Date of Graduation

Spring 5-14-2020

Document Access

Project/Capstone - Global access

Degree Name

Master of Science in Environmental Management (MSEM)


College of Arts and Sciences


Environmental Management

First Advisor

Stephanie Siehr

Second Advisor

Tracy Benning


Compensatory mitigation is a practice whereby a government agency requires the creation, restoration, enhancement, or preservation of ecological resources to offset unavoidable adverse impacts to environmentally sensitive habitat caused by some form of development. Compensatory wetland mitigation programs have slowed the rate of wetland loss in California and elsewhere, but they have largely failed to offset impacts with a sufficient amount of functional mitigation acreage. In California, more than 90% of the state’s historical wetlands have been drained, diked, filled, or dredged over the past 100 years. This report evaluates the success of compensatory wetland mitigation required by the California Coastal Commission between 2012 and 2018. Methods involved reviewing permits and preparing a database to index all compensatory mitigation projects in the study period; locating all available mitigation plans and monitoring reports for those projects; statistically evaluating each project’s compliance with performance criteria and “no net loss” policies; and performing a literature review to contextualize these findings. As permitted, the Coastal Commission’s compensatory mitigation program appears to have resulted in a net gain of wetlands; however, incomplete monitoring data suggests that the net gain may be lower than reported. Fulfillment of performance criteria was about 70% as reported by annual monitoring reports from 20% of projects. Performance criteria focused mainly on vegetation. Requiring a more diverse range of criteria—including hydrology, soil, and wildlife-based metrics in addition to vegetation—could improve tracking of ecological function. This research also reveals opportunities to improve accountability through technical and procedural reforms, including maintaining a centralized storage system for mitigation monitoring data, requiring that compliance reports be reviewed by technical staff, encouraging clearer descriptions of mitigation requirements, and making compensatory mitigation data more accessible to the public.