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Mitigation: Now thinking on a Landscape Scale

By Brenda Barrett October 20, 2015
Pennsylvania Landscape Credit: PA DCNR

Pennsylvania Landscape
Credit: PA DCNR

In the world of both nature conservation and historic preservation mitigation has become a hot concept. This is the idea – if a proposed project might have an adverse impact on natural or cultural resources then a series of options should be considered. The first and foremost is always to avoid impacts on a significant resource. The second, if not all impact can be avoided, is to work to minimize such impacts. Finally, if resources will be effected and these impacts cannot be avoided then they should be offset by some kind of ‘compensatory mitigation”. This sometimes can be accomplished by taking special measures at the site of the actual impact. However, increasingly mitigation is being structured in a more complex ways including off-site mitigation in another location or mitigation banks in-lieu of onsite mitigation. A growing trend is to fund regional remediation and/or land conservation using these mitigation strategies.

While on site and even off site mitigation is not new, today it is the scale of the projects being considered that is different.  A vast web of energy projects – pipelines, transmission corridors, wind farms and solar arrays – is being planned to criss-cross the country. For conservation and preservation interests there is general agreement that mitigation for these projects needs to be addressed at the landscape level. However, this brings a host of new challenges.

A recent gathering of the Chesapeake Conservation Partnership highlighted some of them.

  • Do we even know what is important? Documenting what resources will be impacted is essential. Big data mapping such as Landscope Chesapeake  has been making rapid progress, but it also has shown some glaring holes in our information gathering. Without good information, it is hard to make a case for protection or mitigation and it is difficult to set priorities.
  • What about cultural landscapes? All the partners agreed that although many historic landmarks and districts have been identified, remarkably little is known about rural and cultural landscapes. These resources are also intertwined with the concept of scenery, which is not even addressed in most land planning and mapping programs. Finally, in a densely and long populated region like the Chesapeake Watershed, there are real questions of who gets to decide what is cultural significant.
  • How can we assign a value for mitigation purposes? New methodologies will need to be developed to assess both monetary or comparable resource values of impacted areas. For example can the impact a natural resource like a wetland in one place be mitigated by the protection of another property with similar characteristics? This concept is still being tested for nature conservation and has hardly ever been applied to historic, cultural or scenic resources.
  • How could such a program be administered on a landscape basis? Trying to answer this question is one of the goals of the Chesapeake Conservation Partnership  A regional coalition of over 50 diverse organizations engaged in land conservation and related initiatives in the Chesapeake watershed. The partnership has the right players at the table federal and state agencies, local governments, Native American Tribes, and non-profit organizations to start tackling issues of documentation, setting priorities, and ensuring cultural resources get a fair shake. In addition the partnership can speak from a common perspective on what resources need to be conserved and how to expand the financial wherewithal to do so.

This work is still in its early days although the partnership recognizes that they are playing catch up with so many infrastructure projects on the drawing board. But one thing is clear, without a landscape scale perspective, it could not even be imagined.

Many thanks to Chris Miller, President of the Piedmont Environmental Council, Jonathan Doherty, Assistant Superintendent at NPS Chesapeake Bay, Kate Baker, Chesapeake Conservation Partnership Coordinator, Russ Baxter, Virginia Deputy Secretary of Natural Resources, Nikki Rovner, Virginia Associate State Director at The Nature Conservancy, and Joel Dunn, President & CEO of the Chesapeake Conservancy, their hard work  provided much of the backbone of this article.

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