consequences to listed species or critical habitat.  
  • If a “may affect” determination is made for a species, please include all conservation measures proposed to avoid, minimize, or mitigate for potential impacts. This will help you determine if a may affect determination is “likely to adversely affect” or “not likely to adversely affect” the species. 
  • A proposed action warrants a "may affect, not likely to be adversely affect" finding when its effects – and the effects of other activities that are caused by the proposed action – are wholly beneficial, insignificant or discountable. Beneficial effects have contemporaneous positive effects without any adverse effects to the species or habitat.  Insignificant effects relate to the size of the impact and include those effects that are undetectable, not measurable, or cannot be evaluated.  Discountable effects are those extremely unlikely to occur. These determinations require informal consultation and written concurrence from the Service. 
  • A proposed action warrants a “may affect, likely to adversely affect” finding when the proposed action – or other activities caused by the proposed action – will have negative consequences to listed species or resources. These determinations require formal consultation and written concurrence from the Service. 

Determination Keys

Note that for some species (e.g., northern long-eared bat) or projects, IPaC will present you with Determination Keys. Determination Keys (Dkeys) are logically structured sets of questions designed to assist users in determining if a project qualifies for a pre-determined consultation outcome based on existing programmatic consultations or internal USFWS standing analyses. Qualifying projects can generate USFWS concurrence letters instantly through IPaC. Dkeys provide consistent and transparent outcomes, and significantly reduce the time to complete consultation for qualifying projects.

To use a Dkey, follow the instructions below:

  1. After requesting a species list, you can click Next Step: Determination Keys. Or, from the Project Home, click Start Review.
  2. Select Evaluate for the appropriate key
  3. Review the key description and click Check If My Project Qualifies. You will be asked Qualification Interview questions to determine whether the key applies to your project. The Dkey will ask you a series of yes/no questions. Select the appropriate radio button to indicate your response. If you make an incorrect selection, you can click on Change Answer to go back and change your response. If you answer questions that indicate the key does not apply, you will be notified that your project is outside the scope of the key and will not be allowed to continue.
  4. If your project qualifies for the Dkey, you will also be asked questions to help you reach an effects determination for species that are on your species list and covered by the key. You may be offered conservation measures to help avoid adverse effects to listed species. Continue to answer yes/no questions about your project, including whether you are willing to agree to conservation measures. For some questions, you can click on hyperlinks or hover over underlined text to get additional clarification. Some questions, called “semantic questions”, are answered for you automatically based on previous input or spatial data embedded within the Dkey.
  5. After you finish answering questions about your project, you will be given a preliminary determination for species covered by the Dkey. IPaC can then generate a letter for your records with the determinations and copy of all of the questions and answers about your project. Select Generate Consistency (Verification) Letter to receive a copy of the letter. At any time from your Project Home Page, you can view the species list and letter in Documents.

Video Demo:

Using a DKey (11:38 min; 04.20.2020)

Back to top

Step 5: Critical Habitat Effect Determinations 

If the IPaC report suggests that the project action area overlaps with federally designated or proposed critical habitat, please evaluate whether project will have “no effect” or “may affect” and is “likely to adversely affect” or “not likely to adversely affect” critical habitat. 

Identify stressors or effects to the essential physical and biological features of any critical habitat that overlaps with the action area. Deconstruct the action into its component parts to be sure that you do not miss any part of the action that could cause effects to critical habitat. 

Back to top

Step 6: Consider Other Federal Trust Resources 

IPaC will also indicate the potential presence of migratory birds and other bird species of concern within the vicinity of the action area. To prevent and minimize potential impacts to migratory birds, please consult the Service’s Migratory Bird Program Conservation Measures Library.

Back to top

Step 7: Submit Project Review Package 

Federal agencies and their non-federal designated representatives are not required to contact us for “no effect” determinations. For “may affect, not likely to adversely affect” determinations, please submit your project review package, including detailed project description, effects determination, conservation measures, and all supporting documentation. 

Non-Federal applicants may also request a project review to ensure compliance with the Endangered Species Act.  

A complete project review package should include: 

  • Clarify whether the project has a federal nexus, and identify the lead federal agency and, if applicable, designated representative acting on behalf of the federal agency.
  • Project description, including methods, timeline, map of project boundary or Action Area, and specific activities/components of the action
  • Official Species List generated using IPaC (must include USFWS Project Code)
  • Biological Assessments (may include habitat assessments and species survey reports)
  • Effects determinations for species and critical habitat 
  • Conservation measures

Submission Guidelines: 

Size: Please consolidate all documents into the least number of documents and e-mails as possible. We are unable to access documents uploaded to Google Drive or OneDrive. If you are unable to upload all relevant documents to an email, please contact the office at or contact the appropriate transportation liaison (GDOT projects only) to request a secure file share option. 

Subject line: In your email subject title, indicate your project code (listed on your IPaC report) and county using the following format as an example: "Project Code: 2023-0049730, Gwinnett Co." 

Review time: All project review packages submitted to (except projects involving formal consultation) are typically reviewed by a biologist within 30 days. This timeline is extended if a project review package is incomplete and additional information is required. 

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. 

Back to top