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Apr 01, 2013


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Lynda Saul
Planning, Prevention and Assistance


Trout Unlimited and Montana DEQ Launch New Stream and Wetland Restoration Program


When individuals, landowners or businesses cause unavoidable damages to a river, stream or wetland in Montana, they have a new way to offset the loss – buying credits that can be used to repair other nearby streams or wetlands. This innovative new program was recently launched by Trout Unlimited (TU) and the Montana Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ).

The sportsmen’s group and state agency have teamed up to create a nonprofit organization called Montana Aquatic Resources Services, or MARS, that will administer an In Lieu Fee (ILF) mitigation program. Under ILF programs, individuals and businesses who cause unavoidable impacts to wetlands and streams can buy credits, which are used to restore another nearby stream or wetland to make up for the lost habitats.

"MARS was created as a way to ensure that Montana doesn't lose the high-quality aquatic habitats and wetlands that ensure healthy water quality and wildlife,' said Patrick Byorth, staff attorney for TU and MARS Board Chair. "Good habitat is the basis of our state’s outstanding fishing and outdoor recreation. By restoring habitat, we’re ensuring more opportunity for anglers and sportsmen."

Because national policy requires "no net loss" of wetlands, developers, industry, and private landowners must offset unavoidable impacts to wetlands caused by their activities. Before MARS was created they had only two options: restore the wetlands or purchase additional wetlands to put into "mitigation banks". MARS provides a new option.

"Having an alternative, non-profit mitigation option will ensure that restoration dollars go to high-quality projects as near to the impacts as possible," said DEQ Director Tracy Stone-Manning. "MARS is able to work closely with local landowners and technical experts to get the best results."

MARS will also help industry and landowners in other restoration projects. For example, MARS is developing a conservation program for the Yellowstone River that will acquire floodplain conservation easements along the bank from willing landowners who choose to allow the river to function naturally; eroding and accessing the floodplain during high flows. This allows landowners who lose property to erosion to be compensated for their stewardship.
The MARS board consists of a cross-section of respected restoration stakeholders, from TU staff to private restoration consultants to state agency biologists.

"MARS will raise the bar on aquatic mitigation across the state," said Byorth, "by focusing mitigation dollars to the most ecologically significant restoration projects identified in each watershed."

MARS underwent an arduous qualification process with the Corps of Engineers to be eligible to accept mitigation responsibilities. MARS received approval on January 29, 2013.

"We’re excited to be open for business," said Byorth. "We’re looking for projects that will directly benefit our state’s rivers, streams and wildlife all across Montana."

For more information about the program contact Patrick Byorth at (406) 548-4830 or visit the MARS website at

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