Are you a landowner who is curious how you can earn some income selling a conservation easement while at the same time making improvements to your property?
Wildlands Engineering is both an engineering firm and a mitigation banking firm. We work to identify sites where streams have been straightened or moved, wetlands have been ditched or drained, livestock are not fenced out, and nutrients from surrounding agriculture are entering the water supply due to insufficient buffers. We then work with the landowner to restore the natural habitat and preserve the project with a conservation easement. Landowners benefit by both financial gain as well as property improvements on their land. Not to mention the feeling that they have done the right thing to protect and improve downstream water quality.
Stream restoration uses "natural channel design" techniques to restore natural hydrologic, sediment transport, and habitat functions to a stream while accounting for the current condition of its watershed. This approach can be used to address a range of problems from stabilizing eroding stream banks to constructing new channels that restore a natural dimension, pattern, and profile to the stream system. Each project is designed to address the specific problems of that stream channel and its watershed while working within the constraints of the site.
Wetland restoration is the practice of restoring natural hydrologic and vegetation conditions to a wetland system. Restoring wetland hydrology generally focuses on decreasing drainage from the site and increasing surface water storage. These goals can be accomplished through a number of techniques such as removing drain tiles, filling drainage ditches, site grading, and raising associated stream bed elevations. Sites are planted with native plant species and are managed for the first seven years to "jump start" the desired community and remove unwanted invasive plants.
Quite simply, buffer restoration involves the planting of hardwood trees such as oak, chestnut, sycamore, river birch, and ash along a 50-foot buffer on one or both sides of a stream or wetland. The stream corridor must be stable and void of dense trees prior to buffer restoration.
A conservation easement is a legally enforceable land preservation agreement between a landowner and a municipality or land trust. The easement protects the land from specific future impacts such as development, commercial and industrial uses and certain other activities on a property to a mutually agreed upon covenant. The land within the easement remains the private property of the landowner and does not allow the general public to access the site. In conjunction with an EEP Full-Delivery Project, a conservation easement in favor of the State of North Carolina must be placed on the stream corridor, wetland, or buffer area to protect the mitigation work from such impacts as agriculture, cattle, or timber harvesting. This easement lasts in perpetuity. Wildlands Engineering employees will need to access the easement periodically for seven years to conduct monitoring surveys.
The Ecosystem Enhancement Program, or EEP, is a division of the North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources which provides mitigation credit to offset NC Department of Transportation impacts to streams and wetlands during highway projects such as road widening or highway bypass routes. The EEP also provides credits to land developers to offset impacts that occur as a result of residential and commercial developments.
When wetlands and streams are impacted by development such as roads or culverts, mitigation credit is required by means of wetland, stream, and riparian buffer restoration, enhancement, or preservation to offset the loss of habitat and natural water resources. This method of compensation maintains the nation's no-net-loss policy of wetlands while allowing necessary development to continue. To provide the necessary credits, the EEP's Full-Delivery program utilizes private companies such as Wildlands Engineering, Inc. to purchase conservation easements from private landowners and construct restoration projects on that land.
Once or twice a year, the EEP requests proposals from private companies such as Wildlands Engineeringfor mitigation sites in specific river basins across the state of North Carolina. The EEP evaluates current and planned impacts from the DOT and private developers and issues requests for proposals in specific targeted local watershed where the development or roadway projects are planned. Sites where streams have been straightened or moved, wetlands have been ditched or drained, livestock are not fenced out, or nutrients from surrounding agriculture are entering the water supply due to insufficient buffers are good places for restoration work to occur.
EEP Full-Delivery request for proposals come out once or more per year and have a fixed deadline for project submittals. After submittal, it takes three to six months for awards to be announced. After notification of an award, the survey and design phase takes about one year to complete and at that time the easement option is converted to a purchase. Construction is completed in the following year. Finally, the site is monitored for seven years to make sure that the stream, wetland, or buffer site is stable and healthy.
Wildlands Engineering is a fully licensed engineering firm specializing in Water Resources Management and Ecological Restoration with offices in North Carolina and Virginia. We are an experienced firm of biologists, ecologists, engineers, and real estate professionals. Unlike some of our competitors, we not only invest our own cash in EEP Full-Delivery Projects, but also perform all of the design and engineering work in-house. Wildlands Engineering has a solid relationship with the EEP as evidenced by the fact that we have been their top on-call design provider for the past two years and were the most successful recipient of awards in the 2009 and 2010 Full-Delivery rounds; winning over $17.7 million dollars in contracts!
We work with the landowner during the project proposal stage, coordinate site access during the survey phase, and have frequent meetings during the design phase to make sure any landowner concerns are being addressed. We will review the conservation easement language and location with you to make sure that future land use plans are not impeded. We work closely with the contractor and the landowner during the construction process and are attentive to any maintenance needs during the monitoring phase after the project is complete.
Wildlands Engineering staff will see the project through from the first stages to the last. This continuity and single line of communication means that the landowner always knows who to call for an update on the project.