Conservation Banking is a free market mitigation solution backed by over a decade of mitigation policy and regulated by the United States Fish & Wildlife Service (“USFWS”). Conservation banking allows development interests to purchase species credits which permanently protect endangered species and their habitat and permanently transfers the liability of incidental take from industry to the conservation banker using the tried and true benefits of the free market. Common Ground Capital works with private landowners to protect, restore and financially secure improved habitats for Threatened and Endangered species using a rigorous set of assurances required by the USFWS in exchange for authorized “credits” which can be sold to developers to effectively transfer liability under the Endangered Species Act.
Common Ground Capital
CGC was formed in the Spring of 2012 to improve the selection and reliability of landscape-scale conservation projects to mitigate impacts via permanently protecting and restoring habitat for the Lesser Prairie Chicken, American Burying Beetle and other species. Wayne Walker and his team of biologists, land men, and other partners have scoured the Southern Plains for the finest habitat and the most willing landowners across the five-state range of the LPC. Initially four project areas totaling 86,000 acres, spread across two ecosystems /service territories were signed up under letters of intent to determine the feasibility of each site as a landscape scale conservation bank. Currently, Common Ground has narrowed this down to the best two sites totaling 55,000 acres with one property serving the short grass prairie ecosystem and the other serving the mixed grass prairie ecosystems. Lesser Prairie Chicken are in great abundance on both of these family ranching enterprises and both locations are well suited to be anchor properties for landscape scale strongholds critical to preserve and restore the LPC to its range. The master programmatic conservation banking agreement was approved in May 2014 and approval of the two properties is expected this summer.
CGC gives landowners the ability to monetize an existing or newly created biological resource over time with a financial structure that is typically very competitive with conventional development arrangements. Landowners are paid at the time of a credit transaction, up front, versus over time. This allows landowners and CGC to make independent decisions about where to re-invest these funds in the next landscape scale project versus being dependent on annual payment programs that seek to only marginally compensate landowners for their wildlife resources over traditional income streams.
A key component of achieving permanent protection required to responsibly offset the impacts to endangered species comes through the conservation banker and private landowner partnering with a third party land trust who is responsible for holding the conservation easement. This is required by the USFWS conservation banking guidance. The conservation easement is accompanied by a by non-wasting endowment that is tied to the property in perpetuity for the long term management of the targeted species and separate endowment for the easement holder to monitor the terms of the conservation easement.