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Packard Grant Supports "Wetland Banking" Database

July 2000

The David and Lucile Packard Foundation has given $125,000 to the Environmental Law Institute® to promote understanding of "wetland mitigation banking," an evolving conservation tool that may be able to protect environmental quality as society meets its development goals. The grant will help the Institute analyze the growing national portfolio of mitigation banks and to provide information to policymakers and the public. ELI will update its 1993 study on mitigation banking — the first ever done — and then design a user-searchable database on banking accessible on ELI’s Web site.

Wetland mitigation banking involves restoring or creating large off-site wetland areas to replace wetlands lost to development, to meet the developer’s mitigation requirements under the Clean Water Act. Ordinarily, government regulators require the developer to create or restore a wetlands as a term of the permit. Banking creates larger wetlands than under a project-by-project basis, and if done properly may be more valuable ecologically.

Mitigation banking is now a thriving industry that has been endorsed by federal and state governments. However, information on the scope and status of mitigation banking on a national, regional, and local level is not easily accessible. As a result, current policy and planning objectives are based solely on anecdotal information and, often, on misinformation. There is an ever-increasing demand for accessible information on the emergence of wetland mitigation banking as a free-market approach to preserving the benefits of wetlands while continuing to address development needs. The Packard grant provides ELI with the financial resources to enable it to respond to the information demands of policymakers and the public.

“This study will provide the public with up-to-date information on the location and characteristics of wetland mitigation banks across the country,” said Jessica Wilkinson, Director of ELI’s Wetlands Program. “With the number of mitigation banks growing from dozens at the time of the 1993 study to hundreds today, an online database has become necessary to effectively provide adequate information.”

The online database is a natural extension of ELI’s Wetlands Program. The program has produced a number of reports, including Our National Wetlands Heritage and the Wetlands Deskbook, both in their second editions. The National Wetlands Newsletter and ELI-Wetlands, an Internet based list-serve, have reached out to a growing constituency for several years.

ELI Vice President Erik Meyers noted, “The Institute’s careful, fact-based research has earned respect from a variety of agencies at all levels of government and the trust of those across a spectrum of interests. We have shown our ability to analyze complex policy alternatives, legal requirements, and economic considerations in studies that withstand close scrutiny.” The Packard grant will allow ELI to create a wetlands mitigation banking database, easily accessible to researchers, citizens, developers, and other interested parties.