Article published in August, 2007 Mont. Co. Res. Management Agency's "RMA News" newsletter

David Greene wrote a brief overview of the ESEMP effort for their agency's newsletter.

The Elkhorn Slough watershed in northern Monterey County is home to a number of ecosystems and sensitive species. It includes wetlands and valuable upland areas surrounding the slough that drains into the Pacific Ocean at Monterey Bay. Transportation agencies are planning multiple improvement projects on state highways and local roads over the next 20 years to meet existing and projected demands.

This is why CalTrans, with the assistance of Information Center for the Environment at the University of California-Davis (UC Davis), held a kick-off meeting to present the Elkhorn Slough Early Mitigation Project (ESEMP). The meeting was officially described as “…a CalTrans-sponsored interagency effort to provide early mitigation for a series of future transportation improvement projects within the Elkhorn Slough Watershed.” ESEMP is a pilot project intended to develop funding strategies and conservation agreements as a tool for preserving important ecosystems. The goals of ESEMP include:
• A more cost-effective method for meeting compensatory mitigation requirements.
• A more efficient expenditure of public funds for transportation projects by making early investments while transportation projects are in the planning stages to compensate for unavoidable future impacts to sensitive natural resources.
• Ability to leverage private funding for early purchase and mitigation

ESEMP intends to create a different strategy to help address regional scale conservation in a manner that also can help facilitate project delivery by developing a process for identifying funding strategies. Having a program such as this allows agencies such as CalTrans to gather money fast for quick acquisition of sensitive environmental areas that are in front of the bulldozer. Money used to mitigate highway development can be used as a unit to preserve valuable parts of Monterey County.

“The overriding benefit is to achieve transportation objectives and preserve natural habitat values of important conservation areas within the region.” Mary Madison UC Davis

The Elkhorn Slough watershed is part of a pilot project that will match habitats destroyed by future transportation projects with suitable properties that are valuable for conservation. UC Davis will assist the ESEMP by organizing meetings between a variety of government agencies including Monterey County. This Interagency Steering Committee will have Geographical Information System (GIS) data supplied by UC Davis and expert analysis of critical environments in our county. Initial efforts by UC Davis have included pooling resource databases for baseline Geographical Information System (GIS) with mapping overlays for Special-Status Species, habitat types, plant communities, habitat connectivity, and development pressures within the Elkhorn Slough watershed.

ESEMP meetings will promote mitigation on a regional or watershed level that will become a statewide effort. This initial meeting was well attended by decision-makers, conservation groups, and local government:
- Federal Highway Administration
- U.S. Army Corp of Engineers
- U.S. Fish and Wildlife
- U.S. EPA
- National Marine Fisheries
- California Department of Transportation
- California Department of Fish and Game
- California Coastal Commission
- Monterey County
- Elkhorn Slough Foundation

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