This Week In Biodiversity: Did The Endangered Species Act Just Get Gutted?

Ecosystem Marketplace

In Australia, New South Wales’ biodiversity offset policy receives a mixed bag of feedback. Conservationists in the US are unhappy with an interpretation of a phrase within the US Endangered Species Act and organizers of next year’s annual National Mitigation and Ecosystem Banking Conference are accepting presentation submissions.

12 September 2014 | Unlike the global carbon market, biodiversity markets have always been local because habitat is often unique and irreplaceable. A road that damages a bit of sage grouse habitat in the United States might be able to make good by restoring or preserving habitat of equal or greater environmental benefit in the same ecosystem, but even that approach has only a narrow band of effectiveness. “You can’t offset an extinction,” as Joshua Bishop of WWF Australia once said.
As a result, most biodiversity banking is confined to the developed world, which has the institutional capacity if not always the political will to balance development with conservation. Most degradation, however, is taking place in the developing world.

That got Frank Vorhies thinking: While we can’t offset biodiversity loss in one part of the world by saving habitat in another, could we somehow introduce the elements of transparency and accountability that work so well in carbon into conservation? That questionlaunched an evolutionary process that drew on expertise from across the biodiversity spectrum and led to the formulation of something called ‘Verified Conservation Areas,’ which are areas with specific conservation needs that have been identified and specific conservation actions that have been defined.

The areas and their action plans will be listed on the new VCA Platform, much as houses are listed on a real estate board Nearly 20 VCAs are currently being considered, and the first one is expected to be approved later this year. But unlike carbon financing mechanisms, the initiative isn’t limited to offsets, although offsets could be one of many options in a developer’s landscape management plan.

“The offset’s only there for when you’ve gotten to the point of irreparable damage and can’t do anything else,” Vorhies explains. “But to get to that point, you have to do a whole lot of good things: like avoid, minimize, and restore. And that’s the stuff that needs to be recognized, celebrated and financed through making conservation visible.” This month Ecosystem Marketplace covers the story of the VCA Platform – and the questions that remain for Vorhies and his colleagues.

We also wanted to remind you that presentation submissions for the National Mitigation and Ecosystem Banking Conference are due on October 1stThe Conference – now in its 18th year! – will be held next May 5-8 in Orlando, Florida. Conference organizers encourage submissions from experienced regulators, mitigation and conservation bankers, customers/users of banks, investors, local, state, federal governments, environmental organizations, consultants, engineers, academia and others who have direct experience in the expanding mitigation, conservation and ecosystem banking industry. You can submit presentations and find out more at

The Ecosystem Marketplace Team

If you have comments or would like to submit news stories, write to us at [email protected].

EM Exclusives

Paradise restored: Inside the fight to save Louisiana’s wetlands

An ambitious plan is underway in the US state of Louisiana to save its coastal wetlands, an effort that has yielded some early success. But current funding levels fall far short of the $50 billion needed for coastal wetlands restoration projects, meaning that other sources of financing including possibly the carbon markets must be identified and accessed.

Ecosystem Marketplace has coverage.

Verified conservation areas: A real-estate market for biodiversity?

A power company in Germany can use forest-carbon from Brazil to offset emissions because carbon offsets are standardized units, but an American city that damages the habitat of endangered species in Arizona has no such option – in part because habitat is as varied and localized as land itself. Frank Vorhies says VCAs are part of the solution.

Keep reading here.

Mitigation News

New NSW offsets policy center of mixed reactions

New South Wales’ (NSW) new biodiversity offsets policy takes effect on October 1 amidst a flurry of both praise and criticism. Its critics are unhappy on a few counts: the first being that loopholes and provisions in the policy allowing offsetters to pay for preservation, research, or protection of different species than the one being impacted mean that no net loss will not be achieved. A new offsets fund may also give miners and developers too much leeway, conservationists say.

NSW officials say the fund is meant to reduce ad-hoc mitigation and result in more consistent landscape-scale conservation.


Did the ESA just lose major force?

New policy interpretation from the US Fish and Wildlife and National Marine Fisheries Services of language in the Endangered Species Act may make it harder in the future to list imperiled species. The ESA states that a species should be listed when it’s at risk of being lost in “a significant portion of its range.” The new policy reads that phrase as meaning that listing is only appropriate if that “significant portion” is critical to the survival of the species’ entire global population.


In other words, if the cactus ferruginous pygmy-owl disappears from the northern Sonoran Desert, but hangs on elsewhere, it should not be protected. Conservationists point out that under this interpretation (which came into play in decisions to delist the gray wolf and not list the wolverine), the bald eagle would never have been protected back in the 1970s.

High Country News has the story.

EC extends comment period on offsetting

The European Commission’s extended its consultation period on a No Net Loss Initiative until October 17th. The consultation asks for public input on options for achieving no net loss of ecosystems and their services, including use of compensation and offsetting.

Provide input here.
Get background on the consultation from the Biodiversity Offsets Blog.

Is South Africa’s mining sector flouting biodiversity guidelines?

Non-adherence to the South African government’s new Mining and Biodiversity Guideline is “alarmingly high,” according to a new report from WWF South Africa. Nearly a third of environmental assessment practitioners (EAPs) failed to adhere to the guideline’s principles, according to the report’s authors, who find “that certain EAPs and/or mining houses are apparently disregarding critically important environmental information in the completion of their coal mining or prospecting applications.”

Learn more.

Solar thermal plant in CA gets heat for bird deaths

The Ivanpah solar thermal power plant in California’s Mojave desert – the world’s largest – may be bad news for wildlife. Federal officials say that it’s killing an average of one bird every two minutes, as birds are literally cooked mid-flight by the plant’s concentrated beams of solar energy. BrightSource Energy, which operates the Ivanpah plant, has committed $1.8 million for domestic cat spay-and-neuter programs as an offset. But federal wildlife investigators want operations halted until a full assessment of deaths can be made. Current counts range considerably, from BrightSource’s estimate of a thousand a year up to 28,000 according to the Center for Biological Diversity.

Keep reading.

Report finds Aus. states failing to carry out Commonwealth species protections

Australian states and territories are failing to fully implement Commonwealth (i.e. federal) environmental laws, according to a report authored by 42 NGOs. Among the report’s findings: no state legislation fully meets biodiversity offset standards nor are threatened species protections being fully carried out. States are also failing to meet World Heritage Conventions.

Learn more and access the report.

Canadian cattlemen pair beef and biodiversity

A pilot program in Saskatchewan pays ranchers for species conservation in the grasslands of the Northern Great Plains. Built on a pay-for-performance structure, the Ranchers Stewardship Alliance Inc.-led project aims to complement existing conservation programs like cost-share arrangements, and take into account ranchers’ previous efforts to provide habitat for at-risk species.

Read more here.

In Oklahoma, a beetle heaven

On 3000 acres in southeast Oklahoma are some very happy beetles. The Muddy Boggy Conservation Bank, operated by Mitigation Solutions USA, provides prime habitat for the endangered American burying beetle, selling offset credits to the oil and gas industry and the state Department of Transportation. The bank serves two purposes: to keep development projects moving forward, and to ultimately see the beetle taken off the endangered species list.

Tulsa World has the story.



Here’s our monthly roundup of short news items:

  • In Florida, the Manatee County Commission signed off on the purchase of $225,000 worth of wetland credits to mitigate for impacts from a new bridge.
  • MSUSA released its initial batch of credits from its 514-acre Gin City wetland bank in Texas.
  • Ducks Unlimited appeared before a North Dakota state committee last week to make its casefor a proposed 160-acre wetland mitigation bank in Grand Forks County.
  • Ducks Unlimited also is developing a new 160-acre bank in Fayette County, Tennessee.


UK salt marsh project fuels a debate on what counts as infrastructure

An initiative to create a 250-hectare salt marsh to protect Somerset, UK communities and a power station from storm surges and provide habitat for local wildlife is meeting some strong opposition. Critics say funds should be spent on other flood defenses and that the Environment Agency and the Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust – who back the project – are wasting money on a “ridiculous, extravagant…bird sanctuary.”

Read more from The Guardian.

Louisiana is in deep water

A new report from ProPublic shows just how threatened Louisiana’s wetlands are, thanks to a potent combination of energy development, climate change, and starvation of sediment by the state’s levee system. The report suggests that by 2100 most of southeast Louisiana may be under water. The situation threatens not only the millions living in the region but also half of the nation’s oil refineries, and oil and gas pipelines carrying a third of national supplies.

Access the report.
Fast Company has coverage.

Paper examines offsetting policy in Latin American countries

PLoS ONE journal this month has a paper on the state of policy for biodiversity offsets in Latin America. The authors review national frameworks in Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Mexico, Peru and Venezuela. The key takeaway: “while advancing quite detailed offset policies, most countries do not seem to have strong requirements regarding impact avoidance.” The paper also discusses how to strengthen policy and implementation for offsets.

Read the paper 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. 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. 21-23 September 2014. Cambridge, United Kingdom.

Learn more here.

COP 12: Mainstreaming Biodiversity: Innovative Opportunities for Business

This will be a 3 day series of business engagement events, including a High Level Segment, a business and biodiversity workshop, a meeting of the Global Partnership for Business and Biodiversity, and several media/launch events. The overall theme of the business forum will be “Mainstreaming Biodiversity: Innovative Opportunities for Business which will look at practical methods for businesses to play a role in the overall objectives of the Convention and the Strategic Plan 2011-2020. The issues under consideration at the business forum also tie in with the Government of Korea’s concept of the Creative Economy . This concept prioritizes the sensible use of natural resources for development gains as well as ideas and technology that help to safeguard biodiversity and forge a more sustainable and creative path for economic growth and development. Pyeongchang, Korea, 12-14 October 2014.

Learn more here.

Biodiversity and Food Security From Trade-offs to Synergies

This conference is the third in a series, organized by the French CNRS Institut Ecologie et Environnement (InEE) and the German Leibniz Association (WGL). The conference is based on invited keynotes and contributed posters for any of the topics relevant to the conference theme. Keynote speakers are now confirmed, including Professor José Sarukhí¡n, UNAM, México, and Professor Jacqueline McGlade, UNEP, Nairobi. Biodiversity at all levels, including the diversity of genes, species and ecosystems, is lost at alarming rates. Critical factors for these trends are habitat destruction, global warming and the uncontrolled spread of alien species. Pollution, nitrogen deposition and shifts in precipitation further affect biodiversity. Food security faces significant challenges due to population growth, poverty, globalization, climate change and other factors. Supplying healthy food to all citizens is crucial for global development – to reach it, not only food production but also equitable access to food for all people must be improved substantially. Biodiversity loss and global food security are hence two major challenges of our time. Linking biodiversity and food security issues from a research perspective, and seeking synergies between them is likely to generate multiple benefits for social, ecological and economic development. 29-31 October 2014. Aix-en-Provence, France.

Learn more here.

ACES 2014 Conference: Linking Science, Practice, and Decision Making

ACES: A Community on Ecosystem Services represents a dynamic and growing assembly of professionals, researchers, and policy makers involved with ecosystem services. The ACES 2014 Conference brings together this community in partnership with Ecosystem Markets and the Ecosystem Services Partnership (ESP), providing an open forum to share experiences, methods, and tools, for assessing and incorporating ecosystem services into public and private decisions. The focus of the conference is to link science, practice, and sustainable decision making by bringing together the ecosystem services community from around the United States and the globe. ACES 2014 will bring together leaders in government, NGOs, academia, Native American communities, and the private sector to advance the use of ecosystem services science and practice in conservation, restoration, resource management, and development decisions. We hope you will make plans to join more than 500 ecosystem service stakeholders in this collaborative discussion to advance use of an ecosystem services framework for natural resource management and policy. 8-11 December 2014. Washington DC, USA. 

Learn more here.

2015 National Mitigation & Ecosystem Banking Conference

The 2015 National Mitigation & Ecosystem Banking Conference, scheduled for May 5-8, 2015, in Orlando, Florida is the only national conference that brings together key players in this industry, and offers quality hands-on sessions and training as well as important regulatory updates. Proven to be “the place to gain insights, explore new markets and learn from sessions, the 2015 Conference will continue its focus on educational content both advanced and basic sessions as well as moderated exchanges and a variety of mini workshops that help to connect bankers, regulators, users and others involved in this industry. Pre and post- event workshops include Primer 101, Stream Banking, Long-Term Stewardship, Financing & Valuation and more. Hear perspectives from bankers, regulators and users, get updated on regulations, legislation and legal challenges, participate in field trips and benefit from the many opportunities to network! With a high attendance this past year, we anticipate a record attendance in Orlando and encourage you to make plans to submit to present, attend, even sponsor or exhibit! Presentation submissions are due October 1, 2014. Orlando FL, USA. 5-8 May 2015.

Learn more here.

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