New Frontiers in Species Mitigation
Through a unique partnership with regulators (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers), users (the U.S. Army, Marines, USDA Office of Ecosystem Management, and the Federal Highway Administration), and bankers (through the National Mitigation Bankers Association), the Conservation Leadership Network is actively helping to facilitate conservation banking on the ground. A pilot place-based offering of the partnership’s highly acclaimed course was held in April 2012 for the state of Texas which drew record attendance and an even longer waiting list! Next stops for the place-based course in 2013 will be the Pacific Northwest in February and the Southeast in the fall. Additionally, The Conservation Fund is working on the cutting edge of species and habitat mitigation through its involvement in the Mid-West Wind Energy Development Multi-Species Habitat Conservation Plan (MSHCP). The Regional Wind Energy MSHCP is being developed in partnership with the US Fish and Wildlife Service Region 3, the 8 partner states in Region 3, a consortium of progressive wind energy companies, and the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA), to both streamline the permitting process to facilitate renewable energy while simultaneously developing best management practices for species protection and mitigation that can be applied holistically across the region.
Regional Wind Energy Habitat Conservation Plan Has Its Kick-Off; Green Infrastructure Planning Now In Full Swing
In the Midwest, renewable wind energy is a growing business. With the increase in wind energy comes potential impacts to threatened and endangered species. The Conservation Fund is leading an effort to lessen those impacts by promoting strategic mitigation using a green infrastructure approach that will accompany the Multi-Species Habitat Conservation Plan. A Multi-Species Habitat Conservation Plan (MSHCP) will identify the measures to conserve threatened and endangered species that may be affected by wind energy facilities in eight Midwestern states.
Strategic Mitigation utilizing a Green Infrastructure approach offers a way to identify species mitigation opportunities at an ecosystem level. Green Infrastructure is technically defined as “strategically planned and managed networks of natural lands, working landscapes, and other open spaces that conserve ecosystem values and functions and provide associated benefits to human populations.” The Conservation Fund’s green infrastructure assessment will encompass the full jurisdictional boundaries of the eight Midwestern states (MN, MI, OH, IL, IA, WI, MO, IN) in FWS Region 3. Utilizing a green infrastructure approach in this process provides a way to integrate the mitigation of species habitat within the context of an interconnected network of lands and waters, thereby leveraging multiple benefits, quantifying benefits and ensuring a transparent decision-making process that ultimately benefits the species of concern. To date, The Conservation Fund has used a strategic mitigation approach for pipeline, highway, and mining projects.
The Conservation Fund kicked off the green infrastructure network design process in 4th quarter 2012 by holding focus group meetings in each state and discussing data and design inputs with over 90 species and resource experts from state and federal agencies. Over 2013, The Conservation Fund will be working with its partners on this strategic mitigation framework.
Conservation Banking On The Rise Across Country
Conservation Banking is experiencing unprecedented interest and demand across the country! A mitigation technique first popularized in California and Florida – Conservation (or Species) Banking is now taking hold in other parts of the country including Texas, the Pacific Northwest and the Southeast.
Conservation banks are permanently protected lands that contain natural resource values. These lands are conserved and permanently managed for species that are endangered, threatened, candidates for listing as endangered or threatened, or are otherwise species-at-risk. Conservation banks, sometimes referred to as off-site mitigation, function to offset adverse impacts that occurred elsewhere to these species. In exchange for permanently protecting or restoring the land and managing it for these species, the US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) approves a specified number of habitat or species credits that bank owners may sell.
The Conservation Banking Course – offered annually to a national audience in partnership with the US Fish and Wildlife Service, the US Army, the US Marine Corps, the Federal Highway Administration, USDA Forest Service, the US Army Corps of Engineers, and the National Mitigation Bankers Association – is helping people across the country learn the ropes of this alternative mitigation tool! Now in its 4th year, this popular course brings together regulators, users, and bankers to learn the fundamentals of conservation banking. In addition to the national course, customized regional offerings are also helping to meet the rising demand! The course was piloted regionally in Texas in 2012 and planning is now underway for a 3-day course in the Pacific Northwest Region in February 2013. Plans for a regional offering in the Southeast region are in the works for 2013 as well.