Under the radar: offsetting cumulative, offsite, cryptic and secondary ecological impacts in intact landscapes

I spoke on the topic of offsets and how they are, and could be applied cumulative, offsite, cryptic and secondary ecological impacts in intact landscapes at the Ecological Society of Australia’s conference in Melbourne in December 2012.

My presentation formed part of the session on Environmental Management and Land Use along with those of Saul Cunningham, Hannah Pearson, Elizabeth Law, Kelly Hunt de Bie, Peter Curtis, and Keryn Paul. The session covered a wide range of topics on the interface of conservation science and management. The topics included biodiversity impacts of agriculture, modelling for improved land management, integrating ecosystem services into land-use planning, managing bush camps grounds, survival of native species under prescribed fire management regimes, biodiversity offsets for cumulative impacts, and carbon sequestration by environmental and mallee plantings.

I put forward the conceptual framework that I’ve designed together with my supervisors Richard Hobbs, Suzanne Prober and Hugh Possingham for my research. The abstract for my presentation follows:

Background/Question/Methods:

Surging worldwide interest in offsets holds the promise of addressing ongoing biodiversity decline caused by development projects. Offsets consist of conservation actions designed to compensate for deleterious impacts. While offsets are widely criticised, they are also an increasingly utilised, and therefore important, part of environmental conservation in the face of ongoing biodiversity decline.

We pose the question Can biodiversity offsets be used to allay the impacts of developments in relatively intact ecosystems? To answer this, we review the literature and present a framework for conceptualising impacts that generally pass under the radar of evaluations used to calculate environmental offsets, such as environmental impact assessments.

Results/Conclusions:

We present a set of case studies and examples that suggest that in order to achieve the purported goal of ‘no net loss’ in relatively intact systems, biodiversity offsets need to account for cumulative, offsite, cryptic, and secondary impacts to ecological values. Accounting for these impacts, however, is not straightforward: it may involve enhanced cumulative impact assessments that incorporate projected offsite, cryptic and secondary impacts; improved incorporation of precaution into decision-making processes; designating no-development zones; developing means for restricting human access to areas with development, environmental risk insurance, and strategically applying offsets to perform conservation actions that will most enhance the values of the region. Lastly, truly achieving positive environmental outcomes in relatively intact systems requires that offsets are used only within their rightful place in the ‘mitigation hierarchy’, with unacceptable impacts avoided, acceptable impacts minimised, and restoration planned, all before offsets are considered.

Award: 

I was awarded the Society for Conservation Biology Prize for a spoken paper on conservation, for this presentation. Thank you to the Society for Conservation Biology for sponsoring this prize.

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