Sargent Ranch, with its rolling hills, meandering creeks and acres and acres of sycamore, cottonwood and willow trees, is a gem in the center of the state. It is the home of numerous habitats and native species. In an effort to permanently protect the majority of the site (approximately 5,480 acres), DACA is currently working to create an upland and wetlands mitigation bank.
What is a Conservation Mitigation Land Bank?
A conservation bank is privately- or publicly-owned land that contains endangered, threatened or sensitive species and is managed for its natural resource values. The goal of a bank is to restore, create, enhance or preserve a wetland, stream or habitat conservation area to offset expected adverse impacts to similar nearby natural resources. In exchange for permanently protecting the land, the bank owner is allowed to sell habitat credits to developers who need to satisfy legal requirements for compensating environmental impacts of development projects.
Credits are the units of exchange and are defined as the ecological value associated with 1-acre of a wetland or ecosystem and the linear distance of a stream functioning at the highest possible capacity within the service area of the bank.
Traditionally, project developers have been asked to preserve part of the area they are developing. Sometimes this is a good policy. But many times, it is better to have larger areas protected in conservation banks.
It is also more efficient and cost effective to manage a bank instead of small, isolated properties.
With proper implementation, conservation or mitigation banking has the potential to increase ecological benefits, save money for project applicants and improve efficiencies in application and permitting processes.
What are the Benefits of a Conservation Bank?
Conservation banks, if properly established and managed, serve several useful functions:
- Provide for the conservation of important habitats and/or habitat linkages.
- Provide a viable alternative to the current practice of requiring piecemeal mitigation for individual project impacts. Individualized mitigation projects which have little connection with their surrounding ecosystem are often much more prone to failure than a mitigation project which is incorporated into a larger, ecosystem-based conservation bank or regional conservation plan.
- Can take advantage of economies of scale that are often not available to individualized mitigation projects.
- Provide significant incentives for private landowner participation and represent one of the best examples of private/public partnerships in an era of shrinking budget resources.
- Can be a major funding component for the creation of an ecosystem preserve under a regional conservation plan.
- Simplify the regulatory compliance process while achieving greater conservation goals.
How is a Conservation Bank Funded?
A conservation bank is typically funded through an endowment created by participating landowners who deposit funds to maintain and manage the protected lands. The endowment provides a perpetual source of funding because only its interest is dedicated.
Who Benefits From a Conservation Bank?
Conservation banks can be a win-win for everyone: the environment, the public, landowners and developers.
- By having the regulatory certainty of pre-approved compensation lands, a developer who has a project with adverse environmental impacts can save time and money.
- Landowners benefit from selling habitat or species credits to a conservation bank in return for managing land for listed and at-risk species and their habitat. Landowners can generate income, keep large parcels intact, and, in some instances, reduce taxes for conserving their land. A landowner participating in a conservation bank is required to enter into an agreement with the Fish and Wildlife Service, provide funding for the perpetual management and monitoring of the bank’s land, and grant a conservation easement to an eligible third party. The easement precludes future development of the property and restricts certain land uses.
- The environment benefits because conservation banks can protect large, intact blocks of habitat that can retain ecosystem functions, foster biodiversity, and provide for wildlife corridors and linkages, all of which aid in the recovery of listed species. Per acre, a larger reserve area is less costly to manage.
- The public benefits from a healthier environment and stretching limited public funds through public-private partnerships.