In a speech late last week, Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell talked about her conservation agenda. A few items particularly caught my attention.
First, she announced that her department will quickly adopt consistent policies and procedures on using mitigation at a landscape scale in the siting of energy and other infrastructure on public lands.
This may sound like “government speak,” but it really signals an important step. It recognizes nature as one of America’s most valuable assets, and reflects the kind of constructive, solution-oriented approach to government decision-making needed to get us to an environmentally sound and prosperous future.
“Mitigation” is not mysterious. It simply means taking reasonable steps to avoid harm to our natural resources, reducing that harm as much as possible if it can’t be avoided, and compensating for any harm that remains.
We strongly support this approach, and I congratulate Secretary Jewell for her initiative.
Mitigation, fairly and properly used, is a practical, efficient, and very effective way of better reconciling our country’s economic and environmental goals and of achieving the conservation of important natural resources at a large scale.
America’s population and our economy are both growing, and we need appropriate, efficient, and effective development to support that growth. We also need to protect our natural resources to maintain our quality of life and ensure that our children and grandchildren will have the fortune of living in a prosperous, beautiful and healthy nation.
Those are not “either/or” choices; if we are smart and work together, we can do both. Proper and consistent use of mitigation is one of the keys to doing that.
Companies are also increasingly interested in mitigation as a strategy. It saves them time and money and reduces uncertainty, permitting delays, and the risk of litigation. This is especially true if it is approached at the landscape scale, focuses first and foremost on avoidance, and is considered in a collaborative manner very early on in the development process.
Applying mitigation at a landscape scale is particularly smart because it allows more effective engagement with state and local governments and helps avoid of the loss of key natural resources with multiple recreational, environmental, and other public benefits. When compensation is needed despite efforts to avoid and minimize harm, a landscape approach helps ensure that the compensation is both effective and lasting.
We encourage the Secretary to call on all Department of the Interior agencies to use their existing mitigation authorities within the many efforts currently underway to ensure robust mitigation outcomes that will conserve critical public resources.
In short, increasing and improving the use of mitigation is not a boring detail, but rather an important step recognizing that it is possible to accommodate needed investment in energy, transportation, and water management while at the same time protecting the nation’s most critical natural resources that our economy and the quality of our lives depend upon.
In other important news, the Secretary reiterated her support for full funding of the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF), which supports national parks, wildlife refuges, forests, rivers and lakes, community parks, trails, and more in all 50 states.
We’ve long viewed LWCF as a common-sense and critical conservation program. It balances the use of one natural resource — oil and gas — with the conservation of another by using a portion of drilling fees to protect important land and water resources. But despite an increase in energy production, funding for land and water protection has been low and unpredictable. Full funding for LWCF would go a long way in addressing that imbalance.
Finally, Jewell also announced an initiative “to inspire millions of young people to play, learn, serve and work outdoors.”
I couldn’t agree more with her focus on educating and involving America’s young people in conservation, and I’m proud of our own efforts at the Conservancy to engage younger generations.
Getting it right on things like mitigation and strong funding for LWCF — efforts that balance human needs with the need to conserve nature — is a great way to start ensuring these younger Americans can be inspired by nature, and realize its very practical value to their lives.
[Image: Jalama Beach, north of Point Conception in California. Image source: Bill Pollard]