POTUS’ Memo Brings Much Needed Consistency to Natural Resource Mitigation

POTUS’ Memo Brings Much Needed Consistency to Natural Resource Mitigation

The Presidential Memorandum mandates federal agencies to give preference to advance compensation mechanisms that are likely to achieve environmental performance standards prior to any adverse impacts.

POTUS’s memo mandates federal agencies to give preference to advance compensation mechanisms that are likely to achieve environmental performance standards prior to any adverse impacts.

Yesterday, President Obama released a Presidential Memorandum aimed at increasing private investment in conservation by providing a clearer and more consistent policy environment around natural resources mitigation. So why does this matter? When federal policies are clear, work similarly across agencies, and are implemented consistently, private investment in natural resource restoration can occur because the risk of uncertainty for how agencies implement federal policies is minimized. And oftentimes, these conditions are what is needed to engage private partners for more effective conservation.

The Memorandum outlines eight principles (see Section 3, a-h) for more effective, consistent, and transparent approaches to mitigation, and it requires several natural resource departments and agencies to develop new and revised policies and guidance in support of these principles. The Department of Interior also released a new chapter for its Departmental Manual on implementation of a landscape-scale approach to mitigation policy.

25 acres of wetland and salmon streams have been restored.

25 acres of wetland and salmon streams have been restored as part of the Half Mile Lane Mitigation bank in Oregon’s Tualatin River Basin.

At Willamette Partnership, we know that consistent approaches to mitigation can work for conservation when they are linked to science-based plans and clear measures of accountability. The Half Mile Lane Mitigation bank in Oregon’s Tualatin River Basin is one example. It was developed by Oregon Department of State Lands and Clean Water Services. Willamette Partnership quantified the wetland, salmon, and water quality benefits of the project and designed the accounting and performance standards. That project has generated significantly more ecological benefit than other types of mitigation and is an example of the type of mitigation envisioned by the Presidential Memorandum.

We’ve also experienced first-hand how challenging it can be, for resource agencies and permittees alike,  when a single bridge project triggers different types of mitigation for impacts to the same stream but for different agencies. Instead of asking what’s needed for salmon recovery, transportation agencies can get pulled into actions with limited benefit. The recent Greater Sage-Grouse decision may prove to be another example where a coordinated, landscape-scale approach to mitigation is critical to recovering the species and its habitat. The decision considered the importance of effective mitigation across a number of states, but how can the Bureau of Land Management work with states to encourage consistent application of mitigation principles in a way that is also flexible enough to deal with local variability?

The Presidential Memorandum and its promise of consistent mitigation policy across agencies like US Forest Service, US Fish and Wildlife Service, Bureau of Land Management (BLM), Interior, and federal trustee agencies, is an essential step toward meeting these challenges.

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The publication, Building a Water Quality Trading Program: Options and Considerations, defines viable options around each element of a water quality trading program.

We’ve found that consistent mitigation approaches can be done in a way that recognizes the unique conditions and needs of different places. Last summer, the National Network on Water Quality Trading released a guide outlining the options and considerations for building trading programs, a form of mitigation. The Network included representatives from agriculture, environmental advocates, utilities, regulatory agencies and practitioners. Together, they defined viable options around each element of a water quality trading program. We didn’t all agree on everything, but we could identify common principles and elements that had to be in place.

Whether talking about water quality trading, mitigating impacts to sagebrush, avoiding impacts to prairie habitat, or providing new ways to mitigate for stream impacts, mitigation programs keep coming back to the same basic elements and principles.

Check out are our key principles from our work in building effective mitigation programs that strongly align with the presidential memo. These principles:

  • Increase the pace, scope, and effectiveness of conservation in ways that meet regulatory requirements;
  • Deliver these results over long time frames (at least as long as the duration of the development impact); and
  • Provide flexibility to accommodate local variability and make participation attractive to all parties involved.

The Presidential Memorandum’s principles are great starting points. Now comes the hard work of working across agencies to achieve the vision outlined. This cross-resource and interagency work is completely doable. We just need to get to it. For more examples from our work and the work of our partners, be sure to take a look at our stories.

Sara O'Brien
Sara O’Brien is helping the Partnership to refine our business strategy and identify opportunities for future growth, and she also pitches in on ecosystem services program work as needed. She was most recently Director of Conservation Strategies at Defenders of Wildlife. Sara previously worked on projects related to climate change, wildland fire, and desertification at the University of Arizona’s Institute of the Environment and the Desert Research Foundation of Namibia. She holds a BA in anthropology and linguistics from Grinnell College and an MS in natural resource management from the University of Arizona. In her spare time, enjoys relaxing with projects such as managing a farm, building a straw house, and raising a toddler.

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