To protect this interstate network, NiSource has historically conducted up to 90 biological consultations a year on more than 40 federally listed threatened or endangered species that might be affected by normal pipeline operations and maintenance. This permit-by-permit, year-by-year approach is not only costly and time-consuming for the company but also ineffective in addressing the habitat protection needs of the affected species.

Multiple Species Habitat Conservation Plan

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and NiSource embarked upon a multiple species habitat conservation plan (MSHCP) that would allow NiSource to operate under a single, consolidated permit for the next 50 years. This MSHCP includes a mitigation package that identifies the measures NiSource would take to avoid, minimize and mitigate the potential impact to covered species. Under the plan, NiSource would fund the mitigation projects needed to assure adequate habitat for all protected species for the next 50 years.

The MSHCP’s unprecedented scope—more than 6.4 million acres over the course of 50 years and including 75 federally listed species—brought NiSource and the FWS to The Conservation Fund. They sought our assistance in determining the best locations for mitigation using its strategic conservation assessment and planning expertise and its conservation leadership services for convening stakeholder groups throughout the 14 affected states. NiSource mitigation dollars will leverage both state and federal conservation funds and provide significant conservation benefits.

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Our Green Infrastructure Work

As part of this MSHCP, our Strategic Conservation Planning team developed a system-wide approach to mitigation for the NiSource MSHCP using a green infrastructure approach for strategic conservation planning. The Fund’s Conservation Leadership Network conducted focus groups with state resource specialists during the months of October and November 2008 to help inform placement of mitigation opportunities as part of this project.

Our green infrastructure assessment extends beyond NiSource’s 15,500 mile network to encompass the adjacent counties, eco-regions and watershed units within the 14-state area.The result of our assessment include a framework that can be used to identify mitigation opportunities that provide the greatest benefit for the species.

The green infrastructure assessment is not used to determine how much mitigation should occur in response to a take, but rather to guide the types and locations for such mitigation opportunities at an ecosystem level. The key product is a green infrastructure network design that delineates a green infrastructure core, hub and corridor network using criteria based on habitat requirements for endangered species outlined in the NiSource MSHCP.