Currently, the State of New Jersey allows wetlands mitigation banking through permits and bank instruments issued by the NJ Department of Environmental Protection. Conservation banks are not presently permitted, although they should be. Conservation banks are market-based businesses that provide landowners with an incentive to protect species (especially threatened and endangered) and their habitats.
The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (USFWS) has documented that small or disconnected parcels of habitat do not function as well for species protection as large tracts. Through conservation banks, landowners can generate income and keep large parcels of habitat intact. At the same time, developers, utilities, and transportation agencies need to provide compensation for loss of habitat due to their project and activities. Conservation banks can provide a conservation-based and economically-viable approach to species preservation and restoration in states where there are federally-listed threatened and endangered (T&E) species.
Conservation banking benefits species by establishing large reserves that function as compensatory mitigation for multiple projects. According to the USFWS, it costs less per acre to manage a conservation bank than the equivalent acreage divided amount many small isolated mitigation sites. Larger reserves are more likely to ensure ecosystem functions, foster biodiversity, and provide opportunities for linking existing habitat. This approach can aid in the recovery of T&E species. An example is ERG’s Oxford Wetland Mitigation Bank, which serves as a 166 acre-habitat for the threatened bog turtle, and is adjacent to the existing Pequest Wildlife Management Area. This bank is a wetland mitigation bank, but could easily serve as a conservation bank as well.
Conservation banking benefits the public by protecting open space and contributing to environmental services such as nutrient recycling, plant pollination services, and climate regulation. Conservation works best in conjunction with regional conservation planning efforts; for example, the Oxford Wetland Mitigation bank is in the New Jersey Highlands Regional Planning Area.
In other parts of the United States – particularly in the West – conservation banking has been successful. More than 120 banks have been approved by the USFWS; most of these have been in California and Washington. New Jersey has not established conservation bank and it should relinquish permitting authority to the USFWS for successful conservation banks in this state. Part of the issue here is jurisdictional, the NJDEP limits wetland mitigation banks to watershed management areas within the state, while the USFWS can determine service areas based on an ecological (eco-region) or physical attributes of an area, soil types, species recovery units and/or species and population distributions. Banks can have more than one type of credit and can have different service areas designated for different credits types. The key idea here based on USFWS data is not to encourage development in a listed species habitat, but to provide an ecologically effective alternative to small on-site preservation that is not sustainable.
The NJDEP is currently undergoing a fact finding and stakeholder process in preparation of new freshwater wetlands and coastal zone management rules, including mitigation. Comments for changing the mitigation process in the state to a federal approach and to allow for conservation banking can be submitted to NJDEP:
Mr. Robert B. Piel, NJDEP Office of Land Use Management
501 East Main Street
Mail Code 501-02A
Department of Environmental Protection
Division of Land Use Regulation
P.O. Box 420
Trenton, New Jersey 08625-0420
These are our thoughts, what are yours?