1. Why are wetlands important? The existence of wetlands is vital to much of our planet's life. Wetlands provide food and habitat for fish and wildlife, clean and filter water, provide flood control, and protect against soil erosion, as well as create opportunities for research, education and recreation.
A myriad of wildlife and fish species are completely dependent on wetlands for their survival. The vegetation together with open waters that can be found in wetlands offer superb foraging, cover, nesting, and spawning habitat for birds, raptors, amphibians, fish, mammals, and many other vertebrate and invertebrate organisms. Of the threatened or endangered wildlife and plants currently listed by the United States Fish and Wildlife Service, an estimated fifty percent of the wildlife and more than thirty percent of the plants depend on wetlands for survival. Numbered among these are the Swainson's Hawk, California Red-legged Frog, and Western Pond Turtle.
Wetlands support one of the most productive and biologically diverse natural ecosystems in the world. They offer both aquatic and land-based habitat. Many plants and animals have adapted specifically to life within the wetlands, including forty-one of California's rare and endangered species.
Wetlands protect and improve the quality of water. The water passing through wetlands carries organisms, sediments, nutrients, and pollutants. The vegetation and soil in the wetland form a kind of sieve, trapping those materials and filtering the water.
Wetlands help to control soil erosion. They act as natural tubs or sponges. Floodwater or surface waters collect in isolated depressions where they are stored and slowly released. Wetland vegetation helps stabilize slopes and slow floodwaters.
The diversity of plants and wildlife and the aesthetic qualities found in wetlands attract large numbers of outdoor enthusiasts, including anglers, birdwatchers, hunters, photographers, and boaters.
Although appreciation for the benefits provided by wetlands has increased over the last years, wetlands are still being dredged, drained, and filled. Today California retains a mere ten percent of the wetlands that existed before European settlement. The Central Valley boasted vast wetlands extending over some four million acres; these have diminished to a mere three hundred thousand acres. Only five percent of the state's coastal wetlands remain intact.
2. Why should we use a mitigation bank? Using a mitigation bank has many benefits for the public, development community and landowners.
Simplifying the planning process - choosing an approved mitigation bank reduces resource and planning agency concerns on project proposal review and most often expedites project approval.
Cost-effective mitigation - using a mitigation bank cuts down on environmental planning delays and makes available expensive real estate which translates into lower project carrying costs and increased real estate value.
Termination of liability - project developers and landowners who are required to mitigate on-site or off-site on their own lands, face financial responsibilities of maintaining wetland performance standards for a minimum of five years. In addition to the expense and time expenditure involved, there is the risk of failure, requiring remedial action to fulfill the mitigation development obligation. The purchase of credits from Conservation Resources severs all of the developer's or landowner's future liabilities and responsibilities.
Ecological benefits - mitigation banks are protected from development by conservation easements so that its habitats will be maintained in perpetuity which provides better protection for wetlands ecosystems.
3. Does the purchase of wetland mitigation banking credits from Conservation Resources relieve developers or landowners of any responsibility to provide mitigation? Yes, for the specific type of habitat they are purchasing credits. Upon establishing an agreement with a landowner or developer for the purchase of credits, Conservation Resources works with them and their permit manager to arrange for the use of mitigation bank credits to satisfy their mitigation requirements. There is no continuation of responsibility or liability for the success of the mitigation on the part of the landowner or developer.
4. Who is eligible to use a mitigation bank? Any landowner or developer of a project, public or private, is eligible to purchase mitigation credits from a mitigation bank.
5. What is the procedure for purchasing credits? Contact Conservation Resources to determine whether your project is located within one of our bank's service areas. Assuming credits are available, a price will be agreed upon for the purchase of credits. A contract to purchase credits from the mitigation bank will be prepared by Conservation Resources for your approval and signature. Conservation Resources will then provide the necessary regulatory agency coordination to allow the use of credits, at no extra cost to you. After final payment is received, you have fully satisfied your mitigation requirement, and you are free and clear of any future liability and responsibility.
6. How much time is involved in arranging the purchase of credits to satisfy a mitigation credit? A mitigation requirement can be satisfied within days. Frequently it takes several weeks to settle details with the permit manager. However, once it has been agreed that the use of the bank is permitted and final payment for credits is received, the mitigation requirement has been fully satisfied.
7. Can a mitigation bank be used to satisfy a National Resource Damage claim or any other enforcement action? Yes.
8. What are the alternatives to purchasing mitigation banking credits? There are many steps involved in producing a traditional wetland mitigation site. They are both costly and time consuming.
The first step is site investigation and acquisition involving brokerage fees; consulting costs; closing costs associated with location, acquisition, and approval of appropriate mitigation site; and compliance with due diligence requirements (Environmental/NEPA analysis, toxics assessment, engineering/hydrological, legal, tax, historical, archeological).
The second step is engineering. This involves preparation of a conceptual development plan and wetland delineation; obtaining necessary local, state, and federal permits (including local zoning, environmental and subdivision permits/public hearings , county environmental and sediment control permits, State wetland/water quality permit, Federal wetland permit, and interagency approval); and preparation of detailed site development plan (including construction plans, grading plans, planting plans, landscape architecture plans, and environmental community or action committee approval).
The third step is construction. This involves obtaining surety and bonding for construction and maintenance of the mitigation site, excavation and grading of the mitigation site, landscaping and planting of the mitigation site, installation of public amenities such as nature trails and blinds, and post-construction approvals.
The final step is maintenance and monitoring. This involves a minimum of five years (ten year monitoring is typical) of monitoring, filing of monitoring reports, ownership liabilities, and taxes. Any remediation requirements that arise as a result of the monitoring would be an additional responsibility to landowners or developers.
Landowners and developers can avoid all of these steps by purchasing credits from Conservation Resources.