Environmental Review Toolkit
ESA Webtool

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This section of the web site provides answers to frequently asked questions regarding ESA Section 7 consultation, the online ESA consultation web tool, the National Biological Assessment template, and more! In addition, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service also maintains a list of frequently asked questions you can access by clicking here.
[Note: Questions are welcomed by using the Contact Us feature. Questions will in many cases be answered and posted as new FAQs. By doing so the knowledge base of the site will increase over time based on user demand.]
FAQs Content

FAQs -- Site Functionality and Users / Roles
1.  Can you extend the expiration date if the project is delayed or put on hold?
Yes, as Project Manager you have editing controls to extend expiration and end dates in the calendar. Look for the pencil next to the particular event you wish to modify.
2.  Are all draft Biological Assessment (BAs) saved or only the most recent versions.
It is up to the Project Manager to decide how many versions to keep in the drawer. There is no limitation; however saving past versions is not automatic. We decided it was best at this early stage to leave managing file drawer content to the Project Manager. It will be the Project Manager's responsibility to keep or to delete draft BAs. We advise working to keep the drawers clean and populated with information substantial and relevant. Too many old versions can be confusing.
3.  Is the number of days indicated in the Status Report cumulative or per each stage?
The number of days indicated refers to that particular stage. It is not a cumulative total of total time in the process.
4.  Where is the species data coming from (National Heritage Data, State Conservation Data Center)?
To learn more about ECOS go to http://ecos.fws.gov/ecos/about.do.
5.   Are there size limits to pictures or files?
Size limitation for file upload is 200 MB. This intended to allow for the uploading of wholly integrated documents containing text, pictures, graphs, charts and maps in context. File size limitation of 200 MB should be sufficient for all Biological Assessment (BA) development processes done through the ESA Webtool.
6.  Do you have to draw a polygon to utilize the buffer feature? Can you use the buffer on a point?
No, you do not have to draw a polygon to use the buffer feature. Yes, you can use the buffer feature on a point.
7.  Is there a GIS interface, for uploading a project area polygon from existing databases.
No. At this time there is not a GIS interface to upload a shape file (or polygon from another data set) to the map interface. In time as the site evolves further this idea may be one which is pursued and implemented.
8.  Who is the Project Manager for a project file cabinet? FHWA, State DOT, Other?
The Project Manager is typically the person most responsible for overall coordination and development of the Biological Assessment (BA). Most often this is a State DOT person. The Project Manager can however also be a local agency person or a third party acting on behalf of an agency. The ESA Webtool does not restrict who can be the Project Manager.
9.  Are you concerned about large numbers of informal consultations being entered in the system?
No. We have ample server capacity and look forward to many using the site as it will help others over time and improve the overall quality, transparency, and efficiency of the Biological Assessment (BA) development process.
  1. If I don't plan on using the file cabinet application to track my Biological Assessments (BAs) can I still access some of the info provided?
Yes, you can access all the publically available information on the site, e.g., Library, Glossary, Search Tools, etc.
  1. If we are midway through a consultation, should we enter the project into the system (or should we only add new consultations)?
Yes, please feel free to enter any project at any stage into the system. Doing so allows ultimately for a more robust searching capability as the project archive library grow more fully and more rapidly.
12.  Can other Federal lead agencies utilize this site and input their Biological Assessment (BA)s?
Yes. Step-by-step instructions for uploading and archiving prior BAs, Biological Opinion (BO)s, Letter of Concurrence (LC)s and key supporting documents is provided in the FAQs -- Searching/Archiving Section.
13.  Can you delegate or have more than one Project Manager for each project file cabinet.
Yes, there is no limit to the number of team members that can occupy a single role. It is advisable in fact to have a team member or two designated as "Project Manager" in the event the primary Project Manager is away from the internet for some period of time. A team member can also be given the "Project Manager" role for a set period of time (e.g., when the primary Project Manager is on vacation) and then afterward be returned to his/her original designation (e.g., "Team Member" or "Reviewer").
  1. Who does FHWA recommend set up a project file cabinet? Would the Project Manager be the FHWA PM, State DOT PM, Consultant PM? What about in the event of multiple lead Federal agencies?
Generally we recommend the State DOT set up the project file room. This however should be decided specifically for your State in conjunction with the local FHWA office. If there are multiple lead Federal agencies, all can be "Project Managers" however one should be chosen to set up the project File Cabinet room.
15.  Does the system notify users when the file cabinets are updated?
16.  Would this system be available for other agencies to use?
Yes, the system is available for other agencies to use. Or example, some State DOTs are already using the site for State-only transportation projects.

FAQs -- Legal and Regulatory (ESA Section 7 Consultation)
1.   What is the role of the Services in consultation?
The Services perform strictly an advisory function under ESA Section 7 by consulting with other Federal agencies to identify and help resolve conflicts between listed species and their critical habitat and proposed actions.
2.  Why must an action agency consult with the Services?
All Federal Agencies must consult with, and with the assistance of, the Services ensure that any action authorized, funded or carried out by such agency is not likely to jeopardize the continued existence of any listed species or result in the destruction or adverse modification of critical habitat.
3.  What is the purpose of reasonable and prudent measures and the terms and conditions that implement them?
Reasonable and prudent measures are intended to minimize the level of incidental take. Congress intended that these measures not alter the basic design, location, scope, duration, or timing of the action. The Services therefore are to identify reasonable and prudent measures that are only minor changes that do not alter the basic design, location, duration or timing of the action.
4.  What are the Federal agencies responsibilities when there is a non-Federal representative?
The Federal agency retains responsibility to initiate formal consultation along with its ultimate responsibility to ensure that its actions are not likely to jeopardize listed species. The Federal agency must also review the work product and independently reach its own conclusions and decisions. The Federal agency is ultimately responsible for compliance with Section 7.
5.  How should consultation occur for Emergencies?
The Services recognize that it is sometimes necessary to take immediate steps to contain, limit, or alleviate an emergency in order to protect health, safety, and welfare prior to initiating any form of consultation. However, the Services stress the fact that it is early involvement that is important. The Federal agency should contact the Services as soon as practicable.
6.  Is consultation required on proposed or candidate species?
No. However, if a Federal agency determines that its action is likely to jeopardize the continued existence of any proposed species or result in the destruction or adverse modification of proposed critical habitat, the Federal agency is required to confer with the Services. Conferencing may help to minimize or avoid injury to proposed species, and might also prevent the halting of an action if the species is subsequently listed.
7.  Is the request for a species list mandatory?
Yes. The species list is important for clarifying which listed species or designated critical habitats may be in the action area. Furthermore, it is crucial that the species list is up-to-date. The biological assessment, including the effects of the action, must be submitted within 180 calendar days of receipt of a species list from the Services.
8.  Who determines the content of a Biological Assessment (BA)?
The content of BAs are at the discretion of the Federal agency and will depend on the nature of the Federal action. The Federal agency shall provide the Services with the best available scientific and commercial data available.
9.  What information is needed to initiate formal consultation?
The following are required: (1) a description of the action to be considered; (2) a description of the specific area that may be affected by the action; (3) a description of any listed species or critical habitats that may be affected by the action; (4) a description of the manner in which the action may affect any listed species or critical habitat and an analysis of any cumulative effects; (5) relevant reports, including any environmental impact Statements, environmental assessments or biological assessment prepared; and (6) any other relevant available information on the action, the affected listed species or critical habitat.
10.  How long is formal consultation?
Formal consultation concludes within 90 days after its initiation unless extended. Within 45 days after concluding formal consultation the Services shall deliver a biological opinion to the Federal Agency and any applicant. Total time from start of Formal consultation to delivering the Biological Opinion (BO) is 135 days.
11.  When does consultation begin?
The Federal agency may initiate formal consultation concurrently with the submission of the Biological Assessment to the Services.
12.  What if there is a question of the sufficiency of data?
The Service must develop its Biological Opinion based upon the best scientific and commercial data available regardless of the "sufficiency" of that data.
13.  What if the Services request additional data?
These requests will be limited to readily obtainable data that would assist in formulating the biological opinion. The Federal agency has the discretion to reject the Service's request for additional data. The Services request for additional data is not to be construed as the Service's opinion that the Federal agency has failed to satisfy the information standard of Section 7(a)(2) of the act.
14.  What are the Services responsibilities in developing the Biological Opinion (BO)?
The Services responsibilities are: (1) provide the "benefit to the species" (2) The BO must be developed within the consultation time frame; and (3) must be based on best available scientific and commercial data.
15.  When is an Incidental Take Statement provided?
It is provided with the Biological Opinion when the activity may incidentally take individuals of a listed species but not so many as to jeopardize their continued existence.
16.  Do Incidental Take Statements always have exact numerical limits?
Not always. The Services may specify the extent of land or marine area that may be affected. Precise numbers of individuals that may be taken are preferable to descriptions of the extent of disruption.
17.  What happens when the specified amount or extend of incidental take is exceeded?
The Federal agency will immediately reinitiate consultation. In the interim period between the initiation and completion of the new consultation, the "committee" would not expect the Federal agency to cease all operations unless it was clear that the impact of the additional taking would cause an irreversible and adverse impact on the species.
18.  Are conservation recommendations part of the Biological Opinion (BO)?
No. The service will provide these discretionary conservation recommendations as a separate statement rather than as an integral part of the BO.
19.  When is formal consultation terminated?
Formal consultation is terminated when the Biological Opinion (BO) is issued.
20.  Are there reporting and/or monitoring requirements as part of the Terms and Conditions?
Yes. In order to monitor the impacts of incidental take, the Federal agency or any applicant must report the progress of the action and its impact on the species to the Services.
21.  What is the purpose of "reasonable and prudent measures" and the terms and conditions that implement them?
"Reasonable and prudent measures" refer to those actions the Director believes necessary or appropriate to minimize the impacts, i.e., amount or extent, of incidental take. Reasonable and prudent measures, along with the terms and conditions that implement them, cannot alter the basic design, location, scope, duration, or timing of the action and may involve only minor changes. "Director" refers to the Assistant Administrator for Fisheries for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, or his authorized representative; or the Fish and Wildlife Service regional director, or his authorized representative, for the region where the action would be carried out.
22.  Should Maintenance activities be included in a Biological Assessment?
Yes - The regulations are very clear in stating: "Effects of the action refers to the direct and indirect effects of an action on the species or critical habitat, together with the effects of other activities that are interrelated or interdependent with that action that will be added to the environmental baseline."

Maintenance activities would be included as indirect effects. Indirect effects are those that are caused by the proposed action and are later in time, but still are reasonably certain to occur.

FAQs -- Process (ESA Section 7 Consultation)
1.  What is the purpose of a Biological Assessment?
To evaluate the potential effects of the action on listed or proposed species or designated or proposed critical habitat and determine if such species and habitat are likely to be adversely affected by the action.
2.  What State and private actions should be included in a cumulative effects analysis?
There must exist more than a mere possibility that the action may proceed. The Services and the Federal agency will consider the cumulative effects of those actions that are likely to occur, bearing in mind the economic, administrative or legal hurtles that remain to be cleared.
3.  How should the jeopardy standard be interpreted?
The continued existence of the species is the key to the jeopardy standard. A Federal agency should not authorize, fund or carry out an action that would injure a listed species chances for survival to the point that recovery is not attainable. There is no regulatory definition of survival because the concept varies widely among species.
4.  How should the Letter of Concurrence and Biological Opinions be included in final environmental documents?
The summary of the findings and conclusions should be included in the NEPA document.
5.  What is a designated non-Federal representative and what is their role in consultation
When the representative is the applicant such as State DOTs, it may conduct the information-gathering functions through informal consultation and prepare the biological assessment and continue participation through formal consultation. The Services must be notified in writing if a non-Federal representative has been designated to represent the Federal agency for the informal consultation.
6.  What is the purpose of a Biological Opinion?
The Services issue a biological opinion to assist the Federal agencies in conforming their proposed actions to the requirements of Section 7.
7.  Can the Services require additional studies or surveys?
No. The Service may recommend studies or surveys that it believes would assist in the preparation of the assessment. Such a recommendation is not to be construed as the Service's opinion that the Federal agency has failed to satisfy the information standard of Section 7(a)(2).
8.  Is there a standard for biological assessments?
The Services declined to impose strict minimum standards that all biological assessments must meet.
9.  How long will archived Biological Assessments (BAs) be valid and how long will they be available on this site?
While older, past projects may not be entirely relevant to your current project, they often can be a good source for historic and baseline data and information. At this time, archived BAs will be retained on this site indefinitely.
10.  Does the FHWA division office transmit the Biological Assessment (BA) to the Services. Or, who actually submits the BA?
If it is a formal consultation, then FHWA submits it. For informal consultations, it will most likely be the State DOT. To find out for your State, check internally within your State DOT and then also check with your local FHWA office.
  1. Is the ultimate goal of this site to replace submittal hard (paper) copies of Biological Assessment (BAs) with electronic submittal?
Yes, this is one of the goals of the ESA Webtool. BAs are in effect submitted electronically when they are placed in the "Completed" file drawer and the Services are notified. The Services can issue their Biological Opinion (BO) or Letter of Concurrence (LC) electronically. Doing this makes the whole process fully electronic, saving time and resources for everyone.
  1. Are the FHWA division offices going to expect State DOTs to use the ESA Webtool and the Biological Assessment (BA) template? Will it be required?
No, FHWA has not mandated that State DOTs use the BA template. State DOTs however can choose to require (or not) the use of the BA template within their States. While FHWA has not mandate use of the BA template by State DOTs, FHWA does however strongly encourage that State DOTs consider using the tool as it offer many benefits including:
  • Standardized process and template.
  • Improved collaboration throughout the whole BA development process.
  • Greater process efficiency and transparency.
13.  Is this tool only for formal consultations or can/should it be used for informal consultations?
The ESA Webtool can be used for formal consultations, informal consultations and for programmatic consultations.
14.  Can a formal Section 7 Consultation be initiated through this website?
Yes. The ESA Webtool can be used for formal consultations, informal consultations and for programmatic consultations.
15.  Explain how to use the ESA Webtool during the consultation process. How does it work?
For an overview of the Biological Assessment development and consultation process, click here.
16.  Is the ESA Webtool available Nationally?
Yes. The ESA Webtool is available for all State DOTs to use.
17.  Who typically conducts Biological Assessments? Is it only wildlife and habitat biologists?
Typically it is an ESA trained biologists either with a State DOT or as private consultant under contract to a State DOT.

FAQs -- National Biological Assessment (BA) Template
  1. Is the National Biological Assessment (BA) Template intended as guidance or is it mandated that State DOTs (and their consultants) use the National BA Template?
FHWA has not mandated that State DOTs use the National BA Template. State DOTs however can choose to require (or not) the use of the National BA Template within their States. While FHWA has not mandated use of the National BA Template by State DOTs, FHWA does however strongly encourage State DOTs to consider using the National BA Template as it provides a nationally standardized, consistent format for developing BAs. This helps to streamline the BA development process.
  1. Can the template be used for the development of Programmatic Biological Assessments (PBAs)? How applicable is the template to preparation of a programmatic document?
Yes. Although, the template was developed primarily for projects, it is fairly generalized, so this is applicable nationally. If a State is contemplating development of a PBA, the BA Template may offer a helpful and relevant structure and guidance.
 3.  Is there a manual for this site?
No. This site and webinar trainings provide a thorough overview and explanation of how to use the site. Materials from recent webinars are posted to the Library. In addition, this site provides a variety of other help resources including "ESA Consultation Process Overview" and " How to Use the ESA Webtool." To date this has been sufficient.

FAQs -- Searching/Archiving
  1. How do I archive consultations completed before national rollout of ESA Webtool (http://www.environment.fhwa.dot.gov/esawebtool)
  Steps to Archive Projects Completed without using ESA webtool:
  • Step 1 (Sign-In) -- Sign-in to the system at the Online File Cabinets link (left navigation bar).
  • Step 2 (Add New Project) -- Click on the "Add New" button to create a new project file cabinet. Follow the instructions to add a title, specify consultation type and State, provide a description, and provide a map location using the polygon mapping tool. Click "Finish" when done.
  • Step 3 (Upload Files) -- Enter the file cabinet room for the project you just created. Open the "Completed" file drawer. Click on the "Add New" button and follow the instructions to upload the final Biological Assessment (BA), Biological Opinion (BO) or Letter of Concurrence (LC), and any other key supporting documents or information. Remember to redact any site or location specific information to ensure continued protection of listed species in the vicinity.
  • Step 4 (Change to "Archive") -- Close the file cabinet room you were just working in. Go back to your list of projects. Click on the "Edit" button for your project. Change status from "Active" to "Archive." Click "Finish" when done.
  • Step 5 (Finish) -- Logoff the system and you are done.
2.  Should (and can) we add projects we have recently completed?
Yes. You are encouraged to add projects you have recently completed to the project archives. Step-by-step instructions for uploading and archiving prior Biological Assessment (BAs), Biological Opinion (BO)s, Letter of Concurrence (LC)s and key supporting documents is provided in the FAQs -- Searching/Archiving Section.
3.  Is there the ability to customize queries under the report status function?
No, not at this time. You can sort by region, and then organize from there by date, consultation type or state.
  1. Can we read any Biological Assessment (BA) that is listed when we do a search of projects in the vicinity of our project area? Or are the documents restricted to users that are registered to that specific project?
You can read any BA, Biological Opinion (BO), Letter of Concurrence (LC) or key supporting document that is archived. Archived documents are not restricted, but documents associated with ongoing projects are. If there is a project currently underway within the vicinity of your project area, it will appear in the search results, with some basic information on the project. In addition, information on the status of the project can be found in the "Project Status Report".
5.  Can archived projects be searched for formal consultation only?
No. Project search results will yield formal and Informal consultations that have been completed and archived.
  1. Can we access a contact for projects in the Project Status Report so that I can inquire regarding the progress of consultations ongoing in other states?
No. Contact information is not provided for projects listed in the Project Status Report. To get more information on an active project, please contact the State DOT or send a message to "Contact Us".
7.  Can archived projects be filtered by species too?
Yes, by using the document search tool. If you enter a particular species into the document search engine you will return all documents in the archives covering that species. Click here to access the document search tool.
8.  How far down in level of detail can you get with your archive search on the Google map?
The map tool will support zooming to street-level detail. The polygons used to show the location of archived projects supports provision of very descriptive locational detail. In addition, contacts to seek further information are provided for archived projects.
9.  Is the project buffer included in a search polygon?
No. The buffer is in addition to the polygon.
10.  What is the benefit of archived information if only team member can see the information?
Archived information (documents saved in the "Completed" drawer of archived projects) is publicly available. Working files, e-mails, calendar items, etc. are restricted solely to team members and are not publicly available. The benefit of archived information is that it provides future Biological Assessment (BA) authors with easy access to completed Biological Assessment (BA)s, Biological Opinion (BO)s and/or Letter of Concurrence (LC)s to use as starting/reference points for their BAs.
11.  Who has access to the working files for archived projects?
Once a project has been archived the only files placed in the "Completed" file drawer are publicly available. All other files associated with that archived project (i.e., working files, e-mails, calendar items, etc.) are not publicly available. Any team member who has not had their role changed or been removed from the project would still be able to access all files associated with the archived project as they were able to do before the project was archived.
12.  When viewing an Archived Project, is Project Manager information/identity accessible for possible contact?
No, the site does not disclose the names of the Project Manager or other team members. A person who does a search and gets a return of the files that were archived will not know who the Project Manager was for the project. It may be possible to identify project contacts or document authors by reviewing the Biological Assessment (BA), Letter of Concurrence (LC)/Biological Opinion (BO), etc. Research (likely through the State DOT) would be necessary to contact authors or contributors to these documents to discuss the project, but it will not be possible to determine who was the Project Manager.
13.  Is there a place to put generally useful studies, references, techniques etc. found to be useful across projects?
Studies, references, techniques, best practices, etc. that would be useful to a broader audience can be sent to ESAWebtool@dot.gov for posting to the main site (likely to the library or FAQs areas).
14.  If archiving the project, how do you add amendments to an archive document?
If amendments supplement, but do not replace a completed Biological Assessment (BA), they should be uploaded to the "Completed" drawer. If the amendment replaces the original BA, the old BA should be deleted from the "Completed" drawer and replaced with the revised document.
  1. Will the Biological Opinions (BOs) and Biological Assessments (BAs) listed in the library be only transportation related or will they include BO's and BA's from other agencies such as Forest Service or State Game Management Agencies?
The Library will provide hyperlink access to Federal Services agencies' regional and field office websites where their BO and Letter of Concurrence (LC) decisions are posted. These Federal websites typically include more than just transportation BOs and LCs.

BAs, BOs and LCs archived on the ESA Webtool will most typically be transportation related.

FAQs -- Freedom of Information Act (FOIA)
1.  Can a formal Section 7 Consultation be initiated through this website?
2.  Is there a way to structure files in any of these file cabinets? For example, a 'meeting notes' folder or such.
Through the support e-mail a request can be made for the Webtool administrator to add an additional folder to house meeting notes. In general though the present three folders have been sufficient to meet users' needs.
  1. Will the BO's and BA's listed in the library be only transportation related or will they include BO's and BA's from other agencies such as forest service or state game management agencies?
The Library will provide hyperlink access to federal services agencies' regional and field office websites where their BO and LC decisions are posted. These federal websites will likely include more than just transportation BOs and LCs.

The ESA-FHWA Webtool will house BAs, BOs and LCs produced and archived through the site. These BAs, BOs and LCs will most typically be transportation related.
4.  Will there be a manual made from all this?
No. The site and webinar trainings provide substantial overview and explanation for how to use the site. All training webinars are posted to the "What's New" area of the site. The site itself provides FAQs, "How To" guides and one-click e-mail support. To date this has been sufficient.

FAQs -- Personal Information
1.  Is my personal information secure?
Registered users can be assured that their personal information is secure and will not be shared with others. Personal information will only be accessed by others through the creation and generation of project-specific file cabinets.

FAQs -- Site Security
1.  How secure is the project archive?
The project archive is very secure. Only Project Managers can load files into the "Completed" drawer. While files can be downloaded from the "Completed" drawer, they cannot be uploaded into the "Completed" drawer by anyone other than Project Manager. This preserves the integrity of the ""Completed" drawer and the Archive.

FAQs -- Interagency Coordination
  1. How do you suggest we introduce this to our local offices of the Services, who have not heard of it and are not familiar with this, and think it is a wild and crazy or unworkable scheme? Will FWS headquarters help by getting the word out to their field offices and indicate their support for use of the ESA Webtool?
USFWS Helped to design and continues to supportthis webtool. FHWA conducted a webinar specifically for the Services to introduce them to the ESA Webtool during the National Rollout of the site. FHWA has also been working through FHWA's USFWS and NOAA National Liaisons to distribute information on the site and to continue to engage the Services' interest, support and participation.
2.  How does this mesh with USFWS' IPAC system?
The ESA Webtool is integrated with the IPAC system: when you create a project and draw the project area on the ESA Webtool Map, the Webtool will display <BAs> from the IPAC system that are within that project area.
3.  Does this site facilitate coordination on ESA and Marine Protected Mammal Act?
This is a collaboration tool, not exclusive to just Biological Assessments (BAs). As such it could be used for a host of other regulatory processes, e.g., MMPA, Bald and Golden Eagle Act, NEPA, etc.
4.  How often are the USFWS maps and information at http://ecos.fws.gov/ecos/indexPublic.do updated? .
Maps and information accessed through the USFWS ECOS (Environmental Conservation Online System) are updated at varying degrees of frequency depending on the original data source from which the maps and information are drawn. To learn more about ECOS go to http://ecos.fws.gov/ecos/about.do.

FAQs -- Webinars
1.  Are there any presentation downloads that we can get in advance of the start of this today?
All webinar presentations are located under "What's New" at http://www.environment.fhwa.dot.gov/esawebtool.
2.  Is the webinar slide show available for download?
The most recent webinar presentations are located under "What's New" at http://www.environment.fhwa.dot.gov/esawebtool.
3.  Are handout materials available for printing prior to the Webinar?
All webinar presentations are located under "What's New" at http://www.environment.fhwa.dot.gov/esawebtool.
 For questions or feedback on this subject, please contact Dan Buford at 202-366-8168.

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