Ecological Offset Solutions

What is ecological permitting and why is it used?

Environmental laws like the Endangered Species Act, the Fish and Wildlife Coordination Act and the Clean Water Act, require that all proposed infrastructure projects must receive the proper federal, state, and local permits to build on land in question after undergoing studies to determine the impact that building will have on the environment, specifically streams, wetlands, terrestrial environments and endangered species.

In order to move forward in the building process and attain the necessary permits, an offset solution must be put in place by the company for the impact they will cause on the natural environment by their building.

What are ecological offsets and how are they used?

Ecological offsets are a system used by developers to compensate for any ecological or biodiversity impacts associated with construction. This is considered to be the last step of the ecological permitting process, and often the most difficult because any ecological impacts must be avoided or minimized by developers before continuing with their project.

Offsets can be done in many different ways including: green and gray infrastructure, mitigation banking, land restoration, etc.

What is green infrastructure vs gray infrastructure?

Once a permit is acquired, a business can design their offset in two different ways:

Green infrastructure incorporates nature into the design and planning of an infrastructure project, and can encompass water, wetlands, forests, and endangered species. For example, it means planting trees and restoring wetlands rather than building water treatment plants or a new dam. These methods use natural resources and engineered systems to provide clean water, conserve ecosystem values and provide cost effective solutions.

Gray infrastructure is the traditional way of offsetting infrastructure impact, building human-made structures like sewage tunnels, dams, and wastewater treatments to collect and prevent run-off or negative environmental externalities as a result of infrastructure development.

What is a mitigation bank?

Mitigation banks are a way in which companies deal with their ecological offset. The bank is set up to sell credits to developers in areas that might be impacted by their work. The credits are valued according to their ecological and economic value and can be traded as needed between companies.

What is land restoration?

Land restoration, or habitat restoration, involves the restoration, protection or enhancement of lands that are affected by human development. This type of offset is found across the country, and especially in areas with large areas of natural resources.

Additional Reading

1. Biodiversity Offsets: Views, Experience and the Business Case

2. Biodiversity Offsets in Theory and Practice

3. Biodiversity Offsetting: What Does The Science Say?

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