The Ecological Services Program of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service works collaboratively with other federal agencies, industries, and other stakeholders to achieve infrastructure development goals in ways that are sustainable and compatible with the conservation of fish, wildlife, and their habitats. Field biologists assist project proponents, planners, and personnel in developing plans that conserve, restore, or enhance plant and animal species. Service biologists work under multiple authorities, including the Endangered Species Act (ESA), Clean Water Act (CWA), Federal Power Act, Fish and Wildlife Coordination Act, National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), and Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act. Biologists review and provide recommendations on plans and development designs, provide expertise in wildlife and habitat science, and serve as members on planning teams.
Many of the projects received and reviewed by the Service’s South Carolina Ecological Services Field Office (SCESFO) are considered routine and represent an insignificant impact to resources entrusted to the Service for conservation. Examples include minor construction, renovation or maintenance of property or equipment, change of use, funding or other activities that may have no discernable immediate or long-term effect upon protected species.
Such proposals do not require consultation with the Service as they do not result in take of an endangered species or adversely modify critical habitat as defined by the ESA. Further, they are usually considered as a NEPA Categorical Exclusion and may be approved through a CWA nationwide permit. Even though these activities may not affect protected resources, documentation is frequently requested from the SCESFO.
To streamline these requests, the SCESFO has developed blanket authorizations for activities that routinely have minimal or no effect upon trust resources. Construction of cell towers and certain projects undertaken by the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Rural Development Program are the most common project requests received. Therefore, the SCESFO provides the following guidelines for use by developers, consultants, landowners and government agencies. If the proposed project meets the specifications or suggestions within the documents, you may download the document and use it to satisfy appropriate requirements of the ESA.
Please note that these guidance documents do not represent formal biological opinions. They do not provide incidental take authorization nor do they allow for adverse modification of critical habitat.
All of the documents below were updated on May 30, 2019 for the public to use:
- Communication Tower Project Clearance Letter
- Department of Commerce, HUD, and USDA Rural Development Projects Clearance Letter
- Species and Habitat Assessment Clearance Letter
- Solar Power Clearance Letter
Section 7 consultation
To comply with section 7 of the ESA, the federal agency must analyze the proposed project for potential impacts to federally protected species and/or proposed or designated critical habitat. Using this analysis, the federal agency (or its designated non-federal representative) makes a determination of effect for federally protected species and/or proposed or designated critical habitat. Visit the Service’s consultation overview page for a full overview of the consultation process, frequently asked questions, and fact sheets.
For federally protected species, the federal agency must make one of the following determinations for the proposed project: (1) no effect; (2) may affect, not likely to adversely affect, or (3) may affect, likely to adversely affect.
“No effect” is the appropriate conclusion if the proposed action will not affect listed species. With a “no effect” determination, the federal agency is not obligated to contact the Service for concurrence.
May affect, not likely to adversely affect
“May affect, not likely to adversely affect” is not likely to adversely affect is the appropriate conclusion when effects on listed species are expected to be discountable, insignificant, or completely beneficial. If a “may affect, not likely to adversely affect” determination is made, the federal agency must contact the Service for written concurrence.
May affect, likely to adversely affect
“May affect, likely to adversely affect” is the appropriate conclusion if any adverse effect to listed species may occur as a direct or indirect result of the proposed action or its interrelated or interdependent actions. If a determination of “may affect, likely to adversely affect” is made, the federal agency must initiate formal consultation with the Service (See 50 CFR 402 for additional information).
Resources for project planning
- Recommended best practices for communication tower design, sighting, construction, operation, maintenance, and decommissioning
Information for Planning and Consultation (IPaC)
Information for Planning and Consultation or IPaC is a project planning tool that streamlines the Service’s environmental review process. IPaC can quickly and easily identify the Service’s managed resources and suggest conservation measures for your project. Get started.
Solar Power Project Planning in South Carolina
In June of 2018, South Carolina’s governor signed into law the South Carolina Solar Habitat Act. This legislation allows the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources (SCDNR) to establish a framework for a voluntary solar habitat certification program, assisting solar developers in increasing the wildlife habitat value of their solar sites. Guidance has been created for solar developers that outlines best management practices that improve habitat for game birds, songbirds, pollinators, and small mammals and reduces stormwater runoff and erosion at their sites. A working group has also been created to review and provide input on this guidance. For more information on SCDNR’s program, visit their website.
Section 404 permits
Section 404 of the CWA establishes a program to regulate the discharge of dredge and fill material into waters of the United States, including wetlands. Activities in waters of the United States that are regulated under this program include fills for development, water resource projects (such as dams and levees), infrastructure development (such as highways and airports), and conversion of wetlands to uplands for farming and forestry.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) jointly administer the program. In addition, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the National Marine Fisheries Service, and state resource agencies have important advisory roles. The Charleston Corps District chairs monthly Interagency meetings to provide an open forum for local, state, and federal agencies to hear and comment on proposed projects before they are placed on public notice.
The Service plays an important advisory role in the Section 404 process. Wetlands are vital for sustaining fish and wildlife populations. They provide important feeding, breeding, and migration habitat for a number of species. This includes 50 percent of our migratory bird species and over 30 percent of plants and animals listed under the ESA. Biologists with the SCESFO assess potential adverse effects directly encompassing wetlands and wildlife resources, conduct site visits to assess biological functionality and habitat quality, coordinate with local, state, and federal agencies, and provide comment to the Corps.
Emergency consultations are used when there is a threat to human life and property (e.g. - natural disaster, oil spill). The primary objective of the responding agency must be to protect human life and property, and this objective takes precedence over minimizing adverse effects to listed species under the ESA. The Service needs to be present to provide conservation recommendations, advise on the possibility of jeopardy/adverse modification, and advise about documenting impacts for concluding consultation, formally or informally, after the threat to life and property is under control. Section 7 is always about relationships – all the more important with emergency situations.
- Emergency Consultation Process
- ESA Exemption in Presidentially Declared Disaster Areas
- South Carolina Marine Debris Emergency Response Guide
Project submission guidance
Federal agencies, private and public landowners, project managers/planners, and consultants are asked to submit all new project review requests and supporting documentation electronically to email@example.com. Please do not submit to other e-mail addresses or individual staff as this may result in processing delays due to planned and unplanned absences or other work related issues. Electronic submissions need not be submitted in hard copy unless requested by our staff. E-mails with attachments are limited to a maximum size of 10MB. If you have attachments that exceed this threshold, please submit your project and attachments to the address below. In addition to contact information, please provide us with an email address.
South Carolina Ecological Services Field Office
Department of the Interior - U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
176 Croghan Spur Road, Suite 200
Charleston, South Carolina 29407
Please allow a minimum of 30 days from the date of project submission to our office before inquiring on your project’s review status. If you have not received a response from us after 30 days, please submit a status request to firstname.lastname@example.org.
email@example.com, (843) 727-4707