Operational Framework for Use of Conservation Allowances: chapter 5

Determining Whether to Use Conservation Allowances

Conservation allowances are the last step of the mitigation hierarchy, a conceptual framework that, in its basic form, has three steps:

  • Avoid proposed impacts;
  • Minimize proposed impacts; and
  • Address any residual environmental effects that cannot be avoided or sufficiently minimized with the use of conservation allowances.

For each of these steps, all alternatives should be considered, with the "best practicable option(s)" being applied in each case. The best practicable option means the best method for preventing or minimizing the proposed adverse effects of a land- or resource-use activity on the environment having regard, among other things, to:

  • The nature of the proposed impact and the sensitivity of the receiving environment to adverse effects;
  • The financial implications, and the effects on the environment, of that option when compared with other options;
  • The current state of technical knowledge and the likelihood that the option can be successfully applied; and
  • The ability to successfully mitigate the effects, for example, by replacing the affected habitat with a new area performing similar ecological functions to those that were lost.

The options considered should include the possibility of not proceeding with the land- or resource-use activity.

Consideration of whether to use conservation allowances should be undertaken as early as possible for a planned land- or resource-use activity when it is apparent that there will be residual effects after all practicable avoidance and minimization measures have been adopted. The analysis of alternatives should be documented, and the level of effort devoted to the analysis should be commensurate with the risks associated with the proposed land- or resource-use activity.

Applying the mitigation hierarchy

  • Identify all potential adverse impacts - including direct, indirect and cumulative. Include not only physical impacts but also other effects on species, individuals or functional habitat such as increases in noise or predators.
  • Determine whether potential impacts can be avoided. The viability of avoidance and mitigation options should be examined with respect to ecological risk, whether ecological features are replaceable, economic viability, land ownership, technological feasibility and logistics in light of the overall project. A relatively high cost of an alternative may not necessarily make it "impracticable."
  • Determine whether potential impacts can be minimized. This should consider modifications such as changes to engineering designs, alternative construction techniques, contingency planning, timing considerations and location considerations.
  • Determine whether residual effects may still be expected. After all avoidance and minimization options have been fully considered, determine whether conservation allowances would be an appropriate means to address residual environmental effects.

Other considerations regarding the appropriate use of conservation allowances
Once the avoidance and minimization steps of the mitigation hierarchy have been applied, the decision on whether to implement a conservation allowance will also be influenced by a number of other factors:

  • The proposed plan for providing allowances must meet the legislative authorities of any relevant Act and, in certain circumstances, informed by the conservation objectives of Environment Canada. Conservation allowances will not be automatically required for every residual impact.
  • The proposed conservation allowance must have a high probability of ecological success.
  • Where the proponent is not able to secure full ownership of an ecologically and geographically appropriate tract of land, it should be ascertained whether the proponent has sufficient capacity to deliver allowances that will provide for the desired conservation benefits, or whether another approach to mitigation is needed.
  • Another jurisdiction may have established a conservation or land-use plan that adequately addresses the proposed impact. The measures put in place by the other jurisdiction would need to be reviewed carefully to ensure that Environment Canada's allowance criteria are addressed. For example, a provincial or regional land-use plan may contemplate expected land- or resource-use activities and set aside protected areas ahead of time in anticipation of the adverse environmental impacts associated with these expected activities. In this case, the protected area could function as a "habitat bank" from which future allowances could be obtained.
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