Endangered Species Act Consultations

Under Section 7(a)(1) of the Endangered Species Act, federal agencies are directed to implement programs for the conservation of threatened and endangered species. We assist these agencies with the development of conservation programs for marine species, and we work with federal agencies, like the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the U.S. Forest Service, on training and opportunities to implement proactive conservation actions that will benefit ESA-listed species and their habitats.

Under Section 7(a)(2) federal agencies must consult with NOAA Fisheries when any project or action they take might affect an ESA-listed marine species or designated critical habitat. The consultation process can vary depending on the complexity of the project or action. Projects/actions that commonly require consultation include:

  • Dredging.

  • Hydroelectric activities.

  • Large construction activities.

  • Military exercises, testing, and training.

  • Offshore energy activities.

  • Permitting programs.

  • Scientific research.

  • Seismic surveys.

Consultation Process

The process usually begins as informal consultation. The federal agency proposing the project or action approaches NOAA Fisheries in the early stages of project planning and requests consultation. Discussions between our agencies include which ESA-listed species might occur in the proposed action area and what effect the proposed action might have on those species and/or designated critical habitat.

If we agree that the proposed project or action is not likely to affect any listed species or designated critical habitat, we provide a letter of concurrence and no further consultation is required.

However, if it appears that the agency’s action might affect a listed species or designated critical habitat, that agency prepares a biological assessment to determine the project’s effect on a ESA-listed species or its critical habitat. A biological assessment includes details on potential effects to a species or its designated critical habitat.

When a federal agency determines that its action is likely to adversely affect a listed species and/or its designated critical habitat, the agency is required to submit a request for formal consultation.

Formal consultations must be completed within 135 days of initiation—90 days for consultation plus 45 days for coordination between the agencies, unless an extension is agreed upon by the agencies. Formal consultations result in NOAA Fisheries developing a biological opinion. The intent of a biological opinion is to ensure that the proposed project or action will not reduce the likelihood of survival and recovery of an ESA-listed species. A biological opinion usually also includes conservation recommendations that further the recovery of ESA-listed species. The biological opinion includes reasonable and prudent measures as needed to minimize any harmful effects, and may require monitoring and reporting to ensure that the project or action is implemented as described.

Learn more about biological opinions

Emergency Consultation

The ESA recognizes the need to respond immediately to emergencies. We expedite consultations during emergencies so federal agencies can complete their critical missions in a timely manner while still providing protections to listed species. Where emergency actions are required that might affect listed species and/or their designated critical habitats, a federal agency may not have the time for the normal consultation procedures under non-emergency conditions. Emergency consultation expedites communication and allows agencies to incorporate endangered/threatened species concerns into their emergency response.

Learn more about emergency consultation

How Federal Agencies Initiate an ESA Section 7 Consultation

We strongly encourage federal agencies to contact us well in advance of proposed projects or actions. Doing so allows all parties to better understand the proposed project/action, gather the information needed to initiate, and complete the consultation in a timely manner.

For actions that are wholly within a specific region, the federal action agency should contact the appropriate NOAA Fisheries Regional Office:

For actions that span two or more regions and/or are national or global in scope, the federal action agency should contact:

NOAA Fisheries staff will work with the federal action agency to develop the documentation (e.g., biological assessment) needed to initiate and complete consultation. 

Learn more about the ESA section 7 consultation process and how to submit a consultation request