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Wetland Offsetting Policy Evaluation

Ten criteria for evaluating offsetting policy strength

Tommy Thompson Park, Toronto © Neal Jennings CC BY-SA 2.0

Policy Evaluation Framework

Ontario Nature has developed a 10-point wetland offsetting policy evaluation framework to guide the development and review of wetland offsetting policies and improve the likelihood of successfully achieving wetland offsetting goals in practice.

The criteria are based on the following expert input and reflect significant agreement among the sources: 

  • The Business and Biodiversity Offset Programme’s (BBOP) Benchmark for Review of Policy Measures (ten Kate 2018);
  • Ontario Nature’s Navigating the Swamp: Lessons on wetland offsetting for Ontario (Poulton & Bell 2017); and
  • Recommendations from the Wetland Conservation Strategy Advisory Panel’s report to the Minister of Natural Resources and Forestry, Considerations for the Development of a Wetland Offsetting Policy for Ontario (Wetland Conservation Strategy Advisory Panel 2018).
Spotted turtle © Eugene Jankowski

Ten Criteria for Evaluating Wetland Offsetting Policies

  1. Policy Goal – The stated policy goal is to achieve a net gain, or at least no net loss, of wetland area and values.
  2. Scope of Policy Goal – The stated policy goal sets out a range of defined and relevant ecological, social, and cultural values to be considered when determining offset requirements.
  3. Indigenous Communities – The policy requires meaningful and respectful engagement with Indigenous communities on whose traditional territory the impacts and offsets will occur, in accordance with national, international and inherent Indigenous rights, including the right to Free, Prior and Informed Consent.
  4. Mitigation Sequence – Development proponents are required to adhere to the mitigation sequence, using offsetting only as a last resort to compensate for residual project impacts after all efforts have been made to avoid, minimize and mitigate those impacts. This includes an indication of the minimum effort required at each step in the sequence.
Tundra swans, Big Creek, Norfolk County
  1. Limits to Offsetting – The policy does not allow offsetting for all wetlands and clearly indicates which types of wetlands will not be considered or approved for offsetting. Provincially significant wetlands and other wetlands with high biodiversity values and/or extended establishment times will be off limits to offsetting.
  2. Site Selection – The policy provides a clear strategic process for selecting offset location based on proximity to impacts and physical and ecological conditions. The site selection process outlined optimizes the likelihood of achieving the full range of desired social and ecological outcomes within the landscape context.
  3. Timing and Duration – The policy sets strict deadlines for offset implementation to minimize the time lag between impacts occurring and provision of offset benefits. It requires offsets to be protected in perpetuity or at least as long as the duration of impacts.
Mer Bleue boardwalk © cjuneau CC BY 2.0

  1. Monitoring & Management – The policy outlines a protocol for monitoring wetland offsets over an ecologically relevant timeframe to determine the level of success. It provides management guidelines regarding how to address and correct any failures to achieve objectives, should they occur.
  2. Equivalence – Relevant metrics and methodologies for determining baseline conditions (at the site to be impacted and the proposed offset site) and measuring offset performance are provided as a basis for establishing and quantifying gains and losses.
  3. Transparency & Reporting – Wetland offset providers are required to publicly report on the status of offset design and implementation at each stage of the project.
Blanding's turtle © Ryan Wolfe

Significance of the Criteria

  • Provide a clear goal and encourage the consideration of the full range of impacts and wetland values to be addressed through wetland offsetting
  • Uphold and respect Indigenous rights, responsibilities and interests, representing a meaningful step towards reconciliation with Canada’s Indigenous peoples who have cared for the lands since time immemorial
  • Provide direction and limits on the appropriate times, places and methods of pursuing wetland offsetting, emphasizing a “protection first” approach and setting the table for offset projects that achieve a net gain (or at least no net loss) in wetland values
  • Provide direction on the appropriate methods of tracking and managing wetland offset performance to ensure the desired outcomes are achieved and offset providers are positioned to improve their practices based on lessons learned; and
  • Promote public transparency and engagement, thus increasing the likelihood of project compliance and adherence to best practices
Showy lady's slippers, Stewartville Swamp Nature Reserve © Alice Dabrowski

Intended Users

This framework provides a starting point for groups and individuals who are interested in commenting on a proposed or existing offsetting policy. It can also be used by authorities to guide their creation or review offsetting policies, with the aim of setting a high standard for wetland offsetting within their jurisdiction. Evaluating a policy or proposed policy using these ten criteria will indicate where improvements are needed to increase that likelihood of achieving net gain or no net loss of wetland benefits.

A policy may demonstrate a low, medium or high level of performance for each criterion. Check back soon to download the Expanded Wetland Offsetting Policy Evaluation Framework, which provides guidance on what the different levels of performance may look like.

Holland Marsh © Samantha Cava