This task report: (1) outlines different approaches that have been used by BPA and other organizations to acquire and preserve habitat, (2) examines the attributes of these approaches, and (3) proposes areas for future analysis. Section 2 of this report begins with a short review of BPA’s wildlife habitat mitigation program. Section 3 gives short descriptions of the alternative methods that can be used to acquire and protect habitat and describes the criteria that should be used to evaluate the cost-effectiveness of the alternative methods. Section 4 provides several examples of how these methods are used in practice.
The two methods of habitat preservation that we address in the most detail are fee simple acquisition and conservation easements. We conclude that:
- Where the landowner offers the choice, one can often attain the same objective through either purchase or easement — both tools can be very useful.
- There is no one method of habitat acquisition that is best in all cases, so each proposal for habitat preservation needs to be examined in terms of the specifics of the proposal. The ecological and economic consequences are specific to the parcel and context.
- Fee simple purchase is often the most expensive in terms of up front purchase price since all the rights to the property are being acquired, but it generally provides the greatest long-run certainty of habitat protection.
- The cost of acquiring a conservation easement will approach the cost of fee simple acquisition as more rights to the land are acquired. Where habitat goals require that the primary land use rights not be exercised, for example, development rights in the case of urban land, timber rights in the case of forested land, and water rights in the case of irrigated land; fee simple acquisition is likely to be cost-effective.
- Changes that affect a small share of the acreage, for example, protecting a riparian corridor or a unique habitat parcel on a large parcel of land; or changes in land use practices that are not very expensive for the landowner may be accomplished cost-effectively using a conservation easement.
- Transactions costs can be much higher for conservation easements than purchases because the contract terms are often quite complex.
- Transactions costs per acre on small parcels can be substantial.
- Both fee simple acquisitions and conservation easements involve future land management costs that should be considered in habitat acquisition decisions.
- Conservation easements add uncertainties about compliance with the terms of the conservation easement by subsequent landowners and enforcement of the easement provisions. Enforcement by a third-party can be incorporated into the terms of a conservation easement.
- Conservation easements and fee-simple land held by a land trust or other entity relieve the agency of the obligation to manage the land, but they expose the agency to financial and management problems that the land trust may encounter.
- Purchase may be a first step in a process. Purchased land may be re-sold subject to a conservation easement. In some cases the land may be divided, and an existing house or developable land sold. The important habitat land can be retained or sold subject to an easement.
- Local community acceptability may be an important consideration in the choice between fee simple acquisition and conservation easements, especially in rural areas.
We reached several conclusions of a more general nature:
- BPA has made good use of settlement agreements in its wildlife mitigation program. In this way, BPA has provided money to the states and tribes, who then assume the tasks of acquiring and protecting habitat, relieving BPA of those obligations.
- A number of other methods of habitat acquisition and protection have not been widely used in the Northwest (at least not used as part of BPA’s habitat acquisition program). We conclude that these other alternatives deserve a closer look, and that with partnering and coordination these methods could play a useful part in habitat protection in the region.
- The choices among the alternative methods of habitat acquisition, and the procedures for implementing options such as conservation easements are complex. The Council should continue to develop its expertise and to make use of existing expertise in the region to help address these complexities.
- Although BPA has not yet defined habitat units for salmon, the principles in this paper can be generally applied to acquisitions of fish habitat, whether through acquisition of water rights or riparian land.
This report represents our "scoping investigation." That is, it is an initial exploration of the topic, which can serve as the foundation for a more detailed examination of habitat protection alternatives. If we are directed by the Council to proceed with a follow-on project, this should include several case studies illustrating the alternative methods for preserving habitat parcels and the application of evaluation criteria. In addition, when habitat acquisition proposals come before the Council, the IEAB is prepared to assist the Council in the application of the principles and criteria described in this paper. Finally we recommend additional analysis of historical acquisition costs for cost benchmarking and cost-effectiveness analysis.