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By Jayvee Vallejera

SAIPAN, Northern Mariana Islands (March 1, 2002 – Saipan Tribune)---Acting Gov. Diego T. Benavente yesterday signed with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service a landmark accord that provides a mechanism for developing land that harbors the endangered nightingale reed-warbler.

Fish and Wildlife Director Richard B. Seman said the accord, known as the Saipan Upland Mitigation Bank Agreement, is the first measure of its kind in the Pacific region.

"The agreement balances the need of land developers with the need to protect the habitat of the nightingale reed-warbler, a bird unique to Saipan and Alamagan that is federally and locally protected," he said.

Benavente said the agreement establishes the rights and responsibilities of both the CNMI government and Fish and Wildlife in protecting the bird and allowing land development on Saipan.

"This is a win-win situation. Through this, the CNMI government and private land developers will have a way of developing land within the Saipan Upland Mitigation Area, while providing a protected area on Saipan to help conserve one of the world’s rarest birds," said Benavente.

"The CNMI has achieved a way to provide a measure of protection for its unique wildlife as well as an environmentally-sensitive mechanism for the economic development of the island," he added.

Under the agreement, land developers will be required to obtain federal and local permits when developing properties that contain reed-warblers. This applies to both public and private projects, from homesteads to schools to golf courses.

The permits would either require land developers to minimize the project’s impact on the bird and its habitat, or the implementation of alternative conservation measures.

According to a Public Information and Protocol Office statement, providing adequate conservation measures for a bird that survives only in large areas of unaltered wetlands or land forested with tangantangan, while meeting the development needs of islanders and commercial enterprises has been problematic, particularly on Saipan, where land is at a premium due to its scarcity.

With the agreement in place, though, the office said the course of obtaining the federal and local permits required if the bird is present on a project site would be considerably easier and far less time-consuming.

The CNMI Department of Lands and Natural Resources will be responsible for administering the Mitigation Bank. The Bank will function by establishing a set number of "credits" available to public and private construction projects as mitigation measures. There are 97 credits in the Bank, each credit representing one pair of reed-warblers.

Developers will now have the option of purchasing the appropriate number of "credits" as mitigation measures facilitating and smoothing the way on their federal permit applications.

At the same time, the agreement provides that the former Marpi Commonwealth Forest will be established as the new Saipan Upland Mitigation Area.

In exchange for this, the government will receive 30 credits "fee-free" that it can choose to use on projects such as homesteads, schools, and other public works on Saipan where the bird is present.

Private developers may purchase credits if they choose. The purchase fee will be used to manage the Upland Mitigation Area for the betterment of the bird.

The new agreement stipulates that within the next year, the CNMI, together with Fish and Wildlife, will work out a management plan for the Saipan Upland Mitigation Area. The plan will detail the kinds of conservation measures that will be implemented and exactly how the management funds will be spent.

For additional reports from The Saipan Tribune, go to PACIFIC ISLANDS REPORT News/Information Links: Newspapers/The Saipan Tribune.

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