Conservation Explorer FAQ Frequently Asked Questions

This page contains questions and answers for the Pennsylvania Conservation Explorer (Explorer)
If you cannot find an answer to your question, please visit the Help or Contact Us pages. For "How To" questions such as how to obtain a Conservation Planning Report or submit a PNDI project for review, please see the How To section on the Resouces page.


General Q's

Is registration required to access the Explorer?

Account registration and login with the Explorer is not required to view Conservation Planning information.  However, if you would like to view endangered, threatened and special concern species habitats and/or obtain a PNDI Receipt, registration and login is required.

Will my account from the previous PNDI ER tool be brought over to the new Explorer?

If you are a registered user of the old PNDI Environmental Review Tool, a new account has been created for you based on your most recent registration profile. To activate your new account, you will be required to reset your password.

Will the old ER tool be kept online for any period of time?

No, when Explorer goes live, the previous PNDI ER tool will no longer be available. All PNDI receipts created on or after July 1, 2011 available in the new tool.

What is the difference between Conservation Planning and PNDI Environmental Review?

Both Conservation Planning and PNDI Environmental Review use web-mapping tools that allow users to view locations of (and potential impacts on) rare species and habitats; both produce reports used for planning and/or permitting. The difference is Conservation Planning reports provide locations of natural heritage areas and protected lands while PNDI Environmental Review analyzes project footprints against species locations and recommends conservation measures and other actions needed to fulfill the requirements of an environmental permit. A Conservation Planning report does not substitute the need for a PNDI Environmental Review receipt and/or consultation with agencies needed for an environmental permit, however, it is a useful tool in project pre-planning.

How are the PNDI species habitat polygons created?

PNDI, which is maintained by the PA Natural Heritage Program (PNHP), is a unique and important conservation tool because it is based on verified species data found at locations across the Commonwealth. The species habitat polygons are based on known occurrences of species data in PNDI. For each species, PNHP and agency scientists map species populations and natural communities by delineating a spatial representation of their habitat. Habitat polygons for each species are created digitally using aerial photography and a geographic information system (GIS). For animals, habitat polygons are determined based on species habitat requirements, including breeding, feeding, nesting and dispersing. In contrast to animals, plants are relatively immobile, and therefore the community supporting the species is determined to be the habitat polygon. The parameters for the creation of the species habitat polygons were developed by PNHP staff and the four agencies with jurisdictional authority for the species in PNDI: PA Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, PA Fish and Boat Commission, PA Game Commission, and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service..

Have my old receipts been migrated to the new system?

Receipts generated on or after July 1, 2011 will be migrated to the Explorer. We will post an announcement message on the site when these become available.

What if the Draft PNDI Receipt indicates there are no impacts?

If the Draft PNDI Receipt indicates no impacts, then no agency clearance letters are required, and no further review is necessary as a prerequisite to permitting. Instructions for generating a Final Receipt if no further review is required can be found here.
Environmental Review Q's

When I uploaded a shapefile or kml file to create my project footprint, it was drawn on the map, but nothing happens when I click the Accept button. Why?

The issue is usually caused by a ‘closed’ polyline shapefile. Often shapefiles exported from CAD software are polylines by default. Converting the shapefile to a polygon usually resolves the issue. Many CAD programs allow users to export polygon shapefiles. For example, in AutoCAD check the option: ‘Treat closed polylines as polygons’. ArcMap GIS software can also be used to convert polyline shapefiles into polygon shapefiles.

Why is the acreage listed on my receipt too low?

This can occur if the project footprint is drawn using a line instead of a polygon. Try to use the Polygon drawing tool for drawing most projects. Lines should only be used for linear projects (roads, pipelines, transmission lines, etc.) as only the area immediately around the line is used to calculate the acreage.

Why do I see an environmental review polygon in my project screening area, but the receipt indicates no potential conflicts?

Visually, the user can see the species habitat polygons within the Explorer, however, a PNDI Environmental Review also screens a project based on the species’ habitat requirements and estimated disturbance of a specific project type.  In many cases, applicants will provide information (answers to questions) that further refines their project scope or potential impacts. Depending on the species in the area, the project type, and the users’ answers to the questions, the PNDI system will indicate avoidance measures or conservation measures where applicable or provide a no known impact or potential impact response. So a species in the area doesn’t always mean there will be a potential impact. 

I have a PNDI Receipt from the previous PNDI ER Tool, can I still use that PNDI Receipt, or do I need to get a new PNDI Receipt through the Explorer?

All receipts are good for two years. If you already have a PNDI Receipt through the old tool, that can be used for review or permitting needs. If you have an old receipt and run the project through the Explorer and get a new receipt, the information on the new receipt is the most up to date and we ask that the new PNDI Receipt be used regardless of the outcome (no potential impacts, avoidance and conservation measures or potential impacts).

Can I submit my PNDI receipt for environmental review through the Explorer?

Yes. You must mark your PNDI receipt FINAL when ready for online submission for environmental review. Using the My Projects tab, click on the project title, click on the Edit Details/Finalize button, and change the edit status to FINAL. You will be sent an email message, notifying you of the change. By changing your edit status to FINAL you will be submitting the PNDI receipt to the PA Game Commission, PA Fish and Boat Commission, and Department of Conservation and Natural Resources. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service requires users to email or mail their project submissions. Be sure to include the rest of your project submission including a narrative and other supporting documents for review. View Step by step instructions for submitting a project.

Can I edit my project after I’ve obtained a PNDI Receipt and if I edit it, do I need to pay $40 again?

Conservation Explorer allows a user to edit a project due to changes that may occur during planning. A user is able to modify the footprint of the project without being charged an additional $40. The convenience charge is per project, not per receipt. Project footprint editing can be done when the project is draft or final. While the project footprint can be edited in draft or final form, we encourage users to edit it in draft form and save the final for when the project is in its final location. However, it is understood that the project footprint changes sometimes after agency or permit review. If a project type needs to be changed, the user will need to perform another project review, and an additional $40 charge will be applied. If you are unsure which project type to enter, please choose Other as the project type, or if you are obtaining a DEP permit, consult with DEP staff about the appropriate project type.

How will Explorer handle Large Projects?

When a project is greater than 10 miles in length or 5,165 acres, it is considered a Large Project (too large to be a standard project). However, in the Explorer users have the option to submit a large project using the online tool. The project will be submitted to FBC, PGC, DCNR and USFWS and a $40 convenience fee will be applied. Alternatively, users can submit their project manually, meaning they must be submitted to all four jurisdictional agencies, using the Project Submission Form in the Resources menu.

What if the project type (category) doesn’t seem to fit my project or if there are multiple categories for my project?

In these cases, it is best to choose a general category (e.g., Other) and coordinate with the jurisdictional agencies listed on the receipt.

How will agency reviewers be notified that a Final PNDI project has been submitted?

An email message will be sent to the agency(s) requesting further review on the Receipt. Reviewers will be able to see the project footprint on a map along with the users’ attachments and contact information. All subsequent communication will take place directly between the applicant and the agency(s) unless directed otherwise by the coordinating agency.

How long is the PNDI Receipt valid?

Receipts are valid for 2 years unless the project footprint or the project type changes.

What if I want to update a PNDI of a project that is nearing the end of its 2-year lifespan?

By using the Update Receipt button, users can re-analyze a project using the existing footprint. A new version of the receipt is generated and stored with the project page. In addition, a user can update supplementary project information at any time using the Edit Details/Finalize button. If the project type changes, a new PNDI project should be created. Learn more about updating Receipts here.

How often is the PNDI database updated with new information regarding species location and status?

Data is updated quarterly. Species may be added or removed due to status changes or updated survey information. New locations of species habitat may be added, and habitat no longer supporting a species may be removed.

How do I check the status of a project review?

The coordinating agency may update the review status of a project. This status can be viewed by the user in the My Projects tab under Agency Status.

Will DEP require a signed copy of the final receipt?

For PNDI Receipt submission in conjunction with a PA DEP permit, a signed copy of the final receipt, along with any required documentation from jurisdictional agencies concerning resolution of potential impacts, be submitted with applications for permits requiring PNDI environmental review.

If a Jurisdictional Agency requires an environmental review, do I need to include a signed copy of the final receipt?

USFWS requires a signed copy of the Final Receipt to be included with your submitted project materials. A signed receipt is not necessary if you are submitting a project to the PA Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, PA Fish and Boat Commission and/or PA Game Commission. Once you have finalized and submitted your project, these agencies will automatically have access to a copy of your Final Receipt.

What is the difference between a Draft and Final PNDI Receipt?

When using the PNDI Environmental Review function of the Explorer, the user is able to obtain a PNDI Receipt. The first PNDI Receipt created is a Draft Receipt. Receipts remain Draft until the user decides to finalize their proposed project type and area and either submit their project to the agencies for further review (if required) or print and submit to DEP with their permit application. Projects must be finalized in order to track project status or submit them through the Explorer to an agency for review. Final Receipts are still able to be altered and another Final Receipt can be created at a later date if the project area would need to change again.
Convenience Charge Q's

How and when will I be charged a fee?

The Conservation Explorer charges users $40 the convenience of creating a project online and generating one or more PNDI Receipts specific to that project, as well as being able to submit them to the agency through the tool. It requires a credit card for payment. The user will be charged upon generating a first draft receipt. Afterwards, the user may modify and/or finalize the draft receipt for that project without additional payment.

Will I be charged for each individual receipt?

No, revisions to a single project can be made multiple times without having to pay more than once. For example, a user may create a draft receipt, modify the project footprint as many times as necessary, and finalize the receipt, only paying once.

Is there a free option?

Yes, applicants can download, complete, and mail-in the Manual Project Submission Form and submit their project materials for manual review by the agencies. Manual submission requires applicants to coordinate with all four agencies and mail all required project materials in order to determine potential impacts on species.

How do I apply to become an exempt user?

If the user is a federal, state or local government employee or any employee of the 14 universities that are part of the PA System of Higher Education or the state-related universities including Penn State University, Temple University, Lincoln University and the University of Pittsburgh who must create PNDI receipts as part of their job, they may qualify for exemption. To apply for exemption, click here. To learn more about the exemption policy, click on Exemption Policy

What are the payment options in Conservation Explorer for conservation districts acting on behalf of private landowners?

PA DEP or County Conservation District employees who assist private individuals in obtaining a PNDI Receipt as part of the DEP permit process may do one of the following:
  • Ask the applicant to submit their project via the Explorer themselves by creating a private (non-exempt) user account for that individual. The Conservation Explorer will charge that individual a $40 fee to their credit card.
  • Ask the applicant to submit their project manually to the four agencies for review, at no charge.
Conservation Planning Q's

How do I create a Conservation Planning Report?

How do I save a conservation report to my computer?

The pdf document can be saved using the tools available in Adobe Reader or Adobe Acrobat.  The Conservation Explorer will not save a user’s conservation report, so it should be saved to their computer if they wish to retain a copy.