wetland mitigation

What is wetland mitigation? What are its benefits and downsides? Let’s go through this in-depth guide to find the best answers to these questions.

Wetland Mitigation Overview: 9 Pros and Cons to Consider

Taking care of our environment is something that shouldn’t be taken lightly, as it determines how our environment will be in the future. One obvious thing is that, if we don’t take care of our environment, the environment will also not take care of us.

However, if we preserve our environment, we can also be sure to reap the fruits of a flourishing environment.

Wetlands are some of the few regions in our environment that we should strive to protect. This is because; destroying these regions will also affect the surrounding ecosystems considerably. We should endeavor to lead a sustainable life to avoid destroying our environment.

And, for this reason, wetland mitigation is critical to ensure that these areas do not remain desolate after an unavoidable project takes place.

Wetland Mitigation Definition

What is Wetland Mitigation? Well, to understand this better, let’s look at it from a broader perspective. Various human activities can easily impact wetlands by altering the topography or hydrology of these regions.

Sometimes, these activities may lead to the loss of the wetland habitat, negatively affecting the surrounding ecosystem. For this reason, steps have been put into place, right from the local level, to the state and federal government levels, to protect the wetlands.

Wetland mitigation is, therefore, the steps that are put into place to restore or replace the original state of the wetlands. Wetland mitigation is ideal to ensure that the inevitable negative impacts resulting from certain projects don’t obliterate these ecosystems.

The process demands for the assessment of the impacts, and actions to be taken to mitigate these impacts, either through replacement or restoration.

The ideal mitigation activities for wetland losses might include offsite or onsite enhancement, or in other cases, buying of credits. Individuals usually buy these credits from any permitted wetland mitigation bank.

Restoration of wetland areas is a vital component in enhancing the conditions of the affected ecosystems, including rivers, estuaries, and springs. In various instances, wetlands act as buffers that safeguard both ecosystems by eliminating pollution before it reaches more fragile ecosystems.

Development and growth in population are some of the main causes of environmental destruction. And, if you would want to learn more about developmental effects, take a look at our blog on key environmental issues in Japan.

What is Mitigation Banking?

This refers to the process of restoration, enhancement, or creation of wetlands, aimed at compensating for inevitable impacts on wetlands in a different location. The process is primarily done to compensate for damage caused to wetlands due to developments.

However, it can also be undertaken for agricultural impacts to wetlands.

Mitigation banks occur in two categories. These include the wetland mitigation banks or stream mitigation banks and conservation mitigation banks. The first set of banks, which is the wetland mitigation bank, provides credits to compensate for losses that occur on aquatic resources.

On the other hand, the conservation mitigation banks are built to offset losses that occur on habitats of threatened and endangered species, as well as other special-category species.

 “The conservation compliance provisions for wetlands,” also referred to as Swampbuster provisions, targets to protect the wetlands for the numerous benefits these regions offer.

Together with the HELC (highly erodible land conservation), Wetland Conservation also aims at reducing the loss of soil in areas prone to soil erosion.

These two provisions apply to all wetlands or any land that is highly-erodible. Also, it affects land that is farmed or owned by an individual who voluntarily participates in the USDA programs.

Those seeking to benefit from various USDA programs are required to be compliant with the conservation provisions by filling a form known as form AD-1026.

The form helps to ascertain that these individuals will not dredge, drain, or fill wetlands, as they look for places to grow their crops.

However, in certain situations where on-site prevention mitigation becomes a challenge, the Farm Bill permits for off-site mitigation, which is done through mitigation banking. 

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How Does Mitigation Banking Work?

Here, producers are allowed to purchase credits from approved wetland mitigation banks. These credits are meant to pay for the impacts resulting from lost wetlands. These wetland mitigation banks are created through the enhancement, creation, or restoration of the wetlands.

After the establishment of mitigation banks, landowners retain both the ownership, as well as the use of the property. However, a conservation easement is established to protect any degradation activities on the wetlands.

The quantity of the available credits for sale depends on the scope and size of these wetlands’ restoration, enhancement, or creation. Also, the prices of these credits are agreed up by the seller and the buyer.

How to Develop Mitigation Banks

wetland mitigation
Restoration of nature’s beauty

Bank sponsors are the ones who establish mitigation banks. But, who is a bank sponsor? This is any person or entity that establishes wetlands to be used in wetland mitigation banking.

The bank sponsors cater to both the cost of developing the wetland, and the long-term maintenance, which ensures that the wetlands remain functional even in the future.

Usually, mitigation credits are formulated through a functional appraisal procedure that assesses individual wetland functions. Every credit purchase is deducted from the mitigation bank, up until there are no credits left. After all, credits are sold, the bank closes, and at this point, they don’t sell any more credits.

Mitigation banks comprise of four separate components which include:

  • The Bank Site

The bank site refers to the physical acreage or land, which has been established, preserved, restored, or enhanced.

  • The Bank Instrument

This is the formal contract between the owners of the bank and regulatory agencies, which establishes liability, management, and monitoring needs, performance standards, as well as the terms of credit approval by the bank.

  • The IRT (Interagency Review Team)

This is the team that offers services such as regulatory review, approval, as well as the bank’s oversight.

  • The Service Area

The service area refers to a geographic region in which mitigation credits can be used to compensate for impacts on wetlands.

However, these impacts must be permitted and the purchase of the credits done at a particular mitigation bank.

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Types of Wetlands

These are the various types of wetlands. 

  • Restored Wetlands

These are the first set of wetlands. They are practically cheaper and easy to develop. Here, the land is mostly reverted to its former wetland state, using an adjustment in hydrology.

  • Enhanced Wetlands

These, on the other hand, are defined through activities that emphasize one or more particular wetland functions for certain purposes.

For example, the depth and the length of ponding might be altered to help support wildlife, as well as diverse vegetation encouraged to help improve the quality of water.

Generally, the necessary landscape and hydrology alterations are more costly to produce and maintain in comparison to the restored wetlands.

  • Created Wetlands

The last in the list is the created wetlands. These are generally the most expensive and difficult to establish and maintain. Typically, people develop these wetlands in areas that did not hold any wetlands prior to this.

And, for this reason, a more elaborate architectural design is necessary, as well as fitting of structures and water pumps.

All this is necessary for the development and maintenance of the created wetlands.

One prospective source of acres for wetland mitigation banks is the land from wetland practices registered in USDA’s “Conservation Reserve Program.”

The National Food Security Act Manual permits the use of CRP land for wetland mitigation, after the expiration of the CRP contract.

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What is a Wetland Mitigation Credit?

mitigation banking

Wetland mitigation credits, also known as stream mitigation credits, are units of trade which aim to compensate for the ecological losses occurring in US waters. Both the USEPA and the USACE control the credits.

These credits enable an individual to meet their “environmental mitigation permit” requirements before they can impact the waters or wetlands.

And, although in the past, mitigation banks were built to help compensate for effects caused on various types of wetlands, they can currently be used to cater to particular effects to streams.

USACE and USEPA are the bodies responsible for the regulation and the approval of impacts that occur to aquatic resources. On the other hand, USFWS and NMFS are responsible for the control and approval of impacts that occur on habitats of listed species.

These four federal agencies help in determining the ideal form and amount necessary for the compensation.

When developing the mitigation banks, all these agencies must be involved, and they must review, as well as approve the ecological evaluation techniques.

This is done to ascertain that the mitigation credits provided, offer the necessary environmental functions to compensate for the impacts.

Wetland Mitigation Banking Pros and Cons,

Since the first wetland mitigation project that took place in the 1980s, the process has gained a lot of popularity. However, multiple agencies are now shifting from the case-by-case based wetland mitigation to relying on mitigation banking.

This is the restoration, enhancement, or creation of new wetlands prior to a proposed development that will destroy a wetland.

Here, individuals or companies can buy mitigation credits from mitigation banks. This is in contrast to working through the whole process of permitting and mitigation.

The pros of this process include:

  • The wetlands are usually larger
  • They are developed before the destruction can take place on a wetland, allowing them to serve as natural wetlands sooner.
  • Through the consolidation of mitigation efforts for several projects, it helps to save on money and time.
  • It helps to established self-supporting wetlands that offer environmental equivalence to the impacted sites.
  • It can lead to the appreciation of the land, especially if private developers want to use the wetland.

The cons of the process include:

  • The process comprises a higher loss of smaller remote wetlands.
  • Wetland mitigation banking can lead to reduces wetland area and purpose in a certain watershed.
  • Even with the most articulate planning consideration, the impacts on wetlands and streams are sometimes inevitable. The main reason behind this is the increased development resulting from rapid urban growth.
  • Although mitigation banking can be potentially profitable, it comes with numerous costs, especially in the process of review and approval.

Mitigation Banking and Land Use

When it comes to the selection of sites for wetland mitigation banks, the only sites that qualify include the restored, created or enhanced wetlands. Preservation of current wetlands doesn’t qualify for this process, as it does not offer additional acres of wetlands.

Generally, previous wetlands that have been restored to their original state offer the best opportunity for success in producing wetland values and functions.

After the restored wetlands, enhanced wetlands are second best in providing optimal success opportunities. The last one is the creation of wetlands in an area that has never been a wetland.

When choosing for a site, stability and success are vital elements we should consider as the bank sponsor must provide long-term maintenance of the site. This helps to ensure that the new wetland remains functional as intended.

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Conclusion On Wetland Mitigation

Protecting our ecosystem is undeniably one of the best things we can do for our future generation. Wetland mitigation is just but one of the various ways we can ensure that our wetlands, as well as the habitats for listed species, are protected. I believe that you will find the answers you were looking for in this comprehensive piece.

If you wish to learn more about how to develop a wetland mitigation plan, you can visit the “Interagency wetland mitigation guidance” for more.

If you have any observations or comments, don’t hesitate to jot it down in our comments area.

Related Resources

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