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This Week In Biodiversity: Mitigation Policy Matures

While several from the mitigation banking space welcome the EPA and Corps’ proposed rule on clarifying waters protected under the Clean Water Act, the decision is far from final. On a separate policy front, the lesser prairie chicken has been listed under the ESA as threatened.

This article was originally posted in the Mit Mail newsletter. Click here to read the original.

 

15 April 2014 | Greetings! The past few weeks have been busy ones on the policy front. The EPA and Corps unveiled a proposed rule clarifying which waterbodies fall under the jurisdiction of the Clean Water Act. The rule, welcomed by many in the mitigation banking community, has the potential to greatly increase wetland and stream mitigation demand. But between a public comment period and likely court challenges, nothing’s final yet.


Meanwhile, the Lesser Prairie Chicken has been officially listed as threatened by the US Fish & Wildlife Service. The listing decision was accompanied by finalization of a special 4(d) rule exempting participants in voluntary conservation programs from regulatory obligations.
That approach has proven to be controversial.

In New South Wales, a draft offsets policy also seems to be taking “flexibility” as its mantra, broadening equivalence standards and offering a fee option for compliance via a new Offset Fund.

And the US Department of Interior released last week its new strategy for more effective large-scale mitigation. Planned deliverables include a new mitigation template, revisions to USFWS mitigation and candidate species banking policy, and a mitigation framework for the Greater Sage Grouse, suggesting that this flurry of policy news won’t be slowing down any time soon.

We’ll be joining Natural Capital Markets for a free webinar on Wednesday April 16th at 10 am EDT, exploring new models and actors driving natural capital investments in watershed services and biodiversity. Space is limited – register here now.

We’ll also be participating in the US Chamber of Commerce Foundation’s upcoming symposium, “Accelerating Sustainability: Energy and Water in Your Operations and Supply Chains” on May 6th here in Washington DC. It looks to be a great discussion. Click the link to register.

Have you made plans to attend this year’s National Mitigation & Ecosystem Banking Conference yet? It’s not too late to register, and we’re getting excited just perusing the agenda.

Finally, we’re putting out a call for bankers involved in water quality trading – we’d love to talk to you for our upcoming State of Watershed Payments report. Your information is confidential: we only report data in the aggregate. Entrepreneurship in water quality markets is a key development in this year’s report. Please help us get the full picture. You can get in touch here.

Cheers,

—The Ecosystem Marketplace Team

 

If you have comments or would like to submit news stories, write to us at mitmail@ecosystemmarketplace.com.


EM Exclusives

EPA/Corps Rule Seeks Clearer Definitions of US Waters

Late last month, the US Army Corp of Engineers together with the Environmental Protection Agency released a proposed rule that would define the scope of waters protected under the Clean Water Act (CWA).

In short, the Waters of the United States rule contends it would not expand on the CWA’s traditional categories of waters or its jurisdiction but instead provide clarity on which streams, wetlands, and tributaries fall under the CWA jurisdiction. Seasonal or intermittent streams – which account for 60 percent of stream-miles in the country – are protected. Rain-dependent (also known as ephemeral) streams are covered, as are wetlands adjacent to jurisdictional rivers and streams. Other waters with an uncertain downstream connection, such as isolated “prairie pothole” wetlands, will be considered on a case-by-case basis.

In the mitigation banking industry, first impressions of the proposal were good. Both Doug Lashley, president of the National Mitigation Banking Association (NMBA) and J. Adams Riggsbee, president of mitigation banking firm RiverBank Ecosystems, told Ecosystem Marketplace they were satisfied with the rule’s basis in science, and noted the benefits of greater clarity in reaching no-net-loss goals and speeding up permitting.

Learn more about expected effects of the proposed rule at SpeciesBanking.com.

 

Buying Hope And Time For Coral Reef

“The need was evident because I was diving all the time, going out to the same spots – and you get there, and the coral had died,” explains Ken Nedimyer, the former fisherman who initiated coral nursery-based restoration in the Florida Keys. Coral reefs, which provide habitat for over twenty-five percent of marine species, are dying worldwide, especially in tropical waters, from combined climate change, ocean acidification, overfishing, disease, and pollution stresses. In 2001, Nedimyer began to gather staghorn coral (Acropora cervicornis ) and elkhorn coral (Acropora palmater) from degraded reefs for his ad-hoc nursery in Tavernier Key.


Between now and August, Ecosystem Marketplace will be examining the economic benefits of coral reefs and financing mechanisms designed to help preserve them. Here’s a look at the other side of that equation: what it costs to maintain them, and the challenge of meeting that cost through conventional means.

Keep reading here.

 

Lesser Prairie Chicken Listed As Threatened Under ESA

In late March, US Fish and Wildlife Service officially listed the prairie chicken as threatened under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) – though with a level of flexibility. The Service also finalized a special 4(d) rule that would exempt ranchers, farmers, oil and gas companies and others participating in approved conservation initiatives from the ESA’s regulatory measures.

The Service’s conservation plan will rely heavily on the Lesser Prairie Chicken Range-wide Conservation Plan, administered by the Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies (WAFWA). The plan received input from a variety of stakeholders within the bird’s five state range and will continue to function at state level with federal oversight. FWS Director, Dan Ashe, says he’s confident in the plan. The collaboration among stakeholders to conserve the bird voluntarily warranted using the 4(d) rule, Ashe says.

Not everyone is satisfied with the plan, with some conservation bankers expressing concern over a reliance on untested methods like moving habitat, which follows the bird as it migrates instead of conserving permanent swaths of land.

Get the full story.

 

Fight Over Declining Bird Highlights Debate Over Role Of Permanence In Mitigation

The lesser prairie chicken is in trouble. Its population has dropped by 50 percent since 2012, and less than 20,000 birds are left. All parties involved agree that some form of mitigation and conservation needs to happen. But in recent months, as the US Fish and Wildlife Service considered whether to officially list the prairie chicken as threatened under the Endangered Species Act, a bigger debate opened up with broad implications for protecting imperiled species in a changing climate.

On one side are proponents of a voluntary approach, exempting participants enrolled in approved voluntary conservation plans from regulatory obligations under the ESA. On the other are supporters of permanent mitigation using a proven market-based approach like conservation banking. Proponents of the voluntary approach say it offers the ability to shift habitat with a changing climate, but opponents say it lacks rigor and won’t offer the bird the protection it needs.

Learn more.

Mitigation News

New South Wales Unveils Draft Offsets Policy

The New South Wales government released a draft biodiversity offsets policy last month, aiming to provide more clear and predictable rules for offsetting major project impacts in the state. A major new proposal is an Offset Fund enabling parties to meet their offset obligations via a financial contribution. The draft policy’s received mixed reviews so far: farmers are calling for a more level playing field between farmers and large developers, and have questions about the management of offset land. Meanwhile the Nature Conservation Council says the draft policy’s been “heavily compromised by pressure from the mining industry, and it doesn’t provide adequate protection from threatened species or their habitat.” The policy gives offsetters greater flexibility: like-for-like requirements can be “broadened” where offsets for an equivalent ecosystem aren’t available; offsets can also be discounted in “exceptional circumstances.” A consultation period runs until May 9th.

Read the draft policy and submit comments here.
Read a discussion paper on the new Offsets Fund.
Get policy analysis from Clayton Utz, via Lexology.

 

Dept of Interior Releases Strategy for Landscape-Scale Mitigation

Last Thursday US Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell released a new strategy for implementing more effective large-scale mitigation on federal public lands. The strategy identifies four priorities: geospatial assessments, landscape-level strategies, ramping up compensatory mitigation programs, and monitoring and evaluation. The plan emphasizes increasing certainty in mitigation, through clear protocols and advance mitigation planning.

In the near future, the US Fish & Wildlife Service aims to carry out a multi-state comparison of existing compensatory mitigation programs, to inform a template document guiding landscape-scale mitigation. Other near-term policy deliverables include a chapter on landscape-scale mitigation in the Department Manual, proposed revisions to FWS mitigation banking and candidate species policy, a mitigation framework for Greater Sage Grouse conservation, and a technical reference on mitigation in solar energy zones. The new strategy was initially ordered by Secretary Jewell in October 2013.

Read a press release.
Download the strategy (pdf).

 

Blue Carbon Report Highlights Marine Restoration’s Ability to Mitigate Climate Change

Restoration projects in the Snohomish estuary, within Puget Sound, have the potential to sequester 2.55 million tons of carbon over the next 100 years. That’s according to a new report, Coastal Blue Carbon Opportunity Assessment for Snohomish Estuary: The Climate Benefits of Estuary Restoration, by several organizations including Restore America’s Estuaries and Environmental Science Associates (ESA). “The study is the first to provide a science-based assessment of climate benefits from restoration at scale. The findings are clear: restoring coastal wetlands must be recognized for their ability to mitigate climate change,” said Jeff Benoit, President and CEO of Restore America’s Estuaries. “The report adds to our list of science-based reasons why restoration is so critical.” The 2.55 million tons of carbon Snohomish could store equals the amount of pollution emitted from 500,000 passenger cars in a one year period.

Keep reading.

 

From Australian Senate, An Inquiry Into Controversial Offset Projects

In Australia, a Senate inquiry was launched in early March to examine controversial offset projects. The inquiry will take a close look at how offsets are planned and monitored, and whether they’re meeting their own goals. “Often these offsets are so unrealistic that they’re impossible to deliver on,”said Greens senator Larissa Waters. The inquiry, passed by the Greens with backing from Labor, will report back by June 16th.

The Guardian has coverage.

 

Big Cuts to North Carolina’s Ecosystem Enhancement Program

North Carolina’s Department of Environment and Natural Resources cut almost a third of staff in its Ecosystem Enhancement Program (EEP), which oversees wetland and stream restoration in the state. Environmentalists have expressed concern over regulatory rollbacks in the state under Governor Pat McCrory’s administration. But a spokesperson tells the News & Observer that the layoffs can be traced back to 2011 legislation reorganizing the department. The EEP has been the subject of criticism in the past by some in the mitigation banking sector and in a 2011 series of articles in the News & Observer, which found evidence of unevenly implemented projects and some poor investment choices regarding which projects to fund.

Get full coverage here.

 

The Restoration World Experiments with Nature

A new approach to landscape restoration sees the inclusion of experimental elements in projects. The experiments test various methods and serve as a successful example to follow for later efforts. Interest in the “designed experiment” idea is driven largely by restoration ecology’s lingering question marks: a 2012 study for example found a majority of wetland projects investigated had failed to deliver on expected results or match the quality of a natural system. And, according to an forthcoming paper by Margaret Palmer of the University of Maryland, 75 percent of river restoration efforts fail to meet even their minimal requirements.

While the methods of designed experiments – an adaptive management style and long-term monitoring – aren’t particularly new or innovative, they are seldom actually used in restoration projects. Now, the idea has been turning up around the world. In New York City, it was used to help create urban forestry projects and in Tianjin, China to create a naturalized landscape on a former shooting range turned dumping ground.

Keep reading at Yale 360.

 

Louisiana Bill Aims To Block a Repeat of Levee Authority Suit Against Oil & Gas

A bill in the Louisiana state legislature would require local governments to obtain permission from the state Department of Natural Resources before filing lawsuits over wetland damages. HB 862, authored by Rep. Joel Robideaux (R-Lafayette), has drawn criticisms from environmental groups: “We are calling on each of these representatives to renounce support for HB 862 and any other bills that would raise the interests of the oil and gas industry above the law,” Anne Rolfes of the Louisiana Bucket Brigade said in a news release earlier this month. The bill comes in the wake of a lawsuit filed last July by a levee authority against 97 oil, gas, and pipeline companies seeking restitution for damages to the state’s coastal wetlands.

Read more at the Times-Picayune.

 

An Allowance for Conservation Enhances Forest Life

In the Amazon, conservation and economic development incentives are delivering real results in slowing deforestation. Bolsa Floresta (or ‘forest allowance’) is a program in the Brazilian Amazon that compensates families for complying with forest management plans, sending their children to school, and participating in community development associations. A recent study, co-sponsored by CIFOR (the Center for International Forestry Research) found that in the state of Amazonas deforestation was 12 percent lower in reserves where Bolsa Floresta was implemented. Households receive around $33 a month, and communities as a whole receive support for income generation, such as processing farm products or non-timber forest products. “The cash transfer helped many families to cover basic expenses for food and clothing,” said Jan Bí¶rner of CIFOR, who co-authored the study. “Many residents also reported that the reserves are better protected from people from outside who used to fish or log illegally in the reserves.”

Keep reading at the CIFOR blog.

 

Ecosystem Services Thinking on the Rise in the Public Sector

Nonprofit BSR has been tracking the public sector’s activities regarding ecosystem services from 2009 to 2013 and has released its latest findings in a report. Public sector movement in this space over the past five years has the potential to shape policy and regulations as well as government expectations from the business community, the report finds. BSR’s insights should be especially helpful to companies seeking to incorporate ecosystem services, natural capital and biodiversity into their business plans.

Read more and read the report.

 

Are Marine Protected Areas Really Effective?

It seems to be good news that more countries are recognizing fragile marine ecosystems enough to establish more Marine Protected Areas (MPAs). However, recent studies have found that many of these protected areas are no better off than sites where fishing and other commercial activities are present. And, one study found, countries are often choosing to locate a marine reserve in a spot least used for commercial fishing instead of on an ecological basis. Few protected areas have a total ban on fishing and other commercial activities.


If marine ecosystems are going to be truly preserved, conservationists say, alterations need to be made. Looking at successful examples of MPAs, a first step is enforcing a total ban on activities like mining and drilling. In terms of enhancing biodiversity, it’s much more beneficial for the MPA to be large. The most effective areas are spots where creatures like turtles and sharks swim in and out, and include small ocean islands. Conservationists are hoping for large areas, such as near Easter Island in the southeastern Pacific and parts of the Sargasso Sea in the Atlantic Ocean, to win protection soon, although illegal fishing and other barriers make achieving this difficult.

The New York Times has the story.

 

EVENTS

 

2014 National Mitigation & Ecosystem Banking Conference

The only national conference that brings together key players in this industry, and offers quality hands-on training and education sessions and important regulatory updates. Learn from & network with the 400+ attendees the conference draws, offering perspectives from bankers, regulators, and users. 6-9 May 2014. Denver, Colorado.

Learn more here.

 

Ecosystems, Economy and Society: How Large-Scale Restoration Can Stimulate Sustainable Development

For the 7th edition of its Future Environmental Trends Conference Programme, the Veolia Environment Institute organizes jointly with Agence Française de Développement, International Union for Conservation of Nature and US National Research Council Water Science and Technology Board an international event on “Ecosystems, Economy and Society: how large-scale restoration can stimulate sustainable development”. It will provide an international platform for scientists, practitioners, NGOs, business leaders and policymakers to discuss remarkable case studies, best practices and share better insights on the potential of large-scale ecosystem restoration for the improvement of people’s livelihoods, jobs creation and socio-economic development, together with the recovery of ecosystems functionalities, continuity and biodiversity. 29-30 May 2014. Washington DC, USA.

Learn more here.

 

To No Net Loss of Biodiversity and Beyond

This gathering will be the first global conference on approaches to avoid, minimise, restore, and offset biodiversity loss. It will bring together experts and professionals from business, governments, financial institutions, NGOs, civil society and research, and intergovernmental institutions with an interst in demonstrating no net loss and preferably a net gain of biodiversity. London, UK. 13-14 June 2014.

Learn more here.

 

Conference on Ecological and Ecosystem Restoration

CEER is a Collaborative Effort of the leaders of the National Conference on Ecosystem Restoration (NCER) and the Society for Ecological Restoration (SER). It will bring together ecological and ecosystem restoration scientists and practitioners to address challenges and share information about restoration projects, programs, and research from across North America. Across the continent, centuries of unsustainable activities have damaged the aquatic, marine, and terrestrial environments that underpin our economies and societies and give rise to a diversity of wildlife and plants. This conference supports SER and NCER efforts to reverse environmental degradation by renewing and restoring degraded, damaged, or destroyed ecosystems and habitats for the benefit of humans and nature. CEER is an interdisciplinary conference and brings together scientists, engineers, policy makers, restoration planners, partners, NGO’s and stakeholders from across the country actively involved in ecological and ecosystem restoration. 28 July – 1 August 2014. New Orleans, LA.

Learn more here.

 

16th Annual BIOECON Conference: Biodiversity, Ecosystem Services and Sustainability

The BIOECON Partners are pleased to announce the Sixteenth Annual International BIOECON conference on the theme of “Biodiversity, Ecosystem Services and Sustainability”. The conference will be held once again on the premises of Kings College Cambridge, England on the 22nd -23rd September 2014. The conference will be of interest to both researchers and policy makers working on issues broadly in the area of biodiversity, ecosystem services, sustainable development and natural capital, in both developed and developing countries. Deadline for paper submission is 15th May 2014. 21-23 September 2014. Cambridge, United Kingdom.

Learn more here.

 

JOBS

 

Carbon Program Research Assistant

Ecosystem Marketplace – Washington DC, USA

Ecosystem Marketplace is seeking a full-time research assistant for our Carbon Program. The hourly role and work will span an initial 3-month period, with potential for extension for an additional three months.

Ecosystem Marketplace’s Carbon Program produces a range of qualitative and quantitative analyses of the voluntary and forest carbon markets, as well as a suite of other mechanisms for financing forest conservation. Our products include original news articles, annual marketplace reports, periodic topical reports, news briefs, a resource library and tracking carbon offset projects. Additional activities occasionally include providing specialized market and policy consultative services, leading in-person and remote educational lectures and hosting regional to international events.

Learn more here.

 

—The Ecosystem Marketplace Team

If you have comments or would like to submit news stories, write to us at mitmail@ecosystemmarketplace.com.

EM Exclusives

EPA/Corps Rule Seeks Clearer Definitions of US Waters

Late last month, the US Army Corp of Engineers together with the Environmental Protection Agency released a proposed rule that would define the scope of waters protected under the Clean Water Act (CWA).

In short, the Waters of the United States rule contends it would not expand on the CWA’s traditional categories of waters or its jurisdiction but instead provide clarity on which streams, wetlands, and tributaries fall under the CWA jurisdiction. Seasonal or intermittent streams – which account for 60 percent of stream-miles in the country – are protected. Rain-dependent (also known as ephemeral) streams are covered, as are wetlands adjacent to jurisdictional rivers and streams. Other waters with an uncertain downstream connection, such as isolated “prairie pothole” wetlands, will be considered on a case-by-case basis.

In the mitigation banking industry, first impressions of the proposal were good. Both Doug Lashley, president of the National Mitigation Banking Association (NMBA) and J. Adams Riggsbee, president of mitigation banking firm RiverBank Ecosystems, told Ecosystem Marketplace they were satisfied with the rule’s basis in science, and noted the benefits of greater clarity in reaching no-net-loss goals and speeding up permitting.

Learn more about expected effects of the proposed rule at SpeciesBanking.com.

 

Buying Hope And Time For Coral Reef

“The need was evident because I was diving all the time, going out to the same spots – and you get there, and the coral had died,” explains Ken Nedimyer, the former fisherman who initiated coral nursery-based restoration in the Florida Keys. Coral reefs, which provide habitat for over twenty-five percent of marine species, are dying worldwide, especially in tropical waters, from combined climate change, ocean acidification, overfishing, disease, and pollution stresses. In 2001, Nedimyer began to gather staghorn coral (Acropora cervicornis ) and elkhorn coral (Acropora palmater) from degraded reefs for his ad-hoc nursery in Tavernier Key.


Between now and August, Ecosystem Marketplace will be examining the economic benefits of coral reefs and financing mechanisms designed to help preserve them. Here’s a look at the other side of that equation: what it costs to maintain them, and the challenge of meeting that cost through conventional means.

Keep reading here.

 

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