EASI-Willamette Partnership To Study Eco-Asset Values for Mine Claims

EASI has recently recruited the Oregon-based Willamette Partnership to assist with eco-asset valuation for Alaska mining claims.

A project at the Yukon-Charley Rivers National Preserve has brought our attention to the difference between patented and unpatented mining claims.  Patented mining claims carry surface rights, meaning the claims are held by a land owner who may work the land in any legal fashion.  Unpatented claims allow holders to extract minerals from the land, but carry no surface ownership rights.  These differences make it difficult to imagine how a claims holder might consider creating a compensatory mitigation project — a mitigation bank — to offset development impacts in the area of the claims.

That’s exactly the situation faced by the last remaining inholder of the Yukon-Charley Preserve.  He owns a combination of patented and unpatented claims.  Some of the patented claims were developed decades ago before he acquired the claims.  Ecological restoration or enhancement of abandoned tailings at the site could earn him mitigation credits, and those credits could be used to offset future mining activity (Permittee Responsible Mitigation, PRM).  Or the mitigation credits could be sold at market rates to others, representing an important revenue stream in addition to the remaining mineral value there.

But what about the unpatented claims?  In some cases they might be converted to patented claims, but that could be a lengthy and expensive effort.  As unpatented claims, do they have any ecological asset value?  Is there a way to determine their eco-asset value by looking into the value of in-place, undisturbed ecosystem services?

Could the market-based ecological asset value of protected, unused, unpatented claims be tallied as an avoided environmental cost?

This is where Willamette Partnership expertise may shed light on an essentially untapped component of land value.

Preservation of a landscape means that the stocks and flows of local ecosystem services can continue uninterrupted.  This helps maintain clean air and water, an obvious economic benefit.  It protects biodiversity leading to a wide range of additional economic benefits.  Can these benefits be measured in marketplace terms?  And can that value be assigned to the acres on which the benefits depend?  The Willamette Partnership brings a long and respected tradition of investigating questions like these.

Stay tuned for more information about these and related topics as the 2018 EASI-Willamette collaboration unfolds.