Summit County Metro Parks seek conservation bank to help bats

AKRON, Ohio -  A northeast Ohio park district has requested federal permission to create a conservation bank intended to help a dwindling bat population using money that would be paid by developers doing projects that could affect the species.

The request from the park district -- called Metro Parks, Serving Summit County -- would create Ohio's first conservation bank, the Akron Beacon Journal reported.

Conservation banks help protect lands with valuable natural resources and manage conserved spaces to benefit threatened or endangered species. The Ohio proposal aims to help northern long-eared bats -- 3 to 4 inches long with brown fur and big ears --  whose numbers have been sharply reduced by a deadly fungus, the white-nose syndrome.

The conservation bank idea is about trade-offs: Developers would pay to get credits enabling them to proceed with projects elsewhere that could hurt the species, such as wind turbine or highway projects. That money then could be used to protect five caves where bats spend winter in a park in northern Summit County and improve the bat population and nearby habitat, said Michael Johnson, chief of natural resources for the park district.

Neil Hess, the park district's chief of special projects, told the newspaper that it's not clear how much funding the conservation bank might raise. He noted that the district's goal isn't to make a profit.

The park district would need permission from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which approves the number of credits a conservation bank can sell. The permit is pending.

Ten states have conservation banks. The more than 100 active conservation banks approved by the wildlife service in the past decade cover 90,000 acres to help 60 threatened species, the newspaper said.

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