This Week In Biodiversity: Offsets Have A Little Image Problem

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

Between a former government employee in Australia claiming a very flawed offsetting system that favors mining interests and a former UK environment minister suggesting offsetting could counter the clearing of ancient irreplaceable woodlands, the market mechanism has had a rough month. Meanwhile, Massachusetts struggles with a strict NNL policy that delivers subpar results.

19 February 2015 | Greetings! Biodiversity offsetting got some mud on its face this month, to put it bluntly. An employee at New South Wales’ Office of Environment and Heritage (OEH) resigned recently with a public letter claiming that offsetting best practice is not exactly being applied:“If offset areas can’t be found that actually replace or compensate for the clearing mining want to do, they can just negotiate other arrangements with OEH, including the payment of money and OEH will sort out the details,” David Paull wrote in the letter.
OEH is pushing back against the criticism. But meanwhile, the UK government seems to be quietly backing away from its plans to roll out biodiversity offsetting nationally, following public outcry over then-Environment Secretary Owen Paterson’s (poorly-considered) suggestion that offsets could result in the clearing of ancient irreplaceable woodlands.

Advocates of biodiversity offsetting – when done according to best practice – might look for clues on sources of public mistrust in the comments submitted during the recent EU consultation on achieving ‘No Net Loss’ (NNL) on biodiversity. Offsetting received only tepid support overall. Comments raised questions about enforcement and whether safeguards were robust enough, and expressed doubts as to regulators’ capacity to carry off a policy delivering real ecological benefits.


At any rate, it’s not clear we should throw the baby out with the bathwater just yet, since alternatives to offset mechanisms have their own problems. In this month’s MitMail, we look to Massachusetts, where a strict NNL policy dependent on on-site mitigation has backfired badly,= leading the state to move toward third-party compensatory mitigation in search of better ecological results.


We also cover yet more headbutting with regulators in Alaska, where the Pioneer Reserve mitigation bank’s $12M breach of contract suit against the Army Corps of Engineers is moving forward after a recent court decision held that the Corps did breach contract when it unilaterally reduced the number of credits Pioneer would receive after a bank instrument had already been signed.


Don’t forget to take a look at the jobs and events listings at the bottom of the newsletter. And as always, if you have a tip, submission, or just an opinion to share with us for future MitMails, don’t be a stranger.

The Ecosystem Marketplace Team

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

EM Exclusives

Forest Trends Wins MacArthur Prize

Nine organizations around the world are to receive MacArthur Awards for Creative and Effective Institutions, including Ecosystem Marketplace publisher Forest Trends, which is being honored for its work in forest conservation. The $1 million prize “recognizes exceptional nonprofit organizations who have demonstrated creativity and impact, and invests in their long-term sustainability with sizable one-time grants.”


Since its inception more than 20 years ago, Forest Trends has been focused on recognizing the economic value of our natural ecosystems  and upending the way people think about the value of a forest. “When we started Forest Trends, our goal was to create incentives around what we call ecosystem services,” says Michael Jenkins, CEO of Forest Trends. “So, in a sense, making that tropical forest more valuable than an acre of soybeans.” Simply put, making forests and other landscapes worth more alive than dead.


The recipients were announced last week. Forest Trends will use the money to expand its work in conservation.

Learn more.

Wetland Mitigation Banking Arrives In The Big Apple

In the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy, New York City decided to build up its resiliency devoting funds to green infrastructure projects and coastal restoration activities. One of these initiatives is the Saw Mill Creek Mitigation Bank, which, if all goes as planned, will become New York City’s first wetland bank.


Public funds will finance cleanup and reconstruction and long-term maintenance as the NYC Department of Parks and Recreation will act as stewards after the restoration phase is completed. But NYCEDC notes how the bank leverages private money through the sale of credits. The project is currently in its permitting phase. While the bank is in its early days, the NYCEDC always intended for it to be an adaptable model that could spread throughout the city.

Ecosystem Marketplace has coverage.

Putting A Price On Nature Can Benefit The Poor If Done Right

You don’t have to go far in Bolivia to find treasure. It’s everywhere: in the vast Amazonian forests; in Lake Titicaca, which lies nearly four kilometres above sea level in the Andes; in the peaks and rain-gathering waterways of the Andes mountains; or in Bolivia’s 2,000 animal species.
And to call all this treasure is hardly romantic  because, to some, Bolivia’s natural environment is worth a lot of money.
Bolivia is not alone on that front. Program that pay people to sustainably manage environmental assets are increasingly popular, especially in the global South. But questions about the money’s impact on efforts to reduce poverty and inequality have persisted for decades. Does the cash help poor or indigenous people living in valuable ecosystems? Or is it more likely to benefit rich landowners? In Bolivia and elsewhere, research is beginning to show that these two goals environmental protection and poverty reduction need not be mutually exclusive.


Keep reading.

Mitigation News

Mitigation Roundup

Wildlands broke ground on the new San Luis Rey wetland mitigation bank outside of Bonsall, CA, to the great joy of Davis Castanon, chief of the Corps’ Los Angeles District’s Regulatory Division. “I’ve been waiting 25 years for something like this,” Castanon said.


Synergy Oil & Gas shared details with the public about its proposed Los Cerritos wetland mitigation bank near Long Beach, CA. Synergy CEO John McKeown noted it had found a China-based equity fund supportive of his plan to restore 156 acres of wetlands owned by the company while expanding oil production at another site.


Also underway is restoration of 1,200 acres in Southwest Florida for the Audobon Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary mitigation bank, home to wildlife like Florida panthers and wood storks.


Alaska state agencies are stepping back from efforts to take over 404 wetlands permitting from the federal government.

and focusing instead on streamlining current permitting processes.


Offsets Get Tepid Support in EU NNL Consultation

Contemplating a No Net Loss (NNL) of biodiversity initiative, the European Commission held an open comment period for several months last year. Those comments – 723 respondents from some EU member countries, NGOs, companies, associations and individuals – are now available in full online. In short, the majority of respondents supported the mitigation hierarchy and felt a NNL initiative should cover terrestrial and marine environments from the start. The majority also felt a wide scope encompassing all economic sectors putting pressure on biodiversity would be most effective. With regards to offsetting, just over half were supportive. However, their support was based on strict enforcement measures and robust safeguards for the offsets. And several participants doubted the level of capacity required was available.

Get analysis from the Biodiversity Offsets Blog.
Read the comments.

Biodiversity Offsetting Tops the ‘Uncool’ Charts in Britain

The UK’s former Environment Secretary Owen Patterson put his foot in it when he suggested that planting new trees could replace destroyed ancient woodlands. Patterson’s comments about offsetting – already unpopular in Britain – seem to have helped bring the development of a national offsets policy to a screeching halt. A report on the outcomes of offset pilots has yet to be released a year after the pilots ended, leading the Independent to speculate that the government may be quietly backing away from the issue.

The Independent has the story.

Australia’s Environment Office Accused of Catering to Mining Interests by Ex-Employee

An ecologist formerly working in Australia’s Office of Environment and Heritage (OEH) recently made public a resignation letter which described – in detail – the frustration he feels toward his employer. David Paull claims the department placed mining interests above those of the environment and that the department’s offset policy is flawed. “If offset areas can’t be found that actually replace or compensate for the clearing mining want to do, they can just negotiate other arrangements with OEH, including the payment of money and OEH will sort out the details,” Paull said. He even goes so far as to accuse the OEH of relaxing environmental regulations in response to an employee’s death while looking into illegal land clearing. The OEH denies the claims and noted Paull’s letter became public during an election season.

ABC News has coverage.

AK Mit Bank Moves Forward with Breach of Contract Suit v. Corps

A recent US Court of Federal Claims decision held that mitigation bank instruments are binding contracts between the bank developer and the Army Corps of Engineers. In Pioneer Reserve, LLC v. United States, Wasilla, AK-based Pioneer Reserve bank sued for breach of contract after the Corps reduced the number of credits granted to the bank after a banking instrument had already been signed – causing Pioneer to lose out on $12M in revenues. In November, the Court sided with Pioneer, dismissing the Corps’ contention that an instrument is “merely a regulatory action, not a contract.” Pioneer can now move forward with its breach of contract claim in federal claims court.

Get legal analysis from Bernkopf Goodman.
Get coverage from Alaska Public Media.

Philippine Government to Roll Out National Biodiversity Certification System

The Philippine government is proposing to certify biodiversity-friendly products. A framework and criteria to underpin labeling or certification is anticipated by the end of 2015 indicating products that support biodiversity conservation and sustainability, optimize biodiversity resources for poverty alleviation, and support rural small and medium enterprises (SME).

Get the full story.

Boosting Local Livelihoods in India with Biodiversity Benefit-Sharing

The Indian state of Karnataka is trying out a benefit-sharing model where locals growing the medicinal plants that comprise pharmaceuticals will receive a portion of the profits. The portion is between 0.5-5% depending on the plant’s rarity. The model coincides with the Karnataka Biodiversity Board’s regulations on benefit-sharing with the intention of steering funds toward biodiversity management. And while associations within the medicinal industry express interest, only 150 of the 250 pharmaceutical companies in Karnataka have responded with data. So despite support, the implementation process will likely be long.

Read more from the Hindu.

Massachusetts Wetland Mitigation Policy Gets an A for Effort but E for Effectiveness

Massachusetts regulators are pondering a shift away from requiring wetland replacement take place on the same parcel where wetland damages occurred, toward an in-lieu fee model advocated by the feds. The state’s once-groundbreaking no-net-loss policy has been plagued by enforcement problems, budget squeezes, and failed projects in recent years. Despite some pushback by local cities and conservationists, legislators will likely seek to revise wetland policy so it includes a combination of avoidance as well as on and offsite mitigation.

The New England Center for Investigative Reporting has coverage.

A Storm’s A-Brewing Over Wetland Damages Lawsuit

Louisiana remains entangled in a legal battle with the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority-East, the government entity created to protect the coast against violent hurricanes. Governor Bobby Jindal passed a law attempting to block the authority from proceeding with its lawsuit against over 80 oil and gas companies to repair damages to the state’s coastal wetlands. That law was overturned late last year. Now, the governor has appealed the ruling asking the state Supreme Court to uphold the law. Battle lines are clearly drawn with the east bank levee authority saying the law is just a political attempt to derail the lawsuit. But the government argues simply it’s constitutional and believes the Supreme Court will find it as such.

Get the full story here.

Management of Michigan’s Forest Biodiversity Not Up for Grabs Anymore

Flaunting his party, Michigan Governor Rick Snyder (R) has vetoed a bill saying that would preclude the state’s Department of Natural Resources (DNR) from designating biodiversity stewardship areas on state lands. Proponents of the bill argued the rule wasn’t trying to block biodiversity – just limit the DNR’s scope and spur economic growth. Opponents countered that decisions about management should be made by DNR scientists.

Read more from the Petoskey News.

California Weighs the Good of New Wetland Mitigation Guidance with the Bad

Wetland mitigation just got more complicated and expensive in California. But maybe that’s a good thing? The US Army Corps of Engineers has issued new guidelines for wetland mitigation in the state that offer more comprehensive guidance reflecting new technical and scientific knowledge that’s developed since regulations were first drawn up over 30 years ago. With these guidelines, the level of predictability should increase in terms of what the Corps are looking for in a mitigation project. For instance, it strongly recommends the ‘watershed’ approach to mitigation that the Corps approved at a federal level in 2008. However, the new high standards come into direct conflict with other agencies’ requirements. This could take time to sort out, which means a longer wait period for developers in the near term…

Learn more here.



Biodiversity, Sustainable Development, and the Law

The Centre for International Sustainable Development Law (CISDL), in a cooperative partnership with the University of Cambridge Centre for Energy, Environment and Natural Resources Governance (C-EENRG) and Lauterpacht Centre for International Law (LCIL), the UNEP-World Conservation Monitoring Centre (UNEP-WCMC), the Secretariat of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), the Secretariat of the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands, and the Centre for International Forestry Research (CIFOR), among other partners, is delighted to announce this Call for Papers for the international conference Biodiversity, Sustainable Development and the Law. 20-22 February 2015. Cambridge, UK.

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!Orlando FL, USA. 5-8 May 2015.

Learn more here.



Consultant, Incentives for Ecosystem Services

FAO – Lazio, Italy

The consultant will work within the framework of the Division’s work on Incentives for Ecosystem Services in Agriculture (IES), specifically the Swiss-financed project “Remuneration of positive externalities/Payments for ecosystem services in the agriculture and food sectors. The project is analysing field experience and will organize a dialogue process in selected countries to discuss and inform these findings, with a view to assist member-countries in integrating incentive mechanisms in the transition to sustainable agriculture.

Learn more here.

Regional Communications Coordinator, Africa

CIFOR – Nairobi area, Kenya

The Communications Coordinator will lead an ambitious, well-funded and creative program with the goal of translating CIFOR’s high-caliber research from across Africa into meaningful, real-world impact. The program uses a range of media including blogs, video documentaries, radio programs, conferences and workshops, TV and newspapers so that policymakers, donors, NGOs, the private sector and other key stakeholders have the latest research on how best to manage the continent’s forests, especially in relation to climate change, livelihoods, food security, energy and water management.


We need a dynamic, creative and self-directed Communications Coordinator to take the freedom and resources we offer and make it happen whether it involves working alongside our scientists to develop communication strategies for specific research projects, traveling to the field with a TV crew, writing blogs, organizing a workshop or talking to journalists.

Learn more here.

Conservation Manager, Tanzania

WWF – Dar es Salaam, Tanzania

WWF Tanzania is seeking a high performing candidate with extensive experience in managing conservation to ensure that WWF is highly influential and relevant and is able to shape the conservation agenda in Tanzania. The Conservation manager will ensure delivery of high quality and sustainable conservation impact at scale in Tanzania based on WWF.s global priorities at national, regional and global level.

Learn more here.

Oceans Advocate

Natural Resources Defense Council – San Francisco CA, USA

The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) is the nation’s most effective environmental action organization. We use law, science and the support of 1.3 million members and online activists to protect the planet’s wildlife and wild places and to ensure a safe and healthy environment for all living things. Our staff of more than 430 lawyers, scientists, economists, policy and communications experts, and others, work out of offices in New York, Washington, Chicago, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Bozeman, Montana and Beijing.


NRDC seeks a full-time policy advocate or attorney to join the Ocean Program team in our San Francisco office. NRDC’s Ocean Program uses policy advocacy, litigation, science and communication tools to strengthen ocean protection, fishery management and public awareness of ocean issues. Our S.F. team focuses primarily on the west coast, along with some national and international work.

Learn more here.

Agricultural Conservation Specialist

The Nature Conservancy –Maryland area, USA

The Agricultural Conservation Specialist develops, manages, and advances conservation programs, plans, and practices in agricultural landscapes across the Delmarva Peninsula. This is a part-time (60%) position and is funded for two years.


The Agricultural Conservation Specialist provides technical leadership and support to the Chesapeake Whole System program by planning and coordinating the efforts of the Chesapeake 4R Alliance. The Alliance is focused on increasing implementation of agricultural practices that improve water quality and habitat on Delmarva, including infield practices such as nutrient management and natural filter practices such as buffers and wetland restoration. She/he addresses critical threats to natural systems and individual species, fosters cross-site learning among Chesapeake 4R Alliance partners, and implements collaborative solutions with the agricultural community to achieve water quality and habitat outcomes. The Agricultural Conservation Specialist will facilitate meetings, trainings, and outreach efforts of the Chesapeake 4R Alliance and seek opportunities to advance priority actions identified by the Alliance. S/he will coordinate multiple projects, set deadlines, and manage projects to completion.


Learn more here.

Wilderness Conservation Corps Internship

Siskiyou Mountain Club – Southwest Oregon, USA

Seeking interns on course for a career in field work. Program starts June 19 with a week of training. Then go to work June 29 – August 19. Work ten on, four off. Participants maintain a daily journal and submit three essays over the summer. Complete coursework in American literature, natural history, financial literacy and writing. Compensation is a $40 per-diem. Upon completing the program, receive a $1,600 scholarship award toward your 2015-2016 tutition at a fully-accredited college.


You’ll be working on stewardship projects throughout southwest Oregon’s federal wilderness areas. Interns must be comfortable working from remote areas without access to communication devices. Must be able to carry up to 50lbs for up to 10-miles.

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