Banking on Endangered Species

15 Jul 2019

When land development projects cause environmental impacts, conservation banks can provide an efficient offset solution.

Conservation banks are specific areas of land established when a private entity works with a federal agency - such as the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) - to find a specific area of land that can be enhanced, preserved, and protected as habitats to benefit species that are listed as threatened or endangered under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). Wind developers needing to offset potential ESA impacts can use conservation bank credits (units of trade generated by the enhancements and protections described above) from these banks to compensate for anticipated adverse impacts to threatened, endangered, or special-status species in similar ecosystems. 

Conservation credits can only be used when they cover the same species and habitats as those affected. For example, a conservation bank may have been established to benefit a fish in a freshwater stream. However, those same credits may not be used to offset impacts to a forest-dwelling woodpecker. 

In addition, when the credits are preserving similar nearby ecosystems, they serve as new habitats for species within the developer’s proposed project site. Conservation banks enable developers to reduce their environmental impact immediately, and help control project costs and timelines. 

The alternative to using credits is to, essentially, do it yourself. That means acquiring property, reviewing the biology, developing a resource enhancement and long-term management plan, performing the necessary restoration actions, monitoring the site for success and fixing things if or when it doesn’t succeed. Additionally, you will manage the site in perpetuity. Not only can these activities be a long-term burden, but they take developers’ attention away from their core business. 

In areas that are occupied or visited by Indiana bats and northern long-eared bats, this do-it-yourself approach often had been the only option available to developers looking to build a road, install a power line, or otherwise address infrastructure or other construction needs. Now there’s an alternative.

First-of-its-Kind Conservation Bank

The Chariton Hills Conservation Bank in Missouri provides 1,300 acres of dedicated natural space for the Indiana and northern long-eared bats, which are listed as threatened or endangered in the U.S. By conserving this landscape, the bank offers credits to developers, who can then use them to offset impacts their work might have on the two species.

The bank is a trailblazing program in terms of both Missouri and national ecological preservation. Along with its status as the first conservation bank in Missouri approved by the USFWS, the bank is also the first in the U.S. to explicitly protect the Indiana and the northern long-eared bat. 

Both species have long been federally listed as endangered or threatened, with their numbers continuing to decline across their ranges. To combat this troubling issue, the Charlton Hills properties were carefully selected by a team of bat biologists to serve as a designated preservation site for Indiana and northern long-eared bats for summer maternity, roosting and foraging. Once selected, the team performed environmental enhancements and developed interim and long-term management plans.

Developers of projects with impacts that fall within the Chariton Hills Conservation Bank service area are able to purchase these pre-approved credits to offset their development impacts. The Chariton Hills Conservation Bank primary service area encompasses projects in Kansas City and St. Louis, Missouri, as well as areas in the northern part of the state. Developers in the southern portion of the state can use these credits on a case-by-case basis.
The site also included a conservation easement on the bank property, and is funding a non-wasting endowment that will be tied to the land to provide funding for long-term management activities. The conservation easement and endowment are held by the Missouri Conservation Heritage Foundation.

Obtaining bank approval

The USFWS will only grant approval to a conservation bank under specific conditions. Before the USFWS green lights a conservation bank, sponsors are required to:

  • Enter into a Conservation Banking Agreement with USFWS;
  • Grant a conservation easement over the bank property to an eligible third party, precluding future development of the property and restricting certain land uses;
  • Develop interim and long-term management plans for the conservation bank; and
  • Provide funding for monitoring and management of the conservation bank in perpetuity through establishment of a non-wasting endowment.

By using the resources of a conservation bank, developers can reduce the financial, permitting, and timing uncertainty of smaller, individual conservation projects. In addition, developers are relying on biological professionals who are shaping the ecological restoration. From the helm of a conservation bank, environmental scientists and regulatory agencies can target specific environmental, biological, and stakeholder concerns. 

Because conservation banks are beholden to comply with USFWS performance standards, choosing to purchase credits in a bank rather than create an individual mitigation project eliminates the distraction of long-term management and biological performance liability for landowners and developers. This cost-effective solution can expedite permitting efforts, sever specific mitigation obligations, and consolidate smaller mitigation requirements into this large, more ecologically viable site. 

 

Paul Sherman is an environmental professional and project manager with nearly 20 years of experience. He serves asNational Mitigation Bank Acquisition + Planning Lead at Burns & McDonnell, a family of companies made up of 7,000 engineers, architects, construction professionals, scientists, consultants, and entrepreneurs worldwide. Paul specializes in land acquisition and planning, and environmental mitigation and restoration.His experience includes conceptualizing, entitling and developing complex projects; and integrating a multidisciplinary team to identify, acquire, develop, and construct economically sound and biologically important restoration and conservation projects.

Josiah Maine is an Environmental Scientist at Burns & McDonnell. He performs a variety of environmental studies, specializing in studies on threatened and endangered bats. In addition, he conducts fisheries and aquatic ecology studies for power generation plants across the Midwest, working work with clients in transportation, transmission, generation, oil and gas, and renewables. 

Burns & McDonnell | http://www.burnsmcd.com


 


Volume: 2019 July/August