Investing for restoration and conservation

An important aspect of the BLM’s policy for using mitigation to offset adverse effects to important resources is the responsible management of funds that authorized users (permittees) contribute for restoration or conservation projects.

On large projects with substantial mitigation requirements, the BLM often works with a permittee to develop a detailed mitigation plan that will be part of the decision authorizing the project. The decision document specifies the type(s) of mitigation measures that will achieve agreed-upon outcomes and corresponding metrics, such as acres to be restored or conserved. The permittee then researches the cost of accomplishing the measures and may want to deposit the needed funds into a mitigation account, up front, instead of undertaking and completing the mitigation projects directly. 

a graphic diagram of the Mitigation Hierarchy and Residual Effects
A permittee could agree to pay for measures that would minimize impacts that cannot be completely avoided, or for projects that would restore (rectify) impacted resources or compensate for lost values in some other way. 

The Federal Land Policy and Management Act (FLPMA) gives the BLM the authority to collect funds from a permittee to accomplish specified mitigation measures. However, unless the funds will be spent in a very short period of time, there is a risk that their purchasing power will diminish, leaving them short of the amount needed to complete the work. Investing these funds in the meantime would help preserve their value over a longer period, but FLPMA does not establish that authority for the BLM.

It’s at this point when the BLM may partner with a qualified third-party mitigation fund holder that does have such authority. The National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF) and the Foundation for America’s Public Lands are two organizations pre-vetted and currently in place to fill this role.

“Agreements with third-party fund managers are an option, not a requirement,” says BLM national mitigation program lead Deblyn Mead, “but they have advantages for us and for permittees.” A third-party manager has specific expertise in optimizing mitigation projects and ensuring that projects are meet all performance criteria. Mead notes that this is more efficient for both the BLM and the permittee, and usually achieves more timely and effective outcomes.

A third-party manager’s involvement begins when the permittee submits a deposit document and accompanying funds to the organization. The document describes the mitigation that the permittee agrees to, aligned with the requirements in the BLM’s decision. The fundholder then proposes appropriate mitigation projects, which the BLM reviews and verifies before any of the deposited funds are disbursed.

“The mitigation project may or may not be started or completed before the impacts from development occur,” Mead says. “In any case, the amount of compensation required should anticipate the temporal loss of the resource between when the impacts occur and when the mitigation project will fully replace the functions and values of the affected resource.”

The BLM recently finalized a national-level agreement with NFWF that allows the organization to establish State Office-specific subaccounts to receive, manage and disburse mitigation funds according to the terms established in authorizing decisions. Under this agreement, NFWF has established mitigation subaccounts for Greater sage-grouse and Lands with Wilderness Characteristics for both BLM-Colorado and BLM-Utah. An earlier multi-agency agreement created a NFWF mitigation account for renewable energy projects in the Mojave and Colorado deserts that impact golden and bald eagles. 

View of starry nighttime sky along the Green River in Utah
Lands with Wilderness Characteristics are not part of a wilderness study area (WSA) nor within designated wilderness but nonetheless possess naturalness, and offer opportunities for solitude or unconfined recreation. | Bob Wick / BLM 

The NFWF charter requires the group to report annually on investments and disbursements of mitigation funds. In fiscal year 2021, NFWF supported 700 projects across the nation with investments totaling $314.3 million.

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