Willamette Partnership believes that the following key principles should guide both the development of mitigation programs and the standards and processes mitigation programs develop for guiding individual mitigation crediting projects.

  1. Net Conservation Benefit. Mitigation programs need to make things better by contributing to the recovery or restoration of a resource. They cannot be merely a strategy for limiting resource loss. Net conservation benefit can mean improving habitat for birds while mitigating for water quality impacts. It can mean contributing toward species recovery goals, not just mitigating loss. A goal of net conservation gain provides for flexibility in achieving the particular watershed or landscape goals needed for clean air, clean water, natural places to play, and thriving economies.
  1. Clear Goals and Priorities Based on a Broader Conservation Strategy. Mitigation programs should spell out clear goals for specific resources. While overall ecosystem resilience is the end goal, individual projects should define exactly what the benefit will be and for which resource, ideally in the context of a broader, detailed, science-based conservation strategy. For example, California’s Natural Community Conservation Planning approach provides flexibility in how development impacts are mitigated in the broader recovery targets for species.
  1. Appropriate Scale. Mitigation programs need to be tailored to the specific needs of the resource in question, which can be different in different cases. Increasingly, a landscape-scale program is desired due to forces such as climate change, wildfire, and invasive species that affect wide swaths of land . It is important to note that even large-scale programs can still be flexible when they allow local (i.e. state or local government) actors to take the lead in implementation.
  1. Additionality. Similar to a net conservation benefit, additionality has to do with making things better. Mitigation programs should be able to demonstrate that they provide a benefit that is higher than – “additional to” – the benefits that would be achieved with, say, regulation alone. However, additionality also has to do with best management practices that make sure this happens, as well as ensuring that public funds already dedicated to conservation aren’t being used to meet pre-existing regulatory requirements.
  1. Durability. Mitigation programs should plan to be around for a long time. That means building the necessary legal, financial, and management assurances into the program from the get-go. Examples include project design and management plans, legal protections such as easements or recorded leases, and long-term funding tools such as performance bonds or endowments. It is also important to note that the same principle applies to public lands, although the tools used to achieve durability might be different.
  1. Quantification Methods. We need to be able to measure, or quantify, the conservation benefits of a mitigation program. There are a number of tools out there to use to do this, but it is important that the tools be science-based and demonstrate accuracy, repeatability, sensitivity, transparency, and practicality.
  1. Risk and Uncertainty. We can’t predict the future, but we can build programs that account for the risk and uncertainty inherent in mitigation programs: extreme weather, force majeure events, effectiveness of conservation measures, and the time lag between implementation and “full performance”, not to mention climate change, invasive species, and wildfire. There are a number of tools that can be used to address risk, including reserve ratios (a percentage of credits in a reserve pool to cover failed projects due to unforeseen circumstances), and phased credit releases (releasing credits over time until certain conservation milestones are met). Adaptive Management Plans are also a proactive way to address risk and uncertainty. But perhaps the most effective way to address risk is to couch a mitigation program within a broader plan and set of policy tools for providing the ecological functions needed.
  1. Tracking and Transparency. Trust, but verify. Mitigation programs should include requirements for communicating the results of the projects, from site-level reports to administrative-level validation of credits. All credit transactions should also be disclosed to the public, using a public website or other mechanism.