A Guide to the ESA Section 10 Permit Requirements, Process, and Compliance

Navigating the complexities of the Endangered Species Act (ESA) Section 10 permit process is crucial for successfully developing projects while ensuring the protection of threatened and endangered species. This comprehensive guide delves into the intricacies of the ESA Section 10 permit, providing essential information to understand the permit's applicability, application requirements, and compliance obligations. Learn about the specific resources protected by this permit, the activities that trigger the need for it, and the exemptions that may apply. Discover how to effectively plan for and manage the permit process, from pre-application considerations to post-permit compliance, while leveraging innovative technology solutions like Transect to streamline site selection and environmental due diligence. Stay informed about recent regulatory changes and access additional resources to navigate the evolving landscape of ESA Section 10 permitting and ensure project success while promoting wildlife conservation.


ESA Section 10 Permit Key Details

Issuing Agency: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) and National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) Year Established: 1973 Legal References: Endangered Species Act of 1973, 16 U.S.C. §1531 et seq.; 50 C.F.R. §17.22, §17.32
Date Last Amended: September 26, 2019 Permit Types: Incidental Take Permit (ITP), Enhancement of Survival Permit (ESP) Covered Activities: Private actions that may result in the "take" of endangered or threatened species Permit Duration: Varies; typically valid for the duration of the proposed activity or project

Endangered Species Act Section 10 Permit Overview

The Endangered Species Act (ESA) Section 10 Permit, administered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) and the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), is a critical component of the broader regulatory framework established by the ESA of 1973. The primary focus of the ESA is to protect and recover imperiled species and the ecosystems upon which they depend. Section 10 of the ESA provides exceptions to the Act's prohibitions on "take" of listed species, allowing private entities to obtain permits for activities that may result in the incidental take of endangered or threatened wildlife.

The ESA Section 10 Permit program has evolved over time to balance the conservation needs of protected species with the economic and development needs of private landowners and businesses. Significant amendments to the ESA in 1982 introduced the Incidental Take Permit (ITP) and Habitat Conservation Plan (HCP) provisions under Section 10(a)(1)(B), allowing non-federal entities to obtain permits for incidental take of listed species. Further revisions in the 1990s and 2000s streamlined the permitting process and provided additional flexibilities, such as the "No Surprises" assurances and the Safe Harbor program.

Which Resources Are Regulated By ESA Section 10?

The ESA Section 10 Permit regulates activities that may impact endangered and threatened species of wildlife, including animals, plants, and other organisms listed under the Endangered Species Act. The permit aims to protect these species from "take," which is defined by the ESA as "to harass, harm, pursue, hunt, shoot, wound, kill, trap, capture, or collect or attempt to engage in any such conduct." This broad definition encompasses direct injury or mortality to listed species, as well as significant habitat modification or degradation that impairs essential behavioral patterns such as breeding, feeding, or sheltering. By requiring private entities to obtain permits and implement conservation measures for activities that may result in incidental take, the ESA Section 10 Permit program helps to minimize and mitigate adverse impacts on protected species and their habitats.


When ESA Section 10 Permits Are Required

The Endangered Species Act (ESA) Section 10 permit is required when non-federal entities, such as private landowners, corporations, tribes, or state or local governments, wish to engage in activities that may result in the "take" of endangered or threatened species. The term "take" is defined under the ESA as "to harass, harm, pursue, hunt, shoot, wound, kill, trap, capture, or collect, or to attempt to engage in any such conduct."

The following table outlines the types of activities that may trigger the need for an ESA Section 10 permit and the associated environmental considerations or potential impacts:

Activity/ActionEnvironmental Considerations/Potential Impacts
Land development projects (e.g., construction, mining)Habitat loss, fragmentation, or degradation; direct harm or mortality to endangered or threatened species
Forestry and agricultural practicesAlteration of habitat; exposure to pesticides or herbicides; changes in water quality or quantity
Water resource projects (e.g., dams, diversions, wetland fills)Changes in water flow, temperature, or quality; habitat modification or loss; barriers to species movement
Energy development (e.g., oil and gas, wind, solar)Habitat disturbance or loss; collision risk for birds and bats; noise and light pollution
Transportation projects (e.g., roads, bridges, airports)Habitat fragmentation; wildlife-vehicle collisions; noise and light pollution; changes in air and water quality
Recreation activities (e.g., off-road vehicles, boating)Habitat disturbance; wildlife harassment; introduction of invasive species; water pollution

ESA Section 10 Permit Exemptions

While the ESA Section 10 permit is required for many activities that may affect endangered or threatened species, there are certain exemptions from the permit requirements. These exemptions are designed to allow specific activities that are considered to have minimal impact on protected species or are necessary for public safety or well-being.

The following activities are exempt from ESA Section 10 permit requirements:

  1. Normal agricultural and silvicultural practices: Routine farming and forestry activities that are part of an ongoing operation and do not involve a significant change in land use.

  2. Maintenance of existing structures: Repair, maintenance, or replacement of existing structures (e.g., buildings, roads, bridges) that does not significantly alter the environment or affect protected species.

  3. Emergency actions: Actions necessary to respond to an emergency (e.g., natural disasters, public health crises) that pose an imminent threat to human life or property.

  4. Certain conservation practices: Activities specifically designed to enhance or protect endangered or threatened species and their habitats, as outlined in a conservation plan or agreement with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) or the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS).

To determine if a project qualifies for an exemption, project proponents should carefully review the specific conditions and limitations that apply to each exemption. It is highly recommended to consult with the USFWS or NMFS to confirm the applicability of an exemption and to ensure that the proposed activities will not result in unauthorized take of protected species. These agencies can provide guidance on the interpretation of exemptions and assist in determining whether a Section 10 permit is required for a particular project.


Section 10 Permit Permit Pre-Application Considerations & Planning

Diagram of Section 10 Permit Permit Pre-Application Considerations & Planning
Diagram of Section 10 Permit Permit Pre-Application Considerations & Planning

The ESA Section 10 permit process typically begins during the early stages of project planning, often in parallel with feasibility studies and preliminary design work. Key milestones include:

  1. Project Conception & Feasibility: Initial project scoping, site selection, and assessment of environmental constraints and permitting requirements.
  2. Baseline Environmental Studies: Surveys and analyses to characterize existing conditions, identify potential impacts on listed species and critical habitat, and inform avoidance, minimization, and mitigation strategies.
  3. Design & Engineering: Refinement of project design to incorporate measures for avoiding, minimizing, and mitigating impacts on listed species and critical habitat.
  4. Pre-Application Consultation: Early coordination with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) or National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) to discuss the project, review baseline data, and seek guidance on the permit process and application requirements.
  5. Permit Application Preparation: Development of the Habitat Conservation Plan (HCP), Candidate Conservation Agreement with Assurances (CCAA), or Safe Harbor Agreement (SHA), as well as other required application materials.
  6. Permit Application Submission: Formal submission of the permit application package to the USFWS or NMFS for review.
  7. Agency Review & Decision: Evaluation of the permit application by the USFWS or NMFS, including public comment periods and National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) compliance, culminating in a permit decision.
  8. Permit Issuance or Denial: If approved, the ESA Section 10 permit is issued with terms and conditions governing project implementation and compliance.
  9. Project Implementation & Compliance: Construction, operation, and maintenance of the project in accordance with the permit conditions, including monitoring, reporting, and adaptive management.

The ESA Section 10 permit process can take several months to a few years, depending on the complexity of the project and the species involved. It is critical to initiate the process early and allow sufficient time for baseline studies, pre-application consultation, and permit application preparation. The permit timeline should be carefully integrated into the overall project schedule, recognizing that the permit decision is a prerequisite for commencing construction or other activities that may affect listed species or critical habitat.

Project Lifecycle and ESA Section 10 Permit Touchpoints:

  • Year 1-2: Project Conception & Feasibility, Baseline Environmental Studies
  • Year 2-3: Design & Engineering, Pre-Application Consultation
  • Year 3-4: Permit Application Preparation & Submission
  • Year 4-5: Agency Review & Decision, Permit Issuance or Denial
  • Year 5+: Project Implementation & Compliance

Section 10 Permit Application Requirements & Submission

An ESA Section 10 permit application typically includes the following components:

  1. Habitat Conservation Plan (HCP), Candidate Conservation Agreement with Assurances (CCAA), or Safe Harbor Agreement (SHA): These documents are ...
  2. Incidental Take Permit Application Form: This form provides basic information about the applicant, the project, and the species covered by the permit.
  3. Environmental Baseline Survey Reports: These reports characterize the existing environmental conditions in the project area, including the presence, ...
  4. Impact Analysis: This analysis assesses the potential direct, indirect, and cumulative ...
  5. Monitoring & Reporting Plan: This plan describes how the ...
  6. Funding Plan: This plan demonstrates that the applicant has ...
  7. Implementing Agreement: For complex or long-term projects, an ...
  8. National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) Compliance Documents: Depending ...

These application materials aim to provide a comprehensive and scientifically rigorous analysis of the project's potential impacts on listed species and critical habitat, as well as a robust plan for avoiding, minimizing ...

The Section 10 Permit Review & Decision Process

The ideal time to initiate the ESA Section 10 permit process is during ... The key steps in the ESA Section 10 permit review and decision process are:

  1. Pre-Application Consultation: The applicant meets with the ...
  2. Application Submission: The applicant formally submits ...
  3. Completeness Review: The USFWS or NMFS reviews the ...
  4. Public Notice & Comment: The USFWS or NMFS publishes ...
  5. NEPA Compliance: If required, the USFWS or NMFS prepares an ...
  6. Endangered Species Act Consultation: The USFWS or NMFS conducts ...
  7. Permit Decision: Based on the application materials...

The ESA Section 10 permit review process typically takes 6 to 12 ...

Section 10 Permit Public Participation & Stakeholder Engagement

Public participation is an essential component of the ESA Section 10 permit process. It allows interested parties ... The key opportunities for public participation in the ESA Section 10 permit process are:

  1. Scoping: During the development ...
  2. Public Comment on Permit Application: When a permit ...
  3. Public Meetings or Hearings: Depending on the level ...
  4. Comment on Draft EA or EIS: If an ...

The USFWS or NMFS is required to consider all substantive comments ...

Effective public participation can improve the quality and credibility ...

Common Challenges and Pitfalls in the Section 10 Permit Permit Process

Some of the most common challenges and pitfalls in the ESA Section 10 permit process include:

  1. Inadequate Baseline Data: Insufficient or outdated ...
  2. Incomplete or Inconsistent Permit Application: Permit applications that ...
  3. Underestimating Impacts or Overestimating Conservation Benefits: Project proponents...
  4. Failure to Secure Adequate Funding: The permit application must...
  5. Neglecting Public Engagement: Ignoring or dismissing ...
  6. Noncompliance with Permit Conditions: Once a permit ...

To avoid these pitfalls, project proponents should:

  • Invest in robust baseline environmental studies ...
  • Engage early and often with the USFWS or NMFS ...
  • Develop a realistic and well-funded conservation plan ...
  • Prepare a complete and well-organized permit application ...
  • Maintain transparency and accountability ...

By following these best practices and learning from the experiences of other projects, applicants can navigate the ESA Section 10 permit process more smoothly and successfully.


Leveraging Technology for ESA Section 10 Permit Compliance

Technology plays a crucial role in streamlining and enhancing compliance with the ESA Section 10 permit. By leveraging data management, site assessment, and monitoring tools, permit applicants and holders can improve efficiency, accuracy, and transparency throughout the compliance process.

Benefits of using technology for ESA Section 10 permit compliance include:

  1. Centralized data management: Technology platforms can help organize and store relevant data, such as species surveys, habitat assessments, and monitoring reports, in a secure and easily accessible manner.

  2. Improved accuracy: Digital data collection tools, such as mobile apps and GPS devices, can minimize errors and inconsistencies in field data, ensuring more accurate information for permit applications and compliance reporting.

  3. Enhanced collaboration: Cloud-based platforms enable seamless collaboration among project team members, consultants, and regulatory agencies, facilitating efficient communication and decision-making.

  4. Real-time monitoring: Remote sensing technologies, such as satellite imagery and drones, can provide real-time data on habitat conditions and species populations, enabling proactive management and early detection of potential compliance issues.

  5. Automated reporting: Technology solutions can automate the generation of compliance reports, reducing administrative burdens and ensuring timely submission to regulatory agencies.

Common tools and platforms used in the industry for ESA Section 10 permit compliance include:

Tool/PlatformKey FeaturesBenefits
ArcGISMapping and spatial analysisIdentify suitable habitat and potential impacts
Survey123Mobile data collectionStreamline field surveys and minimize errors
Drone DeployAerial surveys and mappingMonitor habitat conditions and species populations
WildnoteEnvironmental data managementCentralize and organize permit-related data

By incorporating these technologies into their compliance strategies, permit holders can effectively manage their ESA Section 10 obligations, minimize risks, and demonstrate their commitment to wildlife conservation.

Transect: An Innovative Solution for Site Selection & Environmental Due Diligence

Transect is an all-in-one environmental due diligence solution that combines software knowledge with hands-on field experience to revolutionize site selection and permitting for industries such as solar, wind, renewable energy, and more. This innovative platform offers a range of features and benefits that can help developers and permit applicants streamline their processes, reduce costs and delays, and ensure ongoing compliance with ESA Section 10 permit requirements.

Key features and benefits of Transect include:

  1. Swift site pinpointing and suitability analysis: Transect's advanced algorithms and comprehensive datasets enable rapid identification of suitable sites, considering factors such as habitat quality, species presence, and regulatory constraints.

  2. Real-time data updates and critical issues identification: The platform integrates real-time data from various sources, allowing users to stay informed about changes in environmental conditions and identify potential compliance risks early on.

  3. Versatility across multiple industries and project types: Transect is designed to support a wide range of industries and project types, from renewable energy to infrastructure development, making it a valuable tool for any organization navigating the ESA Section 10 permit process.

  4. User-friendly interface and intuitive workflow: With its intuitive interface and streamlined workflow, Transect empowers users to quickly access and analyze relevant data, make informed decisions, and collaborate effectively with team members and stakeholders.

  5. Efficiency gains and cost savings: By automating key aspects of the site selection and permitting process, Transect helps organizations save time and money compared to traditional methods, reducing the need for extensive field surveys and manual data analysis.

  6. Proactive risk mitigation and compliance assurance: Transect's predictive modeling capabilities and real-time monitoring features enable users to identify potential compliance risks early on, take proactive measures to mitigate those risks, and ensure ongoing adherence to ESA Section 10 permit requirements.

By leveraging Transect's unique capabilities, developers and permit applicants can navigate the complexities of the ESA Section 10 permit process with greater confidence, efficiency, and effectiveness, ultimately achieving their project goals while promoting wildlife conservation and regulatory compliance.


Section 10 Permit Conditions & Compliance Obligations

A Section 10 permit typically includes a range of conditions and requirements that the permittee must adhere to in order to maintain compliance and minimize the impact of the authorized take on the affected species. These conditions may include:

  1. Impact Minimization Measures: The permittee may be required to implement specific measures to minimize the impact of the authorized take on the species, such as using wildlife-friendly fencing, establishing buffer zones around sensitive habitats, or scheduling construction activities to avoid critical breeding or migration periods.

  2. Mitigation Commitments: The permit may require the permittee to undertake compensatory mitigation actions to offset the impact of the authorized take, such as habitat restoration, land acquisition, or funding for conservation programs. The type and scale of mitigation required will depend on the nature and extent of the anticipated take.

  3. Reporting Obligations: The permittee will typically be required to submit regular reports to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) or National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) detailing the progress of the project, the extent of take that has occurred, and the implementation of any required minimization or mitigation measures.

It is crucial for the permittee to thoroughly understand and strictly adhere to all permit conditions to maintain compliance and avoid potential enforcement actions. Failure to comply with permit conditions can result in civil or criminal penalties, permit revocation, and damage to the permittee's reputation.

Section 10 Monitoring, Reporting & Recordkeeping Requirements

Section 10 permits often require the permittee to conduct ongoing monitoring, reporting, and recordkeeping to demonstrate compliance with permit conditions and track the impact of the authorized take on the affected species. These requirements may include:

  1. Monitoring: The permittee may be required to monitor the presence, abundance, and distribution of the affected species in the project area, as well as the effectiveness of any impact minimization or mitigation measures. The frequency and methods of monitoring will be specified in the permit conditions.

  2. Reporting: The permittee must submit regular reports to the USFWS or NMFS, typically on an annual basis, detailing the results of monitoring activities, the extent of take that has occurred, and the implementation of any required minimization or mitigation measures. The specific content and format of the reports will be outlined in the permit conditions.

  3. Recordkeeping: The permittee must maintain accurate and complete records of all activities related to the permitted take, including monitoring data, mitigation actions, and any instances of non-compliance. These records must be retained for a specified period, typically five years or more, and made available to the permitting agency upon request.

Accurate and timely reporting and recordkeeping are essential to demonstrate compliance with permit conditions and maintain an open line of communication with the permitting agency. Failure to meet these requirements can result in enforcement actions and jeopardize the validity of the permit.

Enforcement and Penalties for Non-Compliance with Section 10

Non-compliance with the conditions of a Section 10 permit can result in a range of enforcement actions and penalties, depending on the nature and severity of the violation. These may include:

  1. Administrative Penalties: The USFWS or NMFS may issue a notice of violation or a cease and desist order, requiring the permittee to stop all activities related to the unauthorized take and take corrective action to remedy the violation.

  2. Civil Fines: The permittee may be subject to civil fines of up to $25,000 per violation for knowingly violating the terms of a Section 10 permit. In some cases, each day the violation continues may be considered a separate offense.

  3. Criminal Charges: In cases of willful or repeated violations, the permittee may face criminal charges, including fines of up to $50,000 and/or imprisonment for up to one year.

  4. Permit Revocation: The USFWS or NMFS may revoke the Section 10 permit if the permittee fails to comply with permit conditions or if the permitted activity results in significant, unanticipated impacts on the affected species.

Common violations that may trigger enforcement actions include exceeding the authorized level of take, failing to implement required minimization or mitigation measures, and submitting false or incomplete monitoring reports.

To mitigate enforcement risks, it is crucial for the permittee to take prompt corrective action upon discovering any instances of non-compliance and maintain open communication with the permitting agency. Proactively reporting violations and working with the agency to develop and implement a corrective action plan can help demonstrate good faith and potentially reduce the severity of any penalties.


Recent Changes & Updates to ESA Section 10 Permit

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service (collectively referred to as "the Services") have made several revisions to the ESA Section 10 permit regulations in recent years:

  1. In 2019, the Services revised the regulations for ESA Section 10(a)(1)(B) permits, which authorize incidental take of listed species through Habitat Conservation Plans (HCPs). The revisions aimed to improve the permitting process's efficiency and clarity while maintaining species conservation measures. Key changes included:1

    • Clarifying the criteria for HCP approval, including the "maximum extent practicable" standard for minimizing and mitigating impacts.
    • Allowing for expedited review of "low-effect" HCPs through a categorical exclusion under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).
    • Establishing a 30-day public comment period for draft HCPs, with extensions possible for complex projects.
  2. In 2020, the Services updated the regulations for ESA Section 10(a)(1)(A) permits, which allow take of listed species for scientific research, enhancement of propagation or survival, and other conservation purposes. The revisions sought to streamline the permitting process and provide greater flexibility for conservation activities. Notable changes included:2

    • Expanding the eligibility for permits to include a broader range of conservation activities, such as habitat restoration and management.
    • Allowing the use of programmatic permits to cover multiple, similar activities under a single permit.
    • Clarifying the criteria for permit issuance, including the requirement that the permitted activity provides a net conservation benefit to the species.

These regulatory changes aimed to enhance the efficiency and effectiveness of the ESA Section 10 permitting program while ensuring the protection and recovery of listed species.

Additional Resources & Information

For more information on the ESA Section 10 permit, consult the following resources:

  • U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's Habitat Conservation Plans Overview: Provides a comprehensive introduction to HCPs, including their purpose, requirements, and the application process.3

These resources provide valuable information and tools for navigating the ESA Section 10 permitting process and developing effective conservation strategies for listed species.


  1. 84 Fed. Reg. 44,753 (Aug. 27, 2019) (codified at 50 C.F.R. pts. 13 and 17).

  2. 85 Fed. Reg. 44,229 (July 22, 2020) (codified at 50 C.F.R. pts. 13, 17, and 402).

  3. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. "Habitat Conservation Plans Overview." U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, https://www.fws.gov/service/habitat-conservation-plans

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A Note to Our Readers: We hope this guide is a valuable resource in helping you better understand the Section 10 Permit. However, it's not a substitute for professional advice and doesn't cover every scenario. Always consult with regulatory bodies and professionals for the most current advice and project-specific guidance.