The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service), announced revisions to their Mitigation Policy, which has guided Service recommendations on mitigating the adverse impacts of land and water developments on fish, wildlife, plants, and their habitats since 1981. The revisions are motivated by changes in conservation challenges and practices since 1981, including accelerating loss of habitats, effects of climate change, and advances in conservation science.

The revised Policy provides a framework for applying a landscape-scale approach to achieve, through application of the mitigation hierarchy, a net gain in conservation outcomes, or at a minimum, no net loss of resources and their values, services, and functions resulting from proposed actions. The primary intent of the Policy is to apply mitigation in a strategic manner that ensures an effective linkage with conservation strategies at appropriate landscape scales.

Mitigation Defined

In the context of impacts to environmental resources (including their values, services, and functions) resulting from proposed actions, “mitigation” is a general label for measures that a proponent takes to avoid, minimize, and compensate for such impacts. The 1981 Policy adopted the definition of mitigation in the Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) regulations (40 CFR 1508.20). The CEQ mitigation definition remains unchanged since codification in 1978 and states that “Mitigation includes:

— Avoiding the impact altogether by not taking a certain action or parts of an action;
— minimizing impacts by limiting the degree or magnitude of the action and its implementation;
— rectifying the impact by repairing, rehabilitating, or restoring the affected environment;
— reducing or eliminating the impact over time by preservation and maintenance operations during the life of the action; and
— compensating for the impact by replacing or providing substitute resources or environments.”

This definition is adopted in this Policy, and the use of its components in various contexts is clarified. In 600 DM 6, the Department of the Interior states that mitigation, as enumerated by CEQ, is compatible with Departmental policy; however, as a practical matter, the mitigation elements are categorized into three general types that form a sequence: Avoidance, minimization, and compensatory mitigation for remaining unavoidable (also known as residual) impacts.

The 1981 Policy further stated that the Service considers the sequence of the CEQ mitigation definition elements to represent the desirable sequence of steps in the mitigation planning process. The Service generally affirms this hierarchical approach in this Policy. We advocate first avoiding and then minimizing impacts that critically impair our ability to achieve conservation objectives for affected resources.

We also provide guidance that recognizes how action- and resource-specific circumstances may warrant departures from the preferred mitigation sequence; for example, when impacts to a species may occur at a location that is not critical to achieving the conservation objectives for that species, or when current conditions are likely to change substantially due to the effects of a changing climate. In such Start Printed Page 83442circumstances, relying more on compensating for the impacts at another location may more effectively serve the conservation objectives for the affected resources. This Policy provides a logical framework for the Service to consistently make such choices.

Read the complete Federal Register Notice at:

John Stewart
Resources Consultant, California Four Wheel Drive Association
Board of Directors, BlueRibbon Coalition