Release of the 14th Edition Natural Heritage Atlas, August 1, 2017
- Final maps are available for download or as a viewable file.
- Town maps have been mailed to planning boards, building inspectors and conservation commissions in municipalities where Priority Habitats have been delineated.
- Summary Response to 2017 Draft Priority Habitat Map Comments
- How and Why the Priority and Estimated Habitat Maps Change
The Massachusetts Endangered Species Act (MESA) was enacted in December 1990 (M.G.L c.131A). Implementing regulations were promulgated in 1992 and most recently revised and implemented as of October 15, 2010 (321 CMR 10.00).
The Massachusetts Endangered Species Act protects rare species and their habitats by prohibiting the "Take " of any plant or animal species listed as Endangered, Threatened, or Special Concern by the MA Division of Fisheries & Wildlife.
"Take" is defined as, "in reference to animals to harass, harm, pursue, hunt, shoot, hound, kill, trap, capture, collect, process, disrupt the nesting, breeding, feeding or migratory activity or attempt to engage in any such conduct, or to assist such conduct, and in reference to plants, means to collect, pick, kill, transplant, cut or process or attempt to engage or to assist in any such conduct. Disruption of nesting, breeding, feeding or migratory activity may result from, but is not limited to, the modification, degradation or destruction of Habitat."
Permits for “taking” rare species for scientific, educational, conservation, or management purposes can be granted by the Division of Fisheries & Wildlife.
The Massachusetts Endangered Species Act and its implementing regulations establish procedures for the listing and protection of rare plants and animals and outline project review filing requirements for projects or activities that are located within a Priority Habitat of Rare Species (“Priority Habitat”). The MESA regulations also provide clear review timelines and establish an appeal process for agency actions.
For projects within Priority Habitat, options under MESA may include one or more of the following:
- Request state-listed species information
- Consult with Review staff for project planning purposes
- MESA Project Review and determinations
- MESA Conservation and Management Permit
- Survey protocols and scientific collection permits
Click here for additional information on MESA grandfathering, emergencies, appeals, and penalties.
Site specific state-listed species information for regulatory review can be requested from the NHESP by submitting a MESA Information Request Form . This is not required as part of a MESA Project Review, however, it may be useful for project proponents to request this information prior to development of site plans.
If you are requesting information for habitat management or conservation purposes and you are a non-profit conservation group, government agency or working with a government agency fill out a Data Release Form . Do not fill out a MESA Information Request Form.
For large projects, we suggest that proponents contact the NHESP early in the planning stage to discuss potential MESA issues. In order to engage a review biologist in a pre-filing consultation, submit a project narrative, conceptual site plans, locus map and any other pertinent information regarding the proposed project. This can be done in conjunction with the Information Request process.
If a project falls within Priority Habitat of Rare Species and does not qualify for a MESA filing exemption , proponents must file with the NHESP. Priority Habitat is defined as "the geographic extent of Habitat for state-listed species" as delineated by the Division pursuant to 321 CMR 10.12. The NHESP understands that there are project proponents who have taken significant action towards implementing a project in reliance on an earlier edition of the Atlas that showed that the project site was not located in Priority Habitat but have since been mapped. Some such projects may not be subject to MESA review if certain permitting milestones have been met pursuant to 10.13(2). MESA also includes Performance Standards for Obtaining a No Take Determination for Certain Activities pursuant to 321 CMR 10.18(5).
Proponents should note that if they are required to file with the local Conservation Commission pursuant to the Wetlands Protection Act and the proposed project is within Estimated Habitats for rare wetland wildlife, a copy of the filing must be submitted to the NHESP, even if the project qualifies for a MESA filing exemption.
See Regulatory Review for more information on the project review process.
If during the MESA Project Review it is determined that a project will result in a "take" of a state-listed species, the project may be eligible for a Conservation and Management Permit (321 CMR 10.23).
To be eligible for a Conservation & Management Permit, the applicant must:
- assess alternatives to both temporary and permanent impacts to state-listed species. Thus, certain projects that can be redesigned to avoid a "Take" may not be eligible for a Conservation & Management Permit.
- demonstrate that a proposed project will impact an insignificant portion of the local population of an affected state-listed species.
- design and implement a conservation and management plan that provides a long-term Net Benefit to the conservation of the affected state-listed species.
Rare Species Survey Protocols - If necessary, the NHESP may request that a project proponent retain a qualified biologist to conduct a Rare Species Habitat assessment or survey for rare species. Please read this section for more information about Rare Species Habitat Assessments, Botanical Survey Protocols and Mussel Transplant Protocols.
Commercial Scientific Collection Permit Application - Biologists conducting surveys for project proponents must be in possession of a valid Commercial Scientific Collection Permit for the project site in order to handle any state-listed species.