Mitigation Banks in Texas
There are two types of mitigation banks in Texas: wetland and stream mitigation banks regulated by the US Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) and species conservation banks regulated by the US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS). Both types of banks are permanently protected and exist to replace natural resource values that are lost at an offsite location to development activity. The values of the natural resources replaced at a bank are quantified as a “credit”, which can be sold to developers to offset natural resource impacts.
Wetland and stream mitigation is based on the US policy of “No Net Loss” of wetlands. Mitigation bank sponsors create and/or restore ecological functions of high quality wetlands to earn offset credits. The goal of wetland mitigation banking is to replace the exact functions and values of the specific wetland that will be negatively impacted. An offsite wetland to be lost is assessed for function and value, and the appropriate type and amount of wetlands credits are purchased from the mitigation bank to satisfy legal requirements.
The USACE established a preference for use of mitigation banks to satisfy compensatory mitigation requirements in its 2008 Compensatory Mitigation for Losses of Aquatic Resources guidelines. This preference is based on the idea that mitigation banking reduces risk and uncertainty and temporal loss of resources functions and services.
The number of wetland mitigation banks established since 1995 has been on the upswing and today, there are over 1,670 approved or sold out wetland, stream, and species banks listed in the USACE Regulatory In-lieu Fee Tracking System (RIBITS). In the US, non-profits, private developers, government agencies, and for-profit organizations are eligible to fund, create, develop, monitor and maintain a wetland or conservation mitigation bank.
Wetland and Stream Mitigation Banks in Texas
According to the Ecosystem Marketplace 2008 publication, State of Biodiversity Markets: Offset and Compensation Programs Worldwide, the median national size of wetland banks is 174 acres. The range in price for stream credits nationally was from $15 to $700 dollars. The range in price for wetland credits sold in Texas was from $12,500 to $22,500. According to RIBITS, today Texas has 48 approved wetland and stream mitigation banks. There are currently 12 approved wetland mitigation banks with available credits in the USACE Galveston District.
If you are considering use of a wetland or stream mitigation bank for compensatory mitigation, the RIBITS interface can be used to determine what banks have the type and amount of wetland credits available in the service area of the project. Before utilizing a mitigation bank, a functional assessment is often completed on the wetland to be impacted to determine the physical, chemical, and biological functions performed by the wetland. The HGM models are often used to determine the change in functions (both negative and positive effect) caused by wetland alteration. These models can help determine significance of impact, as well as appropriate replacement functions or credits needed for adequate compensatory mitigation.
Species Conservation Banks in Texas
Conservation banking for species offsets is similar and takes its roots in wetland and stream mitigation. A bank sponsor will preserve and manage an area for the specific habitat requirements of the target endangered species in order to generate offset credits. Entities with projects that may impact a threatened or endangered species may choose to purchase offset credits from a conservation bank to ensure the species meets its recovery goal.
Conservation banks are also tracked in RIBITS (use the “Quick Filters” box on the right hand side of the RIBITS interface to click on the link to Conservation Banks). As of 2009, there were 123 known active or sold out conservation banks, mostly in California. According to the Ecosystem Marketplace 2008 publication, State of Biodiversity Markets: Offset and Compensation Programs Worldwide, the median size of conservation banks was 333 acres. For the four established credit types in Texas in 2009, the range of credit price was from $2,750 for the Golden-cheeked warbler to $400,000 for the Bone Cave Harvestman and Coffin Cave Mold Beetles in irrevocable impact zones. For the beetles impacted in moderate impact zones, the price per credit was $10,000.
According to RIBITS, today Texas has 6 approved conservation banks (CB): Bandera Corridor CB (Golden-cheeked warbler), Clearwater Ranch CB (Black-capped vireo, Golden-cheeked warbler), Festina Lente CB (Golden-cheeked warbler), Griffith League Ranch CB (Houston Toad), Hickory Pass CB (Golden-cheeked warbler), and Hickory Ridge CB (Golden-cheeked warbler).
There are currently no approved conservation banks available within the USACE Galveston District.Operation warbler: How Fort Hood and local ranchers teamed up to save a bird” – Environmental Defense Fund’s EDF Voices: People on the Planet Blog Article
Read about how Fort Hood Army Base and local ranchers in the 33 surrounding counties in Texas are teaming up to save the endangered golden-cheeked warbler using a market-based credit exchange. Many ranchers found the conservation credits to be an additional source of revenue for their operations, and the practices they adopted did not inhibit their normal work operation or reduce their profits.