Regulatory Review Frequently Asked Questions
Where can I find the Natural Heritage Atlas?
- The Natural Heritage Atlas book or CD can be purchased directly from the NHESP.
- An interactive online map viewer is available from MassGIS web site. Through the viewer you'll be able to view both Priority Habitats and Estimated Habitats in any part of the state.
- Download Priority & Estimated Habitat GIS datalayers from MassGIS (Note: requires ArcView or similar GIS software for viewing).
- A large Priority Habitat and Estimated Habitat map has been provided to each Conservation Commission and Planning Board showing the entire city or town. This map is helpful for determining whether or not you are located within an Estimated Habitat and need to file a Notice of Intent with the NHESP.
- Available through most town libraries.
What are Priority Habitats and Estimated Habitats in the Natural Heritage Atlas and what are they used for?
Priority Habitat is based on the geographical extent of habitat for all state-listed rare species, both plants and animals. Habitat alteration within Priority Habitats may result in a take of a state-listed species, and is subject to regulatory review by the Natural Heritage & Endangered Species Program (NHESP). Priority Habitat maps are used for determining whether or not a proposed project must be reviewed by the NHESP for MESA compliance. View our MESA Project Review Process page for more information about MESA filing requirements. Please note that if your project results in greater than two acres of disturbance of Priority Habitat and results in a "take" of a state-listed species, your project may be subject to MEPA (Massachusetts Environmental Policy Act) review.
Estimated Habitats are a sub-set of Priority Habitats that are based on the geographical extent of habitat of state-listed rare wildlife (no plants). State-listed wildlife species that use wetland habitats are protected under the Massachusetts Endangered Species Act as well as the Wetlands Protection Act. The Wetlands Protection Act does not protect state-listed rare plants, but rare plants are protected pursuant to the MA Endangered Species Act. Please note that if your project is within Estimated Habitat and is also subject to review as a Notice of Intent by the local Conservation Commission, then you will also need to submit your NOI to the Natural Heritage & Endangered Species Program (NHESP) for review.
How do I determine whether my property is Estimated Habitat for rare species?
You can check with your local Conservation Commission to find out if you are in Estimated Habitat for rare species. The Commission has a large scale map of the town for you to view. You can also check the Natural Heritage Atlas.
Why is my property in Priority Habitat and/or Estimated Habitat? What species are found there?
Priority Habitat and Estimated Habitat maps reflect the geographic extent of habitat for state-listed rare species, based on records of state listed species observed 25 years prior to map delineation. The Natural Heritage & Endangered Species Program (NHESP) bases mapping on the best scientific evidence available. For each rare species observation for which a Priority Habitat or Estimated Habitat is delineated, the NHESP considers the significance of the local rare species occurrence as it relates to the conservation of the species in Massachusetts, including but not limited to, evidence of breeding, persistence, life stages present, numbers of individuals, extent of necessary supporting habitat, and proximity to other occurrences. You can find out what species a given Estimated Habitat or Priority Habitat has been drawn for by submitting a MESA Information Request Form along with a USGS topographic map of the location. Please note that site specific information about rare species occurrences is protected information and is not disclosed.
Can I do work on my property if it falls within Estimated Habitat or Priority Habitat?
If your local Conservation Commission finds that your project is subject to the Wetlands Protection Act and you have to file a Notice of Intent (NOI) then you will need to file a copy of the NOI with the NHESP along with a USGS topographic map and a copy of the project plans. Within 30 days of receiving the NOI, the NHESP will send our comments to the Conservation Commission, with copies to the applicant, the applicant's representative and the Department of Environmental Protection. We will let the applicant know if we need any further information to complete our review. As we deal with a large volume of reviews, please do not ask for an expedited review.
If a project falls within Priority Habitat, the project must be reviewed by the NHESP for MA Endangered Species Act compliance, whether or not the filing of an NOI is required. Check here for information about filing requirements and exemptions. View our MESA Project Review process page for more information about MESA filing requirements.
Am I required to submit a MESA Information Request Form if I am in the planning process of a project?
It is highly recommended that you submit a MESA Information Request Form to avoid potential project changes that may occur in the latter stages of project planning as a result of rare species issues. This proactive approach will benefit your planning process and most likely save you time and money in the long run.
What is the cost and when can I expect a response to my MESA information request?
There is a $50 fee to process the MESA Information Request Form. Please include a check made out to the Natural Heritage & Endangered Species Fund along with a topographic map. The NHESP will respond within 30 days of receipt of your request.
What is a Data Release Form?
If you are requesting information for habitat management or conservation purpose and you are a non-profit conservation group, government agency, or working with a government agency, please fill out the Data Release Form.
What is a topographic map and where can I obtain one?
A topographic map illustrates the natural and man-made features on a landscape. You can obtain a map at websites such as www.digital-topo-maps.com or www.mytopo.com, as well as at outdoor stores and occasionally in libraries.
What scale topographic map should I submit with a MESA Information Request Form?
We require a topographic map with a scale of 1:24,000 or 1:25,000. This scale is easiest to read and it gives us a good perspective with which to view the site and the surrounding landscape.
I was notified that there is a Certified Vernal Pool (CVP) on my property. Can I find out what evidence was submitted and who submitted it?
You may receive copies of the certification information on a particular vernal pool by sending NHESP a letter requesting this information. You should cite the CVP number or send a topographic map showing the location of the pool. The certification information will include the evidence used to certify the vernal pool, as well as who submitted the information. Please note that it is the sole responsibility of an individual providing vernal pool certification information to the Natural Heritage and Endangered Species Program to ensure that all of their activities associated with gathering said information comply with law.