A habitat conservation bank is a parcel of land that supports the natural habitat of one or more species listed under the Endangered Species Act. These lands are conserved and permanently managed for species that are endangered, threatened, candidates for listing, or are otherwise species-at-risk. Like wetlands mitigation banking, conservation banking is a method that allows a permit applicant to purchase credits for mitigation of impacts to endangered species. Credit prices incorporate funding for long-term management and protection of conservation values.
The basic objective of the conservation banking program is to reduce the piecemeal approach to conservation efforts that can result from individual projects through establishment of larger reserves and enhanced habitat connectivity within a market framework. Endangered species benefit from banks because they usually create a critical mass of protected area that is more sustainable and manageable than “on site” mitigation in the long-term. Buyers of the credits benefit by transferring the long-term liability of managing endangered species habitat.
The concept and process in establishing conservation banks and mitigation banks are similar. While the focus for establishing a wetland mitigation bank is to maintain functions and values present in a particular watershed, conservation banking is intended to offset the loss of isolated and fragmented habitat, which has no functional value to a species, with habitat that does benefit the imperiled species.
The unit traded in conservation banking is most often an acre of habitat. Due to specifics of an organism’s ecology, the unit may occasionally be a breeding pair or combination of habitat and the actual species.
In creating a conservation bank on trust lands, trustees must identify lands for such a bank based on the biological criteria of the species involved and (often) a recovery plan. Designated lands are placed under a permanent conservation easement with third-party oversight, often a non-profit or government agency. Credits can then be purchased by developers or others that need to transfer long-term liability of managing endangered species habitat.