Conservation banking of public land creates a market incentive

Aug 9, 2013

California’s conservation banking law that took effect in January will not have much of an impact on the state’s livestock industry because it essentially provides a regulatory framework for a program already established by executive order in 1995.

Adopting several reforms proposed by a comprehensive study, the law enables ranchers, farmers and other landowners to be paid for managing their lands to protect wildlife and their habitats in perpetuity. When the pioneering conservation banking program was started 18 years ago, it was the nation’s first of its kind.

Reforms include enacting standards in critical areas such as prioritizing potential sites, adding experienced program-dedicated staff, and establishing a regional approach to planning and monitoring.

The California Cattlemen’s Association (CCA) and the California Rangeland Trust both have been following the legislation closely, but see no direct immediate impact from it, CCA Communication Director Stevie Ipsen told the Western Livestock Journal.

The new law approves procedures to evaluate the program’s effectiveness, Ipsen said. “Basically, land owners can be compensated for looking out for different species within the conservation bank,” she said, noting many cattle owners already have been complying with requirements. “Anybody who goes the extra mile to take care of these species will benefit.”

With farmers selling prime farm land for development, and ranchers selling grazing land for intensive agriculture, open space, wildlife habitat and range land have been reduced.

In response, ranchers and conservationists have collaborated to save the state’s open space, endangered species, ranches and farms. Developers save time and money with the certainty of pre-approved compensation lands.

David Bunn, Wildlife Health Center researcher at the University of California, Davis, said Senate Bill 1148 for the first time provides regulatory procedures for the California Department of Fish and Wildlife to evaluate and approve proposed conservation banks.

It could become a model for other states, he said, noting it also authorizes new fees to make it possible to fund more dedicated staff to implement the program.

Bunn said more reforms are needed to set minimum conservation standards, enabling wildlife agencies to prioritize potential sites within a region. California’s program created 29 conservation banks, but new approvals have declined in recent years.

Most were approved before 2006. None has been approved since 2009 because an economic downturn has reduced new residential and commercial development. Banks are authorized by wildlife agencies to provide credits to developers who need to mitigate environmental impacts on wildlife.

Conservation banking of public or private land creates a market incentive for landowners to conserve wildlife rather than a regulatory approach that penalizes landowners for harming protected species, supporters say. — Mark Mendiola, WLJ Correspondent