10 May 2017 | This week we welcome the ecological restoration industry to our hometown of Sacramento, California for the National Mitigation and Ecosystem Banking conference. As two local Californians employed by the ecological service industry, we share the same goal of seeing that our industry – which employs approximately 126,000 Americans including restoration ecologists, conservation planners, equipment operators, engineers and financial experts – continues to support healthy jobs, communities and ecosystems here in Sacramento and nationwide.
Core to our jobs is ensuring that the environmental impacts from necessary infrastructure and development projects are adequately offset to restore and sustain America’s clean water, forests and other natural resources. It sounds like a perfectly reasonable job function, but it’s a lot harder than it sounds, and made only more difficult when politics interfere.
You’ll hear some politicians repeatedly make the case that environmental priorities are at odds with economic priorities, but it’s exactly the opposite. Not only is the ecological restoration industry a powerful economic driver in and of itself, generating roughly $9.5 billion in direct economic output and $15 billion in indirect output. It can also speed infrastructure development and project permitting when designed well.
So how do we design effective and efficient restoration projects? It starts with clear and consistent standards.
It’s been proven that creating a standard for advanced mitigation – meaning fulfilling offset requirements in advance of impacts – can effectively reduce project implementation timelines by more than two years. In Sacramento, local levee projects that require routine maintenance have benefited over the past five years through the use of advanced mitigation credits purchased by the Department of Water Resources from Westervelt’s Cosumnes Floodplain Mitigation Bank.
Working together, this is how project applicants, the restoration industry and environmental interests can speed economic development while improving water quality, air quality and habitat quality for local wildlife.
Another benefit of having clear and consistent standards is reducing risks for private capital and opening markets for new investments in the restoration economy. There is a huge opportunity to not only invest in hard infrastructure projects, but also natural infrastructure projects that protect communities from flooding, erosion and natural disasters. We’re talking about streams, wetlands, floodplains and other ecosystems that provide numerous ecological services, including recreational opportunities.
Rather than rolling back policies that promote effective restoration, now is the time to boost these policies to provide further clarity for project applicants and restoration providers. This also means providing adequate funding for the federal and state agencies that support the implementation of these common sense policies.
It’s an exciting time to be in the ecological restoration industry. As we gather in Sacramento this week with other industry leaders, we will share lessons learned, gain new insights and continue to improve the way we work together so that both the environment and the economy thrive. That’s good for everyone’s business.
Travis Hemmen is vice president for Westervelt Ecological Services, a Sacramento based private restoration company. Eric Holst is associate vice president of working lands at Environmental Defense Fund, based in Sacramento.