Offsetting the impacts of mining to achieve no net loss of native vegetation

Offsets are a novel conservation tool, yet using them to achieve no net loss of biodiversity is challenging. This is especially true when using conservation offsets (i.e., protected areas) because achieving no net loss requires avoiding equivalent loss. Our objective was to determine if offsetting the impacts of mining achieves no net loss of native vegetation in Brazil's largest iron mining region. We used a land-use change model to simulate deforestation by mining to 2020; developed a model to allocate conservation offsets to the landscape under 3 scenarios (baseline, no new offsets; current practice, like-for-like [by vegetation type] conservation offsetting near the impact site; and threat scenario, like-for-like conservation offsetting of highly threatened vegetation); and simulated nonmining deforestation to 2020 for each scenario to quantify avoided deforestation achieved with offsets. Mines cleared 3570 ha of native vegetation by 2020. Under a 1:4 offset ratio, mining companies would be required to conserve >14,200 ha of native vegetation, doubling the current extent of protected areas in the region. Allocating offsets under current practice avoided deforestation equivalent to 3% of that caused by mining, whereas allocating under the threat scenario avoided 9%. Current practice failed to achieve no net loss because offsets did not conserve threatened vegetation. Explicit allocation of offsets to threatened vegetation also failed because the most threatened vegetation was widely dispersed across the landscape, making conservation logistically difficult. To achieve no net loss with conservation offsets requires information on regional deforestation trajectories and the distribution of threatened vegetation. However, in some regions achieving no net loss through conservation may be impossible. In these cases, other offsetting activities, such as revegetation, will be required.

Read the full paper: Sonter, Barrett & Soares-Filho (2014), “Offsetting the impacts of mining to achieve no net loss of native vegetation”. Conservation Biology. DOI: 10.1111/cobi.12260