What is an Endangered Resources (ER) Review?
An Endangered Resources (ER) Review is an evaluation of the information from Wisconsin’s Natural Heritage Inventory (NHI) database and other sources on rare plants and animals (including state and federally-listed species), high quality natural communities, and other endangered resources that could be impacted by a proposed project.
The ER Review includes required compliance steps and/or voluntary measures or recommendations that will help project managers and clients to comply with Wisconsin’s Endangered and Threatened Species Law (s. 29.604, Wis. Stats), the Federal Endangered Species Act, and other laws and regulations protecting endangered resources. Once an ER Review has been completed, a letter is generated by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (WDNR) - Bureau of Endangered Resources to demonstrate consultation compliance.
Does my project need to be reviewed?
Any project that has the potential to disturb wetlands, waterways, woodlands. or other resources that may impact endangered resources should have an ER Review.
Habitat changes may have a direct or indirect impact to an endangered resource, which could result in a “take” of a listed species. Generally, this means all land and water management, development, and planning projects should be reviewed.
Examples include (but are not limited to) commercial, residential, industrial, utility, transportation, and other types of development projects; land, waterway and/or habitat restoration or management projects; and community and land use planning initiatives.
Additionally, an ER Review constitutes the initial required step for agency consultation when any project intends to secure federal or state funding and/or permits. Early completion of an ER Review can significantly expedite the planning, permitting, and grant application process.
When should projects be reviewed?
The proposed ER Review should be completed well in advance of any ground disturbing activities and is typically conducted before permit applications for fill, grading, or storm water are issued to agencies for review. Early review will allow for better planning if seasonal clearing or construction limitations are needed.
Sometimes an agency will request a species-specific field survey before they issue a permit. If it’s required to conduct the survey in the spring or summer (e.g., during the breeding or growing season), but you are already at July and thought to start construction, your project could be substantially delayed.
What if a project doesn’t require a WDNR permit?
All projects are subject to the compliance requirements of state and federal endangered species laws. To obtain a WDNR storm water or grading permit, a preliminary screening (and possibly an ER Review) should be completed to help you receive your permit in a timely fashion, without any costly surprises. Our team can help you determine if the screening will be sufficient for your needs.
What is the most common outcome of a proposed review?
Typically, after you receive the ER Review confirmation, no further action is needed since most of our projects can demonstrate no impact to listed species, and you will receive documentation to show compliance. For some projects involving construction and clearing activities, voluntary conservation or avoidance measures will be sufficient to avoid the accidental death or injury to a listed species, or loss to its habitat (which would constitute a “take”).
For example, your team may implement careful BMPs to avoid runoff of sediment-laden discharges from a construction site to a cold-water or high-quality stream that may contain endangered mussels or fish. In cases where avoidance is not likely and the take of the species could occur, an Incidental Take permit may be necessary. Early consultation through the ER Review process would identify this quickly and allow time to determine alternatives or initiate permitting prior to the commencement of the earth-disturbing activity.
What if the project is modified or delayed after the ER Review is completed?
Significant modifications to projects, such as the need to initiate construction or clearing activities during a seasonal restriction period, will require WDNR notification and an opening consultation. Proposed projects should be evaluated for potential impacts if:
More than one year passes from when the project was initially reviewed
Changes to the clearing or grading activities starts during a different season
The disturbance footprint increases and could affect habitat
New information comes to light that is indicative of the presence of a protected species or discovery of a critical habitat that could be directly impacted
Our team can you help you evaluate the changes to your project and will contact WDNR if needed. Generally, an email notification may be enough to keep your project moving.
Can R/M share NHI data with the public?
No. Location-specific records for threatened and endangered species are not allowed to be disclosed to the public. Many rare species, if their locations are known, are highly vulnerable to black market collectors and other predators. This sensitive information may be shared with the landowner and those who “need to know.” For example, if an endangered snake or turtle may be in the area, the contractors will need to know what the animal looks like so that if spotted within a work zone, the work can be briefly suspended until a qualified biologist removes to the animal to safety.
I have a project that will receive grants or loans from the Federal Government, Should I also contact the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service?
YES. The policy set forth by Congress under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) requires all federal departments and agencies to conserve endangered species and threatened species. Further, federal agencies are required to cooperate with WDNR to resolve water resource issues (i.e., through permits) to meet the conservation objectives for endangered species.
Section 7 (formal consultation) of the Act is necessary if a federal permit or grant/ loan funding is applicable for a specific project. If you have a potential project that could require an Army Corps permit, funding under a grant (from EPA, for example), or a loan (USDA construction loan, for example), you will need formal consultation.
We Can Help!
Our in-house Certified Reviewer, Senor Biologist Nick Connor, can conduct an ER Review for your project. Once Nick has completed his review, he will secure the final approval from WDNR to demonstrate compliance and that no endangered species impacts are expected. If impacts are expected, then the review serves as a formal first step in developing an action plan, which may include avoidance measures or an Incidental Take Permit.
For more information on Endangered Resources Reviews, please contact one of our experts today.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Nicholas P. Connor, MS
Senior Biologist Nick Connor, MS, has a focus on urban river systems and Environmental Risk Assessment. His technical experience is in critical issues and feasibility studies, ecological restoration, stream restoration, and slope stabilization for water quality and habitat improvement to help achieve both development and watershed management goals. He is a key project coordinator for site constraints analysis, wetland delineations, threatened and endangered species assessments, and permitting evaluations for both municipal and private sector clients, including solar developers.