Uniform Rules for Conservation Banks

Feds Advance Conservation Bank Rules

The Fish and Wildlife Service today launched an effort to set uniform rules for conservation banks, an increasingly popular tool important for property owners, environmentalists and vulnerable species alike.

In a belated move pushed by Congress, the federal agency initiated the first step in the rule-setting that’s supposed to culminate in improved protections for plants and animals listed under the Endangered Species Act.

“Conservation banks contribute to the recovery of listed species and help reduce threats such as habitat fragmentation and lack of habitat connectivity by consolidating and managing priority habitat areas in a reserve network,” the Fish and Wildlife Service stated.

So far, 173 FWS-approved conservation banks have covered approximately 260,000 acres of habitat for 57 endangered or threatened species.

With conservation banking, industry groups or other entities protect land and species and sell impact credits to land users who need to mitigate a project. In exchange for permanently protecting and managing land for the species of interest, FWS approves a specified number of habitat or species credits that the bank owners may sell to developers and others.

In California, for instance, a developer might buy San Joaquin Valley kit fox credits to offset harm to this endangered species from housing construction.

The credits represent protected kit fox habitat located away from the project site. A 2017 review in the journal Biological Conservation recounted that the first species conservation bank was established in California for the least tern and several fish species. By 2002, the first conservation bank outside of California was established in Arizona, and a year later FWS issued its first guidance for the practice.

The “advance notice of proposed rulemaking” announced today is the invitation for interested parties, of which there could be many, to start weighing in. “As the conservation banking program continues to grow, it is important to ensure consistency, transparency, and predictability for project proponents and mitigation providers,” FWS said.

Congress in the fiscal 2021 National Defense Authorization Act required FWS to issue regulations for species conservation banking programs, starting with an advance notice of proposed rulemaking within one year of enactment of the defense bill. The defense bill was enacted into law in January 2020.