Wetland offsets:  Emerging policy and future practice

Douglas Macfarlane

With increasing pressures of development, impacts to wetland systems continue to accumulate despite our best efforts to promote the conservation of these important resources.  The reality is that despite our best efforts, social, economic and political pressures will result in a growing pressure on water resources, including wetlands.  So, what stance should we as conservationists take to developments that will have an adverse negative impact on wetland systems?  Are we ready to address these challenges and how can we make the best of a less than desirable situation?
In response to these challenges, SANBI commissioned a project to develop guidelines for wetland offsets, for particular application in the coal mining sector.  The intention was to design a system that if applied would result in no-net-loss of wetlands and associated ecosystem goods and services.  The result, is a draft guideline that is currently being tested and refined but that provides a useful framework for wetland offset negotiations. The guideline covers aspects such as:

  • Wetland offset policy goals – what should we be aiming to achieve?
  • How to  quantifying residual impacts to wetlands as a result of development;
  • Wetland offsets ratios – how much is enough to achieve ‘no-net-loss’?
  •  Site selection guidelines – what criteria should be considered when selecting an offset site?
  • Requirements to ensure that success is achieved – designing a monitoring and evaluation plan.

While this guideline provides a useful framework, I believe that we need to move beyond a site-specific approach and be pro-active in using these tools to not only address current development challenges but to address those that can be anticipated over the next 10 – 20 years.  Surely we should be prioritizing wetlands at a regional level and finding mechanisms to secure their rehabilitation, conservation and protection? Wetland (and habitat) banking provides such an opportunity and is being increasingly applied around the globe.  Lets challenge ourselves to pilot this approach and see if we can find ways for development to pro-actively fund worthwhile conservation efforts.

Presentation Topic

Wetland offsets:  Emerging policy and future practice


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