What is Compensatory Mitigation?
Compensatory mitigation commonly refers to the restoration (re-establishment or rehabilitation), establishment (creation), enhancement, and/or in certain circumstances preservation of aquatic resources for the purposes of offsetting unavoidable adverse impacts after all appropriate and practicable avoidance and minimization has been achieved.
The Clean Water Act requirements are the primary driver for compensatory mitigation. The objective of the CWA is “to restore and maintain the chemical, physical, and biological integrity of the Nation’s water.” In 2008, the US Environmental Protection Agency and the US Army Corps of Engineers revised the federal mitigation guidelines regarding compensatory mitigation. The overall goal is to achieve ‘no net loss’ of aquatic resources, which is why compensatory mitigation is critically important.
How is Compensatory Mitigation accomplished?
When a permitted activity results in the loss of aquatic resources, all practicable steps must be taken to first avoid or minimize the impacts to the aquatic resource. If the impact is unavoidable then compensatory mitigation is required in same watershed to replace these lost functions. There are three mechanisms or sources for providing compensatory mitigation: mitigation banks, in-lieu fee programs, and permittee-responsible mitigation (listed in the preferred order).
Mitigation banking and in-lieu fee programs are the preferred methods of completing compensatory mitigation. In other words, the mitigation bank sponsors or in-lieu fee programs assume responsibility from the party that committed the impacts. The banks and in-lieu fee program administrators are responsible for the implementation and success of the mitigation project.
Compensatory mitigation guidelines and interpretations are constantly evolving. WLS works with clients and stakeholders to evaluate cost-effective solutions to meet their mitigation needs.
What is Conservation Banking?
Similar to a mitigation bank, the US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) defines a conservation bank as ‘a site or suite of sites containing natural resource values that are conserved and managed in perpetuity for specified endangered, threatened, or at-risk species and used to offset impacts occurring elsewhere to the same type of resource (i.e., in-kind for species, off-site compensatory mitigation. To comply with the Endangered Species Act (ESA), conservation banking results in a net species conservation benefit (e.g., contribution to recovery of federally listed species). The expectation is a net gain for species or ecological lift.
Mitigation Credit Consumers
The mitigation banking industry has evolved over the past decade as a result of the 2008 Federal Mitigation Rule. The Federal Rule helped to expand the market through various credit types as well as compensation requirements for lost aquatic resource functions. WLS has extensive experience in delivering mitigation credits across multiple states and US Army Corps of Engineers Districts. We can provide you with solutions to identify, evaluate and deliver cost-effective methods to meet your mitigation needs.
Need help navigating the regulatory permitting process for a land development project? WLS works closely with land developers and understands the importance of meeting environmental regulations. With over 60 years of combined experience, we can assist you with all aspects of site planning and environmental permitting. WLS creates cost-effective strategies to ensure compliance so you can focus on what you do best: develop high quality projects. More than just environmental consultants, we can provide mitigation solutions for generating additional revenue on your projects.
Landowners play a critical role in everything we do in our industry. Above all, we first strive to understand the long term vision you have for your land. WLS partners with landowners to evaluate current natural resources, property value, and restoration (mitigation) potential. Before dedicating your property assets (i.e., conservation, development, farm programs, best management practices, fee-simple sale, bequeathing to heirs, etc.), we can help discover opportunities that will improve your land as well as expand your financial portfolio. See FAQs below to find out more about the process…
How does the process work?
WLS will guide landowners through the mitigation process to ensure a thorough understanding prior to making any commitments. To do this, WLS will implement the following plan and milestones…
*Evaluate your land for mitigation potential by allowing temporary access and explain the process in greater detail.
*After the preliminary site evaluation, we discuss restoration design concepts and show example projects and explain our roles and responsibilities.
*After estimating mitigation potential, we will present a legal option agreement and conservation easement deed for review.
*Survey, plan and design the restoration project to meet the land management and ecological needs.
*Record conservation easement and compensate the landowner.
*Construct the site and plant vegetation.
*Monitor and maintain the site until closeout after a five to seven year period.
What is a conservation easement?
A conservation easement is a voluntary, legal agreement between a landowner and a qualified holder that restricts the uses of the land within an agreed upon project boundary. Conservation easements permanently protect the land for environmental, recreational, historical, educational, or scenic purposes. Conservation easements do not grant public access nor do they restrict the landowner from selling or willing their property. Conservation easements can also be flexible to meet the specific needs of the landowner.
Qualified conservation easement holders include private landowners, trusts, local governments, soil and water conservation districts, the state, and certain nonprofit organizations. Conservation easements restrict some uses of the land, however the landowner still retains title to the property. The landowner cannot develop within the easement area or disturb its natural state. They can use the area for activities that do not damage the natural integrity of the area, such as fishing, hunting, hiking and other quiet enjoyment.
What are the benefits?
WLS directly compensates landowners who agree a conservation easement. Compensation is commonly paid on a per acre or lump sum basis. Compensation can also include property amenities and farm improvements such as cattle exclusion watering and fencing and stream crossings. In addition, conservation easements provide tax benefits (local, state and federal deductions) and may lower property taxes for relinquishing rights on the portion of their land that is subject to the easement.
Numerous environmental benefits are associated with dedicating a conservation easement. Restoration efforts can actually reduce flooding by providing water storage during flood events. These efforts also improve habitat for fish, amphibians, and other wildlife throughout the project area. This can ultimately benefit a landowner by reducing loss of land while improving water quality. Finally, restoration improve recreation opportunities, including hunting, fishing, hiking, and wildlife observation.
WLS typically identifies and evaluates a landowner’s property with degraded streams that have been historically manipulated, straightened or channelized. We also evaluate land that has drained wetlands and/or buffer vegetation that has been removed or maintained. Properties that qualify for mitigation can also be located near natural habitats, such as state forests and wildlife refuges, drain to water supply watersheds, wet pastures or drained/crowned fields, and areas that are adjacent to water-quality impaired streams, such as impaired streams that are on the state’s Clean Water Act, Section 303(d).
Public Education & Outreach
We believe it is important to educate the general public so they can better understand the value of our natural resources as well as the benefits, both environmental and financial, associated with mitigation banking and ecosystem restoration. Our perspective comes from a combined knowledge base and practical experience gained through over two decades of implementing and monitoring successful projects. WLS staff have participated in numerous workshops, seminars and presentations to provide insight and background for the mitigation industry on ecosystem restoration. Our diverse audience has included financial investors, regulatory agencies, state transportation officials, consultants, schools, conservation groups, farmers, watershed associations, policy makers, community members, and municipalities throughout the United States.