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RESEARCH NEWS: California enacts law to strengthen conservation bank program

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Janet L. White

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California Agriculture 67(2):85-85. DOI: 10.3733/ca.v067n02p85a. April-June 2013.

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California's landmark conservation banking program, launched by executive order in 1995, was the first of its kind nationwide — but until now was never part of statutory law.

Now this 18-year-old program is backed by new legislation (SB 1148), effective in January.

Although a bellwether program that led to establishment of 29 banks, the executive order lacked clear regulatory standards or procedures, says David Bunn, researcher for the Wildlife Health Center at UC Davis. Bunn authors an article in this issue ( page 86 ) reporting findings from the first assessment of the program.

“The lack of statutory standards reduced the program's usefulness and caused negotiations over potential new banks to drag on for 5 or more years,” he added.

New bank approvals have dropped in recent years; most of the state's conservation banks were approved before 2006, and none have been approved since 2009.

“The economic recession also contributed to the dwindling use of the program,” said Bunn. “These banks achieve conservation goals by providing credits to developers who need to mitigate environmental impacts of development. There was much less demand for credits after the dropoff in construction statewide — so less market incentive to establish them.”

Now Senate Bill 1148 has created a clear regulatory framework for the program that could become a model for other states, according to Bunn.

Bunn's study finds that three key actions are needed to address the many difficult challenges of conservation banking in the state: 1) enacting standards in statutes for critical program components such as prioritizing potential bank sites, 2) adding experienced program-dedicated staff to implement the program and 3) establishing a regional approach to planning and monitoring.

“The passage of SB 1148 is a good first step to addressing some of the major program challenges identified in our research, and the new authorizations for fees make it possible to fund additional dedicated staff for the program,” said Bunn, lead investigator of the research. “The bill adds clarity to application procedures. However, further legislation is needed to establish standards for prioritizing potential conservation bank sites within a region.”

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