A practical solution for the conservation of Montana’s wetlands and streams
Montana Freshwater Partners’ In-Lieu Fee Program (ILF) provides compensatory mitigation for unavoidable impacts to Montana wetlands and streams. Through the collection of mitigation fees, we provide a simple, practical solution that helps fund and implement restoration work in concert with more traditional conservation funding.
Balancing healthy economies and healthy landscapes
Development and infrastructure work sometimes sits at odds with the natural world. New roads might cut through wetlands. Replacing an old bridge often requires stream bank stabilization. Such projects provide an economic boost for communities, create vital housing, and enhance our ability to travel, move goods, and connect with one another across the miles — but they can also create negative impacts for wetlands and streams. Across the country, our shared long-term vision is no net loss of our wetland and stream resources. To achieve this end, the Clean Water Act and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers mandates that permittees must replace the stream and wetland functions that are lost or impacted by development.
That’s where Montana Freshwater Partners comes in. We are Montana’s only state-wide In-Lieu Fee wetland and stream mitigation provider, which means we offset stream and wetland impacts by restoring habitat in exchange for a mitigation fee. This lets the permittee address their permit requirements without delay in breaking ground, and enables Montana Freshwater Partners to take care of vital restoration at a local level.
We work closely with the Army Corps of Engineers, other state and federal resource agencies, landowners, and partner organizations to identify and implement high-quality restoration projects in the same watershed where the impact occurred. By pooling mitigation fees from multiple permittees, we can take on ambitious projects and leave the watershed better than we found it.
We recognize that successful conservation work must account for and work with economic realities. The ILF program does just that, creating a simple, practical solution that balances unavoidable impacts with essential restoration. It embraces a pragmatic philosophy, aligning with Montana values of doing what needs to be done and caring for the land we all love.
Montana Freshwater Partners raises the bar for wetland and stream mitigation in Montana
We identify ILF projects using a watershed approach by working with local partners to prioritize areas that have an outsize ecological value.
We also utilize scale efficiencies, combining funds from individual, smaller impacts within a given watershed to tackle larger restoration projects.
Montana Freshwater Partners doesn’t stop by meeting minimum requirements — we go above and beyond to create the maximum ecological benefit. Our mitigation work is completed quickly, so as to minimize temporal loss of ecological functions.
Who provides oversight for Montana Freshwater Partners ILF projects?
All of our projects must be approved by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), as well as an Interagency Review Team (IRT). The IRT is comprised of members from the USACE, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), Montana Fish Wildlife and Parks (MTFWP), and Montana Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ). Wetland credit debits and credit offset calculations follow the protocols outlined in the 2005 Montana Compensatory Mitigation Regulatory Guidance Letter and the 2008 Montana Department of Transportation Wetland Functional Assessment Method, while stream credit debits and credit offsets are calculated using the 2013 Montana Stream Mitigation Procedure.
How are wetland and stream credits calculated?
In mitigation terms, wetland and stream credits fall into two groups:
- Credit Debits are often associated with the stream or wetland losses at the permittee’s impact site; credit debits increase as the size of the impact increases.
- Credit Offsets are associated with the ecological stream or wetland gains at the mitigation site, which are determined by both the scope and scale of the restoration project. Credit offsets generated at the mitigation site are used to offset the credit debits resulting from permitted impacts.
Landowner and Partner Organizations
What are the benefits of having an ILF mitigation project on my property?
Montana Freshwater Partners works closely with our landowner partners to design a project and compensation package that creates as many benefits as possible. Here are a few of the program benefits:
- Direct landowner payment and/or tax benefits
- No landowner contribution/cost-share required
- Landowner gets a funded wetland/stream restoration project (typically a $40,000+ value) at no cost
- Direct payment for property infrastructure that helps support the restored site like fencing, weed control, stock water wells/tanks, water gaps, access roads, seeding, etc.
- Resource benefits like improved water quality/quantity, reduced erosion, restored/improved wildlife habitat, native vegetation plantings and seeding from the restoration project
- Project funding could potentially be used to leverage funds from other programs to bring additional benefits to landowner
- No public access required and the landowner can continue to enjoy and use the restoration site. Often site protection requirements are no more restrictive than Farm Bill programs that are already in place and managed grazing can continue
- Montana Freshwater Partners will take care of all the paperwork/agency coordination for the project
What type of agreements need to be in place for the project to occur?
Because Montana Freshwater Partners is mitigating for permanent wetland impacts, we are obligated to ensure permanent site protection for the projects we invest in. This usually takes the form of a deed restriction or a conservation easement, depending on landowner preference. We can work with landowners to determine which option is the best for their property.
How do I know how many credits I need to purchase?
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers District Office in Helena will determine how many credits you will need to purchase to mitigate the impacts associated with your project’s Section 404 permit. See the wetland and stream credit debit description above, under “How are Stream and Wetland Credits Calculated?” FAQ.
How are credit prices determined?
Montana Freshwater Partners must base its mitigation fees for ILF projects on the actual costs of restoring, enhancing, and protecting streams and wetlands including sufficient funds to monitor, manage, and protect project sites in perpetuity to ensure lost habitat functions from permitted projects are restored and preserved. Fees fund planning, design and construction, adaptive management, long-term monitoring, and site protection. A permittee’s purchase of mitigation credits from Montana Freshwater Partners permanently and legally transfers mitigation responsibilities to Montana Freshwater Partners and as a result we assume the legal obligation and liability to deliver the mitigation credit to offset the permitted impacts. Our credit prices reflect the cost of fulfilling that legal obligation.
How much will it cost to purchase stream or wetland credits from MARS?
Please contact Montana Freshwater Partners at firstname.lastname@example.org for our current credit prices in your service area location. You can also call us directly at (406) 579-2355.