Florida’s population continues to grow, now more than 21 million people strong and projected to keep climbing. Along with that growth comes the inevitable need to expand highways and other transportation links, build more homes, and create new shopping centers to offer the goods and services our residents need.
That development can also bring unavoidable impacts to our precious natural resources. Fortunately for Floridians, we have a system in place to responsibly restore and preserve wetlands, streams, and wildlife habitat affected by our state’s growth and development.
“Mitigation banking” may be an unfamiliar term for most people, but in fact, it is a successful approach that supports the delicate balance of economic development and environmental conservation from the Panhandle to the Everglades.
No matter where you live in the state, you are very likely within driving distance of a beautiful parcel of natural Florida landscape that is being restored and managed as a mitigation “bank.”
This system uses a market-based approach that involves an exchange of credits.
Mitigation bankers (typically private entrepreneurs and landowners) work closely with federal and state agencies to restore vulnerable acreage and earn credits for their positive environmental impacts.
Those credits can then be purchased by developers, transportation agencies, homeowners and others who are seeking permits for a development project and need to offset impacts to the environment.
Across Florida today, there are more than a hundred permitted mitigation bank projects underway, representing over 190,000 acres of conservation land. These projects reflect the great diversity of Florida’s natural wonders, restoring freshwater ecosystems and saltwater coastal wetlands, protecting the basins of iconic waterways from the Escambia to the Estero Bay, and preserving natural habitats of the wood stork, Florida black bear and Florida panther.
Our state’s mitigation banking system encompasses an astonishing array of different private and public entities, all working together to ensure that we can have robust economic development while still safeguarding the fragile natural resources that are the essence of Florida.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Florida Department of Environmental Protection and local/regional water management districts play a critical role in monitoring and working closely with mitigation bank sponsors. Entities as diverse as the National Audubon Society and Florida Power & Light are involved in owning or managing mitigation bank projects.
Simply put, Florida’s mitigation banking system is a successful private solution to a public problem. The use of credits reduces or eliminates the loss of wetlands because the mitigation is performed in advance of adverse development impacts. This system also speeds up economic development while improving water, air and habitat quality for local wildlife. This approach streamlines project permitting while providing meaningful restoration projects enhancing Florida’s landscape.
The group I represent, the Florida Association of Mitigation Bankers, is made up of landowners and private entrepreneurs with a passion for preserving our state’s economic vitality as well as our environment. We believe that as our trajectory of growth continues upward, it’s important for Floridians to understand this behind-the-scenes story of how stakeholders of all kinds are working together responsibly for economic growth and environmental protection.
If we all take a moment to think about what makes Florida special, chances are the image in our minds will have something to do with the natural resources of our state: the flight of a great blue heron, our sparkling beaches and bays, clear crystal springs, alligators basking on a sunny riverbank. These are the pieces of Florida we must protect for future generations, and mitigation banking will continue to play a quiet but powerful role in preserving these treasures.
Kae Hovater is president of the Florida Association of Mitigation Bankers.