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New initiative helps state conservation

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By GINA HANCOCK
The Nature Conservancy
Last week, U.S. Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell gave an important speech about her vision and priorities for the Department of the Interior.

In it, she mentioned a key item for conservation in our nation and in Tennessee going forward.

She announced a secretarial order that will help balance economic development with the protection of natural resources.

Simply put, when development or resource extraction impacts public lands, the order calls for the Department of the Interior to mitigate those impacts through conservation and restoration.

This may sound like bureaucratic government-speak, but it actually is an important step.

The Nature Conservancy in Tennessee strongly supports landscape-scale mitigation (that is, across thousands of acres) and applauds Secretary Jewell’s leadership in this area.

Firsthand experience in Tennessee has taught us that mitigation works.
“Mitigation” is not mysterious.

It simply means taking reasonable steps to avoid harm to our natural resources, reducing that harm as much as possible if it can’t be avoided and compensating for any harm that remains.

Mitigation is a conservation tactic that has been successfully used for decades.

As our economy recovers and as new sources of energy are found, we are experiencing increased development in this country, including on public lands such as state and national parks.

The secretarial order strikes a balance between needed development and protecting the resources and natural wonders that sustain us.

In addition, the secretarial order calls for ensuring consistency and efficiency in the review and permitting of  infrastructure development projects so that the process is fair and predictable.

Mitigation is a practical and effective way of reconciling our country’s economic and environmental goals and of achieving the conservation of important natural resources at a large scale.

Since 1997, The Nature Conservancy has operated a highly successful wetland and stream mitigation bank in Johnson County.

Mitigation banks are restoration lands that serve to offset the alteration of wetlands and streams during development and construction projects.

When a road construction or development project damages a wetland, by law that damage must be compensated for.

Many developers have found that purchasing credits from our Shady Valley wetland sites satisfy their legal duty while supporting the restoration of scenic mountain wetlands that are important for people, animals and plants.

Our nation’s population and our economy are both growing. We need economic and energy development to support that growth.

But we also need to protect our natural resources to maintain our quality of life and ensure that our children and grandchildren will enjoy the health, prosperity and beauty we experience today.

Economic development and land conservation are not “either/or” choices.

We can and need to do both.

Increasing the use of mitigation is not a boring, bureaucratic detail.

It is an important way to accommodate our growing energy, transportation and water needs while protecting the precious natural resources that we all depend on.

Proper and consistent use of mitigation can help.

Secretary Jewell’s announcement is a strong step in the right direction.

Gina Hancock is the State Director of The Nature Conservancy and has been a part of the organization since 2000.