WASHINGTON (CN) – The United States Fish and Wildlife Service has announced a draft policy to clearly define appropriate mitigation measures to offset negative impacts to imperiled species from development. The proposed policy responds to President Barack Obama’s November 2015 directive to key federal agencies to develop and share a “common set of their best practices to mitigate for harmful impacts to natural resources” to “achieve strong environmental outcomes while encouraging development and providing services to the American people.”
The directive was addressed to the Secretaries of Interior, Agriculture and Defense, and the Administrators of the Environmental Protection Agency and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. “One way to increase private investment in natural resource restoration is to ensure that federal policies are clear, work similarly across agencies, and are implemented consistently within agencies,” Obama said.
While acknowledging that economic development, infrastructure, and national security goals are achieved at a price to our natural resources, the president’s memorandum expressed his conviction that American ingenuity was up to the task of minimizing and compensating for those impacts.
In response, the Fish and Wildlife Service, under the Department of Interior, issued its proposed Mitigation Policy in March, which is intended to be a “broad umbrella policy under which more detailed Service policies or guidance documents covering specific activities involving mitigation may be issued,” the agency said.
Because consideration of imperiled species and their habitats is crucial to conserving the nation’s natural resources, the agency has further drafted the Endangered Species Act Compensatory Mitigation Policy (CMP) to be published Friday, which provides “detailed and prescriptive guidance” for actions that can be taken to offset negative impacts on federally listed species and their habitats due to development and other “land- or water-disturbing activities” proposed by federal agencies or permit applicants, which include national security and military readiness activities. The proposed CMP is also the first comprehensive policy for ESA mitigation that the Service has issued.
The draft guidance covers such mitigation efforts as conservation banking, habitat credit exchanges, in-lieu fee programs, and permittee-responsible mitigation. “The proposed policy sets forth standards for compensatory mitigation and minimum criteria necessary to achieve the standards that reflect the many lessons learned by the Service during our more than 40-year history implementing the ESA,” the agency noted.
Many compensating efforts, such as conservation banking and habitat credit exchanges, involve setting side protected habitat in one area to allow the destruction of habitat in another area when a project is implemented. In-lieu fee programs allow project developers to pay a fee to others to provide the mitigation or to purchase credits from a mitigation bank. Permittee-responsible mitigation allows those who have been granted a project permit to implement their own mitigation measures either on- or offsite.
“Despite our best efforts to avoid and minimize impacts on the environment, there will almost always be some impacts that are unavoidable. Where at-risk species are concerned, we must ensure to the greatest extent possible that those impacts are compensated for,” Gary Frazer, USFWS Assistant Director for Ecological Services, said.
The policy has a “stated preference” for mitigation in advance of impacts, and encourages collaboration and coordination between involved parties through the planning and implementation stages. According to the agency, “this approach is proactive, ecologically effective, and takes advantage of economies of scale that provide greater regulatory certainty and predictability to the regulated community, while improving conservation outcomes for affected species.”
One key difference in the new guidance document over the two previous policies it will replace is a shift in focus from a “project-by-project” approach to a “landscape-level” methodology. “This policy takes a landscape-level approach to mitigation that will assist the Fish and Wildlife Service in modernizing our compensatory mitigation practices and meeting the challenges posed by a growing human population, climate change and other human-induced threats, while still being compatible with today’s vital economic activity,” Frazer said.
Comments are due Oct. 17. The agency said it expects the policy to be finalized by the end of the year.
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