Transportation planners always need to be aware of potential impacts from their projects to federally listed endangered species and designated critical habitats. If a project may impact these wildlife populations or habitats, Section 7 of the Endangered Species Act requires planners to create a biological assessment and complete a consultation with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS). To assist with Section 7, USFWS developed the web-based application Information for Planning and Consultation (IPaC) that helps users determine if a project will impact protected wildlife or habitats.
|The web-based IPaC tool helps users determine if a transportation project will impact protected habitats or wildlife, like this marbled murrelet.|
In December 2020, USFWS launched an expansion of IPaC—the Consultation Package Builder (CPB). The CPB provides the information, tools, and guidance necessary to submit biological assessments to USFWS in compliance with the Endangered Species Act. It also helps project planners identify conservation measures designed to avoid or minimize effects to listed species.
Improving Information and Accuracy
As a decision-support tool, IPaC, including the CPB, improves the consultation process by informing more accurate and consistent determinations. The CPB is an interactive, step-by-step process that helps IPaC users prepare full consultation packages while leveraging USFWS data and recommendations. The CPB results in better, more complete consultation packages, thereby saving time and resources while reducing the workload for all consulting parties. It provides enhanced functionality to existing IPaC tools, including official species lists and determination keys.
Determination keys are logically structured sets of questions that assist users in determining if a project qualifies for a streamlined, programmatic consultation outcome. Qualifying projects can generate USFWS concurrence letters instantly through IPaC. Determination keys provide consistent and transparent outcomes, and significantly reduce the time to complete consultation for qualifying projects.
"One benefit to IPaC is having a central location to obtain a project Official Species List for species to be addressed during Section 7 review. Prior to IPaC, [the process] was time-consuming," says Amy Golden with the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT). "VDOT typically updates Section 7 and threatened and endangered species reviews every 6 months or at project development milestones...It [is] easy to go to IPaC to obtain an updated Official Species List for projects."
Determination keys and the CPB assist users in conducting more thorough analyses and determining what effects their projects may have on federally listed species and critical habitats. Benefits of using the CPB include:
- Producing consistently formatted and more complete consultation packages ready for submission to USFWS
- Saving time and resources while drafting a biological assessment
- Prepopulating USFWS information into the biological assessment for consideration during the analysis
- Receiving fewer requests for additional information during consultation
- Reducing workloads by streamlining the overall consultation process
"Using IPaC has definitely streamlined the endangered species coordination process," says Betty Ketchum with the New York State Department of Transportation. "It is straightforward and easy to use."
Daniel Buford is an ecologist with FHWA's Office of Project Development and Environmental Review.
Victoria Foster is USFWS's national IPaC program coordinator.
Chellby Kilheffer is a biologist on the USFWS Headquarters' IPaC team.