Turning Back the Clock on Mitigation

President Trump’s Executive Order arbitrarily turns back the clock on mitigation policy, wholly rejecting conservation lessons learned over 30 years while also proposing to squander mitigation dollars—a lose-lose for wildlife and permit applicants.  

Sadly, we can do so much better than this and we have all the tools and science to make it happen. By rescinding the 2015 Presidential Memorandum on Mitigation (2015 Mitigation Memo), President Trump is deleting decades of learning and scientific advancements in how we balance conservation with responsible development. And in true Trump form, he is replacing it with nothing. Well, nothing but uncertainty, regulatory confusion and inefficiency for both development interests and conservation.

The 2015 Mitigation Memo provided a much needed framework for modernizing sometimes disparate requirements across federal agencies with the ultimate goal of ensuring that our trust resources are preserved for future generations. It directed federal agencies to coordinate and improve consistency, thereby increasing certainty across permit requirements and conservation opportunities. The 2015 Mitigation Memo also encouraged early public and private investment in restoration activities and recognized the widely accepted mitigation hierarchy—prioritizing avoidance and minimization of development impacts and durable compensation for those impacts that remained. 

Conservation science has changed dramatically over the last three decades, with significant new information on habitat loss and other impacts to species. Application of mitigation requirements, understanding the effectiveness of those actions and the legal and policy context has also changed during this time. We now have a suite of strategies to ensure that mitigation requirements are strategically applied for the greatest conservation benefit, while also providing greater certainty and efficiency for wildlife permitting. And the 2015 Mitigation Memo recognized these lessons learned.

President Trump clearly prefers to ignore accepted science and wants to take us back to arbitrary project-by-project permitting and the inefficient, unclear and uncoordinated mitigation requirements that go along with it. This would leave huge opportunities for strategic conservation investments on the table and fail to capitalize on mitigation dollars that must be spent either way. Our work is cut out for us to ensure that agencies, developers and stakeholders continue to value and implement effective conservation investments.