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Mitigation Banking as an Endangered Species Conservation Tool (Environmental Defense, 2001)



Mitigation banking is a tool now widely used in wetland conservation programs but is only beginning to be used in endangered species conservation programs. In the wetland programs, mitigation banking has long been promoted as a way to conserve wetlands at a lower cost than by traditional forms of mitigation. It also creates an incentive for at least some landowners to create, restore, enhance, or preserve wetlands, in order to be able to sell "credits" to others who need to mitigate projects that damage wetlands. Traditional wetland mitigation has a dismal track record, and it is not clear whether wetland mitigation banking will fare better. Its detractors are many. The first wetland mitigation banks were established nearly two decades ago. It was not until 1995, however, that the several federal agencies with wetland conservation responsibilities could agree on uniform guidance concerning the establishment and operation of mitigation banks. Since then, wetland mitigation banking has become more common and consistent. Because the laws protecting wetlands and endangered species permit otherwise prohibited activities if they are properly mitigated, the interest in endangered species mitigation banking may well grow, just as wetland mitigation banking did. Like the first wetland mitigation banks, the first endangered species mitigation banks are functioning without the benefit of any relevant, overarching federal policy. Indeed, California is the only state that does have a formal policy governing the use of mitigation banking (which it calls conservation banking) for endangered species. The principles of the California policy differ in many respects from those of the federal wetlands guidance.

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