Environmental Review Toolkit

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ESA Consultation Process Overview
The following provides a high-level introduction to Biological Assessments and the process for developing and using them. The purpose of this section is to provide you with a broad orientation and overview. This, along with this site's Helpful Hints and National BA Template and National BA Template Instructions, should provide you with the structure and assistance you need to help make your process of preparing Biological Assessments as efficient and straightforward as possible.
A BA is the document that assesses the effects of projects on threatened and endangered (listed) species and critical habitat. If such species may be present in a project area, a biological assessment (BA) is prepared for the purpose of analyzing the potential effects of the project on listed species and critical habitat. A BA is created using best available scientific and commercial data. A BA can also include measures to minimize and avoid any identified effects as well as enhancements when reasonable. Before any project can move forward to construction, FHWA must complete consultation if a transportation project has the potential of effecting listed species and critical habitat.
Biological Assessments include: (1) information concerning all species listed and proposed for listing under the ESA; (2) designated and proposed critical habitat that may be present in the action area of the project; and (3) the evaluation of potential effects of the project on such species and habitat. In general, the BA includes:
  • Executive Summary
  • Introduction
  • Project description and overview
  • Action area
  • Occurrence of species and critical habitat in the action area
  • Baseline within the action area
  • Effects of proposed action on species, habitat, and critical habitats
  • Cumulative effects
  • Conclusions and effect determinations
  • References
  • Appendices (e.g., Species List from USFWS and NOAA Fisheries)
A. Understand the Process . . .
  • Familiarize yourself with the federal Endangered Species Act (ESA) and the ESA Section 7 consultation process.
  • Understand what Biological Assessments and Biological Opinions are.
  • Consult key resources in the ESA-FHWA Library.
B. Get Organized . . .
  • Gain an understanding of the project by obtaining information regarding its location and any associate activities from project team members. Review the National BA Template to get an idea of the types of information you will need. Identify and establish contact with appropriate project staff such as the project lead, team members responsible for project design (i.e., engineers, etc), local experts, subject matter experts and key stakeholders.
  • Get a project biologist assigned to the project team early in the design process to provide input. The project biologist can work with project designers and engineers to identify species of concern in the vicinity of the project, whether surveys for wildlife or plants will be required, in-water work windows, timing restrictions based on wildlife sensitive periods, and other environmental considerations and issues of special concern.
  • Define your project and its action area and potential occurrences of protected species. Define the what, where, when and why of your project. Break your project down into its component actions. Define your action area for direct and indirect effects. Analyze chemical, physical, and biological project effects on the environment to determine the geographic extent of the project action area. The following topics are addressed in the project impact analysis phase: direct effects; indirect effects; interrelated actions or activities; and interdependent actions or activities.
  • Obtain information regarding species and habitat present in the project action area. Make a formal request for an Endangered and Threatened Species list from NOAA and USFWS. In some areas, this list can be obtained from the Service's Web sites. In others, a formal request must be made and the Services will send you a copy of the most recent list. The BA must be written before the list is six months old, or another list must be requested.
  • Contact your state agencies (e.g., State Department of Natural Resources, State Department of Fish and Wildlife or equivalent) and local experts (e.g., local tribal biologists, Department of Fish and Wildlife area habitat biologists, Department of Natural Resources biologists, and researchers from local universities or academic institutions) to obtain project area-specific data regarding species distribution.
  • Conduct a site visit to document existing conditions and to review the proposed action.
  • For those projects that require formal consultations due to an adverse effect determination for a listed species, cumulative effects must also be addressed. However, impacts associated with cumulative effects do not influence (are not taken in to consideration when defining) the size of the project action area.
  • Schedule a Pre-BA meeting. Once you have a clear understanding of your project, action area, and potential effects on protected species/habitat, you can request a pre-BA meeting with USFWS and NMFS to explain your project, hear feedback, and gain a clearer understanding of what will constitute a complete analysis. The Services may request that additional impact mechanisms be analyzed (e.g., vibration).
  • Launch your Online File Cabinet (register, add project, upload files, calendar, help, status).
  • Invite team members to collaborate via the project File Cabinet (instructions should be included in the body of email).
C. Write Your BA . . .
  • Use the National BA Template and associated instructions.
  • Use the help screens for each and every section of the BA template, even if you don't think you need to.
  • Search the scientific literature, report archives, and applicable state or local ordinances.
  • Establish and maintain ongoing communication with the project team, colleagues, local experts, subject matter experts and key stakeholders to ensure you are aware of changes to the project design.
  • Access the ESA Webtool library.
  • Consult state specific information to ensure the BA meets all local requirements.
  • Consult Biological Opinions from similar types of projects to get an idea of the issues to address.
  • Use the BA Checklist (Library) to track your progress toward a complete BA (vicinity map, site map, site photos).
  • Make sure any figures, site maps and drawings are consistent with the written description you give on the application.
  • Follow a collaborative process with the Services, local experts, and stakeholders to adapt project policy or procedures to avoid or minimize project impacts to protected species.
D. DOT/FHWA Review . . .
  • Make sure your "Working" drawer in the Online File Cabinet are clean and well-organized to make the review process happen in as expedient a manner as possible. Having your files, drafts, reports, etc. well-organized and readily accessible will make FHWA's review process proceed more quickly.
E. Consult with Services . . .
  • Assemble in the "Completed" drawer of your online file cabinet the BA and any supporting documents you think essential for helping the Services understand your Project and your BA, e.g., photos, maps, e-mails, etc.
  • Keep the project status as "Active." Although the documents are in the "Completed" drawer they are there at this time for Services review, not for archiving. Later you will change the project status to "Archived" and use the "Completed" drawer for this purpose.
  • Submit complete BA to Services. [Note: Services have 30 days to request additional information and determination whether they concur with the effect determination.]
  • Track agency review process via your Online File Cabinet.
  • Respond quickly to requests for additional information from Services.
  • If changes are made to the project or site plans during the review process, send the updated information to the Services.
F. Concluding Consultation (Concurrence or BO) . . .
  • Once a biological assessment has been completed and submitted to the services, the services have 30 days to let the action agency know if they agree with the effect determination. If the determination is not likely to adversely affect (NLAA), then the services issue a letter of concurrence. If the determination is likely to adversely affect (LAA), then the services issue a Biological Opinion (BO) as well as an Incidental Take Statement, if needed, and provide conservation recommendations within 135 days from the date the BA was submitted.
  • Review Draft Biological Opinion (if formal consultation) to ask questions or request clarification.
G. Re-initiating a Consultation . . .
  • If you plan to re-initiate a consultation, you'll need to pull content back from its dormant status. You do this by placing content in the "Completed" file drawer back into the "Working" file drawer and changing the status of the project from "Dormant" to "Active."
  • Depending on how much time has transpired, you may need to update supporting documents and supporting analyses.
  • Team Members will need to be notified. If it has been a long time, staff may have changed. If this is the case you'll need to invite in new Team Members, and delete those no longer on the team.
H. Archive . . .
  • When a project is ready to be archived, place only those documents in the "Completed" file drawer most germane to ESA and the Section 7 effort you just completed. This will typically include: the BA; the Services BO or Letter of Concurrence; and any essential supporting documents that are substantive to your BA.
  • Change the Project Status from "Active" to "Archive." Remember, once you place the project in "Archive" status, the contents of the "Completed" file drawer will be searchable through the document and map search tools.
  • Check the project description to ensure it is still accurate, especially if it was a long Consultation process.
  • Finally, it is very important to redact any site-specific or location specific information from the documents being archived in the Completed drawer to ensure the continued protection of any listed species in the site vicinity.
  • You can also click here for a downloadable Archive Tip Sheet to help you with archiving.


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