Wetland conservation is a big part of what we do. During the summer you’ll often find us not far from a pair of muddy XtraTufs and our bags packed and ready to go into the field.
Wetlands are critical to communities, as they provide many important functions including filtering water, storm water retention, and providing important fish and wildlife habitat. Without wetlands, local government would have to spend huge amounts of time and money to replace the functions that wetlands offer free of charge.
Background on Wetland Mitigation
In 1972, Congress passed the Clean Water Act to “… restore and maintain the chemical, physical, and biological integrity of the Nation’s waters” (Section 101). Section 404 of the Act established a program to regulate the discharge of dredged or fill material into the Nation’s waterways, including wetlands. Impacts to wetlands that cannot be avoided or minimized are federally required to be offset by preservation or restoration of wetlands elsewhere. This process, called compensatory mitigation, comes into play in a number of situations, including housing development, water resource projects, infrastructure development, and mining.
Great Land Trust’s Role in Compensatory Mitigation
When development projects result in the destruction of wetlands, a developer is federally required to offset that loss. One option to do this is by paying a fee to an organization like GLT, which in turn uses that fee to permanently conserve wetlands elsewhere in the area. In 1998, GLT signed an agreement with the Alaska District of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) to establish a compensatory mitigation in-lieu fee program. This program allows GLT to receive these payments, sometimes called “in-lieu” fees, and then use those fees to directly purchase ecologically-valuable wetlands within the Municipality of Anchorage and the Mat-Su Borough for conservation. GLT plays no role in the Corps’ decision to approve or deny a development permit, or in decisions regarding the type of mitigation necessary.
In 2011, Great Land Trust updated its agreement with the Corps as required by the Corps’ 2008 Mitigation Rule.
Great Land Trust’s Unique and Effective Approach to Compensatory Mitigation
Great Land Trust plays a critical role in wetland conservation in Alaska. We go to great lengths to identify, prioritize, and conserve the most important wetlands in Southcentral, Alaska – wetlands that will have lasting impact on our community because they are critical for salmon habitat, clean water and retention of potential flood waters. To do this we gather data including wetland type and function, fish and wildlife habitat, land status, and threat of conversion and then map priority areas for conservation. Great Land Trust leverages the fees we collect for wetland mitigation with other conservation dollars to conserve the largest and most important wetlands possible. Using this strategy, Great Land Trust has made landscape-scale wetland conservation successes that benefit people and communities forever.
Once GLT has identified a parcel using the methods described above, it works with the Corps to evaluate whether it is the right fit for the compensatory mitigation program. The Corps enlists the assistance of its Interagency Review Team (IRT), a group of agency experts assembled by the Corps to evaluate compensatory mitigation projects. The IRT gives feedback to GLT and provides the Corps with expert opinion as part of its decision-making. This process also involves a public notice aspect, so that the public has an opportunity to comment on GLT’s use of a parcel for compensatory mitigation. If a parcel is approved by the Corps for use as part of its compensatory mitigation program, GLT often works with partner agencies to ensure the most appropriate long-term conservation mechanism for the parcel. Projects must also be approved by the GLT Board of Directors.
Properties Conserved through Program
GLT has had many success stories since implementing its wetland mitigation program in 1998. GLT’s program has resulted in over $3 million spent on wetland conservation and restoration projects in the Municipality of Anchorage and the Mat-Su Borough. Some community examples of important wetlands GLT has conserved are:
- Twelve acres of wetlands around a midtown-Anchorage homestead.
- Thirty acres along Fish Creek Estuary, which is located along the Anchorage Coastal Trail near Westchester Lagoon.
- A 40-acre wetland complex and city park in South Anchorage, which provides important wildlife habitat and an outdoor classroom for a nearby elementary school.
- A greenbelt along Little Campbell Creek that resulted in the protection of salmon habitat and wetland function, and added permanently protected open space to the municipal park system.
- The 60-acre Campbell Creek Estuary, now a municipal natural area with trails and scenic overlooks.
- Over 5,000 acres of the Knik River Islands at the confluence of the Knik and Matanuska Rivers providing unparalleled habitat conservation and landscape scale habitat connectivity between Chugach State Park and Palmer Hay Flats State Game Refuge.
- 8 miles of the Eklutna River Estuary coastline, totaling 1,355 acres along Knik Arm. This project also conserved the educational fish camp and hundreds of acres surrounding the Native Village of Eklutna.
- 1,000 acres of the Wasilla Creek wetlands adjacent to Machetanz Elementary School in the Mat-Su Valley, now part of the Palmer Hay Flats State Game Refuge.
Other Services GLT Provides
GLT also provides other important services related to wetland conservation. Because of its expertise, other organizations have requested that GLT hold their long-term management funds related to protecting wetland properties. GLT also routinely holds conservation easements on mitigation bank properties, thereby facilitating the conservation of additional wetlands acres. GLT frequently helps landowners, including Native Corporations, evaluate their lands from an ecological perspective, using the prioritization methods discussed above. GLT staff provide expert advice on complex topics such as conservation easements, mitigation banking, compensatory mitigation, and establishing appropriate funds critical to wetland protection.
Need More Information?
To learn more about GLT’s compensatory mitigation program or to get a quote for in-lieu fee services, please email Dave Mitchell at firstname.lastname@example.org.