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Investing in Wildlife

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Rare species like the CA tiger salamander can benefit if mitigation results in the protection of larger, sustainable parcels of habitat. Photo: Robert Fletcher, Ohlone Preserve Conservation Bank

May 1, 2013

Conservation banking began in California in 1995 as a means to permanently protect lands that provide habitat for endangered species or species of special concern.

California currently has 29 state-approved conservation banks that average 600 acres each (they range from six to 6,000 acres.) These banks are clustered in five geographic regions: the South Coast, southern San Joaquin Valley, Sacramento region, East Bay Hills and Santa Rosa Plain.

Conservation banks may be public or privately owned lands that function to offset adverse impacts of development projects to these species that occurred elsewhere, sometimes referred to as off-site mitigation. In exchange for permanently protecting the land and managing it for these species, the California Fish and Wildlife Department and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) approve species or habitat credits that the bank owner may sell to a developer to mitigate project impacts in the region.   Learn More

While this mechanism has provided a means for ranchers and other landowners to receive income for managing their lands to benefit wildlife, researchers with the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine recently assessed the 18-year program and found that reforms could greatly increase the program's conservation potential. Their article, “Reforms could boost conservation banking by landowners,” appears in the April-June issue of California Agriculture.

Enacting a clear regulatory framework and standards are important if the program is to achieve it conservation potential, says lead author David Bunn, researcher with the school’s Wildlife Health Center.

“Our analysis found that the lack of statutory standards has created barriers to the creation of new banks and increased financial risk for landowners considering the program,” Bunn said. “Negotiations over potential new banks were dragging on for five or more years.”

The economic recession also played a factor in the lack of new bank approvals since 2009. Developers who needed to mitigate the environmental impacts weren’t doing much construction, so there was less market incentive to establish new conservation banks.

New state legislation (SB 1148) that became effective in January establishes requirements on the bank proposal process and fees to fund the program. 

“The passage of SB 1148 is a good first step to addressing some of the major program challenges identified in our research,” Bunn said in an accompanying article in California Agriculture. “However, further legislation is needed to establish standards for prioritizing potential conservation bank sites within a region.”

Mark Lubell, professor in the UC Davis Department of Environmental Science and Policy, and Christine Johnson, associate professor in the Wildlife Health Center at the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine, co-authored this research. 


Trina Wood, communications, 530-752-5257; tjwood@ucdavis.edu