Early coordination is the means by which project proponents provide the US Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) the opportunity to become involved early in the development phase of a proposed project and share information concerning trust resources that could be adversely impacted, including federally listed species. For transportation projects in the state of Georgia, the Georgia Department of Transportation (GDOT) requests early coordination to obtain information on any species that is listed or proposed to be listed and may be present in the area of a proposed action by submitting a letter to the Service, which then has 30 days to respond.
To facilitate early coordination, the Service maintains a publicly available database, known as IPaC (Information for Planning and Consultation). IPaC is a project planning tool that can be queried to identify federally listed and proposed species, designated and proposed critical habitat, and candidate species. IPaC currently generates a list of protected species that may occur in the vicinity of the proposed project, but does not provide specific conservation guidance or information on the likelihood of those species occurring within the project action area. In an effort to streamline the early coordination process by providing more specific guidance while simultaneously reducing the amount of time needed to receive comments on transportation projects, the Service developed web-based consultation guidance tool utilizing a watershed approach. Evaluating potential impacts at the watershed level makes sense, since many transportation projects in Georgia involve the modification or replacement of stream crossings, including bridges or culverts, and the associated activities from these projects often have the potential to impact multiple groups of aquatic species.
Users can locate the watershed in which their project occurs searching by county, major watershed, or utilizing an interactive web-based map. They are then provided a link to the watershed-specific guidance document that can be used to identify potential or known occurrences of state, federal, and at-risk species. The document also provides information on the suitable habitat, appropriate survey times and whether or not surveys are needed, and conservation measures for each species, as well as guidance under the Fish and Wildlife Coordination Act for each watershed in Georgia. By providing this information at the watershed scale in this manner, both project delivery and species conservation are simultaneously improved.