Public and Private Partners “Bank” on Northern Colorado’s Fragile Ecosystem

The Preble’s meadow jumping mouse is so rare that photography of it is difficult to come by. Credit: Craig Hansen, U.S. Fish

Conservation Investment Management, Colorado Open Lands, and the Colorado State Land Board have announced the Table Top Conservation Bank, a new partnership to leverage private funds to help an important species in decline. The partnership will conserve and enhance over two hundred acres of habitat on Colorado state trust land for the Federally Threatened Preble’s meadow jumping mouse in Larimer County. This is the first-ever commercial conservation bank in Colorado that will sell credits to offset negative impacts to Preble’s meadow jumping mouse habitat across a broad area.

“Colorado is known for its beautiful landscapes and diverse wildlife, and as Coloradans, we must do what is necessary to protect all species who call Colorado home,” said Marlon Reis, First Gentleman of Colorado. “The Preble’s meadow jumping mouse has inhabited Colorado since the Ice Ages, but its habitat has diminished as a result of modern human development. Thankfully, conservation banking is a win-win-win that boosts our economy, restores our land, and conserves important species or habitats. I am proud that today marks the first large-scale, commercial conservation bank in Colorado for a threatened species.”

The Preble’s meadow jumping mouse is a small rodent with a habitat existing only along the Front Range of Colorado and Wyoming. Biologists believe the species arrived in Colorado during the last Ice Age and remained after the glaciers receded. In the drier, post-glacial climate, the mouse was confined to moist, stream-side ecosystems with dense vegetation between 4,650 and 8,100 feet in elevation.

Over the last century, widespread habitat loss and development-driven fragmentation, water diversions, overgrazing, water pollution, and gravel and sand mining have resulted in a rapid decline of already rare Preble’s populations. The conservation bank, protected under a conservation easement in perpetuity, can be a reliable habitat for these mammals to help ensure the future of their species.

A conservation bank protects habitat for animals or plants listed under the Endangered Species Act.  In this case, Conservation Investment Management, which invests private capital in conservation, leased land from the Colorado State Land Board, made improvements to the habitat to benefit the species, secured the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s approval to create the conservation bank, and funded an endowment to manage the land in perpetuity. Going forward, the Colorado State Land Board will manage the long-term stewardship of the site and Colorado Open Lands (COL) will engage in on-the-ground monitoring to ensure the site’s conservation values are maintained. The conservation bank’s credits will be sold to third parties that are developing projects in northern Colorado and are required to offset adverse impacts to the species’ habitat.

“Because of its larger scale, this conservation bank will be much more effective in protecting this Threatened Species. Instead of various developers setting aside relatively small areas of habitat in a scattered approach, we will be able to concentrate our efforts and resources in one location which will give these guys a much better chance for long-term survival,” said COL President Tony Caligiuri.

“Table Top is an excellent example of how conservation investments of private capital can generate competitive returns for investors as well as positive environmental impacts,” said Ben Guillon, CEO of Conservation Investment Management (CIM). “We look forward to replicating this successful model and further innovating to benefit ecosystems throughout the West.”

The conservation easement for 222 acres is located on Colorado state trust land. The State Land Board owns 2.8 million acres of state trust land that is held in trust for the benefit of public schools. The State Land Board leases state trust lands for assorted purposes — agriculture, renewable energy, mineral extraction, recreation, etc. — to earn money for public schools. This is the first conservation bank on state trust land in the agency’s 145-year history. Leasing for ecosystem services is a new business type for the agency and it includes conservation banking, wetland and stream mitigation banks, voluntary pollinator path program payments, and more.

The conservation bank was approved on August 10, 2021, by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services and the first conservation bank credits are expected to be sold shortly.  CIM looks forward to advancing more species conservation in the future as they continue to utilize this tool — conservation banks — to benefit various important animal and plant species.

The creation of a conservation bank is a beneficial relationship for all parties involved.  Coloradans benefit from leveraging outside private funding for permanent land conservation outcomes. The private entity can earn a profit by selling the credits. The credit purchaser can proceed with its development while satisfying federal protection mandates. And perhaps the biggest beneficiary of all, in this case, is the Preble’s meadow jumping mouse, which will be able to continue to contribute to the overall biodiversity of these sensitive ecosystems.

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