LEONA VALLEY, Calif. – Federal, state and local officials celebrated the grand opening Oct. 7 of the Petersen Ranch Mitigation Bank, an effort that will eventually restore about 4000 acres of native wetland habitat along the San Andreas Fault rift zone in the Leona Valley north of Los Angeles.
A mitigation bank is an aquatic resource habitat restoration and protection project developed to offset unavoidable permitted impacts to federal and state jurisdictional wetland and non-wetland habitat. Public and private development projects can mitigate their impacts by purchasing mitigation credits from the bank.
In the past, developers were responsible for their own mitigation and the complex, comprehensive process was a tough one for them.
"They're not experts in habitat restoration and they typically only had to come up with a small amount of mitigation, so we had postage stamp-sized mitigation efforts all over the landscape," said David Castanon, chief of the Regulatory Division, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Los Angeles District. "The risk of failure was high."
Mitigation banking established a more efficient process. In the case of Petersen Ranch, an inter-agency review team comprised of the Corps, California Department of Fish and Wildlife, Lahontan Regional Water Quality Control Board and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency worked with the mitigation bank sponsor Land Veritas, a conservation real estate company, in the planning, design and approval of the mitigation bank.
"We have a very good plan that all of the agencies are happy with, have assurances of long-term term protection, and have endowments to assure long-term management," said Castanon. "So, essentially, we have a much higher level of assurance that this restoration is going to be successful and is going to be successful for the long haul."
California Department of Fish and Wildlife's South Coast regional manager, Ed Pert, said typical agency property acquisitions for conservation purposes end up being multi-use projects with a shared focus on recreation.
"We all like to go hike and ride our bikes and things, but it often compromises the wildlife value of those areas," said Pert. "Mitigation banks are very different from other ways that we get conservation for wildlife, and it's a superior way to do it."
The Lahontan Board is a California state agency responsible for the preservation and enhancement of the quality of California’s water resources in eastern California and is concerned with population growth and increasing temperatures, according to Board Chair Dr. Amy Horne.
"Restoring wetlands has become a very high priority for the Lahontan Water Board," said Holmes. "They are essential for protecting the water quality and the water supply within our region."
Originally a continuous wetland, Petersen Ranch was converted to recreation and ranching purposes by publishing magnate (Hot Rod, Motor Trend, Guns & Ammo, among others) Robert Petersen. Petersen had created a number of large ponds within the large wetland riparian area to provide duck hunting opportunities that altered the natural hydrology.
"It's fabulous to be restoring these wetlands," said Holmes. "It will be a great benefit for many generations to come."
Petersen Ranch is the largest mitigation bank in California, with a service area of nearly four million acres covering Los Angeles, Kern, Ventura and San Bernardino counties.