The 18th National Mitigation and Ecosystem Banking Conference saw a refreshing mix of attendees and sessions along with healthy debate regarding key issues in today’s banking industry. Lauren Hutchison, a PhD student in the wetland mitigation field at Texas A&M University-Corpus Christie provides highlights and a brief summary of the annual event.
13 May 2015 | Over 400 people from six countries gathered in Orlando, Florida last week for the 2015 National Mitigation and Ecosystem Banking Conference (NMEBC). This uniquely independent conference drew a wide mix of wetland and conservation bankers, bank investors and consultants as well as regulators and bank stakeholders.
Attendees came for a plethora of reasons. The new kids on the block came to learn how to develop mitigation banks and in lieu fee programs, while individuals knee deep in mitigation banking came to catch up with old friends and talk business. Seasoned attendees expressed an interest in innovative solutions for streamlining the permitting process, credit stacking, joint mitigation and developing incentives for private landowners.
“As always, the conference is the best place to find out what is really going on. No national survey of “stacking” (or whatever else) would turn up any of the stories or examples I heard about just by talking with folks”, said Morgan Robertson, Associate Professor, University of Wisconsin-Madison.
Those who arrived early went on field excursions to mitigation and conservation banks in the Orlando area or participated in workshops that provided the history and nuts and bolts of banking and introduced tracking tools of mitigation banking in the U.S. such as RIBITs and Mitigation Analyst.
Informal forums were held to allow regulators, users and bankers to exchange ideas within these groups – allowing those with similar interests to identify each other and follow-up with one another at a later time – and further gave a flavor for the hot topics surrounding mitigation banking.
Those “hot” topics included among others equivalent standards, credit stacking, streamlining the permitting process, NRDAR (Natural Resource Damage Assessment and Restoration program), the need to take a landscape scale approach, and the issues surrounding the differing use of ratios and conditional and functional assessments.
There were sessions designed to meet the demand of a whole range of attendees. The “Long-term Stewardship Workshop,” session outlined how to develop a mitigation bank from scratch. Facilitators provided attendees with handouts and tools to help navigate the three-step process to develop a mitigation bank: develop a long-term management plan, secure endowment funding and create a site protection instrument such as a conservation easement.
“Performance Guidelines,” was comprised mostly of USACE (US Army Corp of Engineers) employees who focus solely on mitigation related issues. This session allowed the attendees to get inside the head of the USACE and better understand the USACE perspective at the local level.
“Analysis of National Mitigation and Conservation Banking Status and Trends,” included talks on the administrative performance of the USACE since the 2008 Mitigation Rule, regional and national trends in mitigation, and an analysis on the state of the national mitigation market. Not only was this session a great overview of the status of mitigation banking, it also stimulated lots of conversation and questions.
Other sessions provided tools and guidance related to the incorporation of science-based decision-making into mitigation, insight into the roles and strategies of various agencies, and effective communication strategies for use throughout the permitting process.
“If an attendee didn’t know the importance of the 2008 Mitigation Rule prior to the conference, they certainly left the conference with an idea of what is included and just how important the rule is in every day decision-making related to mitigation and mitigation banking”, noted a prominent mitigation banker.
There is no doubt this conference is of great value to individuals working in or interested in the mitigation and conservation banking field. The broad range of participation is refreshing and allows for a symbiosis that is necessary if mitigation banking is going to continue to expand its range and grow in effectiveness.