TWA Member Spotlight: Terry Anderson

Terry Anderson

As a child growing up in Kountze, near the Big Thicket, Terry Anderson fell in love with the outdoors.

“I fell so deeply in love that I never played team sports because they might have interfered with hunting or fishing,” Anderson said. At the time, trespassing wasn’t a major concern of landowners in the area, so his outdoor adventures were limited only by how far he was willing to walk or ride his bicycle.

“I definitely had a rural upbringing,” Anderson said. He and his wife, Kelly, are continuing that tradition with their children, Katelyn and Wyatt, by making their home in Chireno near Nacogdoches.

In 1985, as graduation from Kountze High School approached, Anderson sensed that he wanted a career in the natural resources, so he picked up a catalog from Stephen F. Austin University and was excited to find classes in wildlife and forestry management. His excitement was short-lived. When he shared his plans with well-intentioned adults, he was told that majoring in natural resource management was a “terrible idea because you’ll probably only find work as a logger or a park ranger—and you’ll never make any money.”

Shaken and deterred, Anderson turned to Plan B, enrolling in Lamar University in Beaumont and majoring in biology with the goal of becoming a high school science teacher. The curriculum was pure biology, not applied. Anderson was miserable. Two semesters before earning his degree, Anderson had an epiphany while he was stuck in traffic.

“I remember thinking, ‘In two semesters, I’m about to get a degree that doesn’t interest me — and, hell, I still won’t make any money,’” he said. With that realization, he dug out the Stephen F. Austin catalog, told his parents that he was moving to Nacogdoches to study forestry and wildlife management, refurbished a worn-out mobile home to provide cheap housing, and started over academically. Only 40 hours of core curriculum from Lamar could be applied to the forestry and wildlife management degree at Stephen F. Austin.

“I didn’t really know what I was going to do with that degree, I just knew that I was going to do it – whatever it took,” Anderson, who is a member of the Texas Wildlife Association’s Executive and Water Advisory committees, said.

In 1989, in the first of a series of “unexpected circumstances and unlikely nuances,” Anderson interned for Mike and Donna Bird, at Bird Forestry, a well-respected forestry resources management company, in Center, Texas. The Birds would later become his business partners and mentors, but that summer they put him to work in a job where he spent most of his time winching forestry tractors out of the mud.

“It was a great summer, but it made me appreciate the value of an education,” Anderson said. He went back to Stephen F. Austin, graduating in 1991.

Anderson returned to work for Bird Forestry as a natural resource consultant. He and Bird began working to bring private wildlife management to East Texas. Breaking new ground in the 90s, they quickly learned two things: companies were reluctant to hire a forestry firm to manage wildlife, and the environmental services sector, which was being driven by regulatory requirements of the Clean Water Act and the Endangered Species Act, offered more economic opportunities than traditional wildlife management.

In response, they established Advanced Ecology, which took forestry out of the company’s name and opened possibilities in clients’ minds, and began providing environmental services to corporate, industrial and government clients.

“We discovered that oil companies and engineering firms were spending a lot of time and energy trying to get permits and authorization to work in wetlands or endangered species habitat,” Anderson, who serves as President of Advanced Ecology, said. “We also figured out that there weren’t many professionals in that field with a background like ours. And, as time passed, we found that our unique approach to problem solving effectively navigated the regulatory maze, which helped us build a successful client base.”

And it worked. Initially, among many other things, Advanced Ecology focused on ecological surveys, working with companies to identify areas in their construction path that might be highly sensitive because of the presence of wetlands or endangered species habitat.

“In the beginning, we primarily were identifying potential impacts,” Anderson said. “When you’re walking a proposed pipeline route, you get to see a lot of interesting country, but only for a minute. You see the problem, but you don’t get to fix it.”

Over time, Advanced Ecology team members determined they wanted to fix the problems. This realization prompted them to enter the emerging field of mitigation banking. At the time, most firms that were engaged in this new enterprise were engineering companies, construction companies or commercial development firms. Their personnel had environmental science, engineering, financial or legal backgrounds with experience in permitting and regulations, not natural resource management.

“Even today, a majority of people who are in the mitigation business tend to be environmental attorneys, commercial developers or investment bankers, not dirt foresters or dirt biologists,” Anderson said. “As field foresters and biologists, we start with the land. The way we attack the problem is fundamentally different.”

He continued, “Make no mistake, this is a very capitalistic endeavor, but where other people see mitigation as a financial enterprise with an ecological component, we see it as an ecological enterprise with a financial component.”

Mitigation banking is: “the restoration, creation, enhancement, or preservation of a wetland, stream or other habitat area undertaken expressly for the purpose of compensating for unavoidable resource losses in advance of development actions, when such compensation cannot be achieved at the development site or would not be as environmentally beneficial.”

Mitigation banking typically involves the consolidation of small, fragmented mitigation projects into one large contiguous site. Units of restored, created, enhanced or preserved land are expressed as “credits,” which may subsequently be withdrawn to offset “debits” incurred at a project development site.

Mitigation banking unites sound environmental and economic practices to restore and enhance wetlands, streams and other habitat resources. Mitigation bankers restore, enhance, create and preserve water resources or other significant natural areas and assume responsibility for their long-term maintenance, earning mitigation credits, recognized by the regulatory agencies, for their efforts. Mitigation bankers can then sell these mitigation credits to permittees and others who must compensate for having impacted water resources or other natural areas. The sale of credits legally transfers the liability of the mitigation from the permittee to the mitigation banker.

Types of mitigation banks include:

  1. *Wetland/stream Banks: These banks offer credits that satisfy regulatory compliance for Section 404 of the federal Clean Water Act, and other state and local regulations, for mitigating unavoidable impacts to wetland and stream resources.
  2. *Conservation Banks: These banks offer credits that satisfy regulatory compliance for Sections 7 and 10 of the Federal Endangered Species Act, and other state and local regulations, for mitigating unavoidable impacts to threatened and endangered species and their habitats and other sensitive habitat areas.

This distinction may seem small, but it is huge in the marketplace. Having backgrounds in hands-on natural resource management sets the Advanced Ecology team apart in the field, in the board room, and in regulatory hearings. They have credibility on both sides.

“I speak East Texas logger, Houston oilman, and Wall Street investor,” Anderson said. “We pride ourselves on bridging the gap between people on the ground and people in the skyscrapers.”

Anderson, who self-deprecatingly characterizes himself as an “East Texas redneck traditionalist,” uses his fish-out-of-water persona to his advantage.

“When I walk into a corporate setting, many people don’t quite know what to make of me,” Anderson said. “They’re like deer examining a new feeder. At first they stand off and look, but then their curiosity gets the best of them and they have to check it out.

He continued, “When people hear we’re in the mitigation business they often assume we’re pea-green bunny huggers, but clearly we’re not. Advanced Ecology is a service vendor whose product allows other companies to complete their projects, be it pipelines, transmission lines, roads or a development. Our deliverable is a practical, ecological solution to a problem.”

While each mitigation or conservation bank is unique, Advanced Ecology’s projects follow the same general framework, Anderson said. First, Advanced Ecology identifies potential markets where landscapes are likely to be impacted and ecological solutions are likely to be needed. Second, the team identifies properties within the area, but not in the project’s path, that can be restored or conserved to create the mitigation bank. The team also pinpoints specific companies who are likely to need to credits.

“Mitigation banking is not a ‘quick flip,’” Anderson said. “Generally, it takes three to five years to restore a property to a level where ecological credits can be sold. It can also take that long to develop the regulatory and business relationships necessary for the sales.”

Once an appropriate mitigation site has been found, Advanced Ecology either makes a fee simple purchase or enters into a joint venture, generally with the existing landowner. “We are always looking for like-minded landowners with good projects to team up with. Some of our best projects have been joint ventures.” Whenever possible, Advanced Ecology continues the productive use of the land such as ranching, farming or commercial hunting, while it undertakes it restoration work, he said.

“There are a lot of great organizations dedicated to preserving beautiful, pristine places,” Anderson said. “Our goal is different. Everything we do is about protecting, enhancing or restoring ecological function.” The land Advanced Ecology conserves may be beautiful, but historically it has been impacted in some way. The company is willing to assume the risk and liability of restoring the land’s ecological function.

As examples of typical projects, the company may reclaim a row crop field located in a river bottom and restore it to a forested wetland or the company may stabilize an eroded riparian area or rebuild a channelized stream and restore its function or it may replace habitat for an endangered species that was affected by nearby construction.

To ensure as much success as possible in its restoration efforts, Advanced Ecology’s team created a nursery branch, Terra Native, to grow a majority of its replacement hardwood seedlings. Knowing that the best way to ensure successful vegetative restoration is using plants adapted to the region’s growing conditions, the Terra Native team gathers seeds and acorns from the property that Advanced Ecology will restore or a nearby property and grows them out under exacting conditions to meet the company’s quality standards.

Anderson’s respect for private property ownership, his love of outdoors and his recognition of the challenges facing land stewards in Texas are all reasons that he joined the Texas Wildlife Association. He serves as both a member of the Executive Committee and the Water Committee.

“Mother Nature is fickle enough,” Anderson said. “We try to control as many variables as possible to ensure our success.”

Once the restored ecosystem has been proved functional, Advanced Ecology, with regulatory approval, sells the mitigation credits. Then, to protect the ecological function in perpetuity, the property is enrolled in a conservation easement. At this point, the company either holds on to the land or sells it to a private property owner who is interested in recreational property and will uphold the conservation easement.

“It’s important to the Advanced Ecology team that projects are structured so that the land can continue be managed for compatible recreation or ranching activities by private landowners after we have moved on,” he said.

To date, Advanced Ecology, their private equity partners and joint venture landowners have committed over $60 million dollars in undertaking more than 20 mitigation-related projects in five states, conserving or enhancing over 20,000 acres of habitat.

“At Advanced Ecology, we’ve built our business on respect for the land,” Anderson said. “Our goal, like that of private landowners across America, is to leave the land in our care better than we found it.

Thoughts on the Texas Wildlife Association

Anderson’s respect for private property ownership, his love of outdoors and his recognition of the challenges facing land stewards in Texas are all reasons that he joined the Texas Wildlife Association. He serves as both a member of the Executive Committee and the Water Committee.

“I was drawn to TWA because it is not a simple or one dimensional organization. In that respect, it’s very similar to our business. We’re not the pea-green bunny hugger that some fear and we’re not the evil capitalist that other fears, we’re the guys in the middle looking for practical solutions to complicated problems.

TWA regularly finds itself in the same place, as an organization. It would have been easier if TWA had a single issue focus, but by tackling a mix of private property rights, conservation and hunting heritage issues, the founders ensured that the organization would be in the same complicated place that Texas landowners find themselves on a daily basis. Sorting through the details and figuring out the subtle nuances that are important.

With the natural resource challenges that Texas will be facing resulting from our unprecedented population growth and landscape level changes, the need for leadership and knowledge that TWA provides has never been more necessary.”

A Peek at the Advanced Ecology Group

The original company Bird Forestry has since evolved into a forestry division of Advanced Ecology. They continue to actively manage private commercial timberland and legacy properties, with current land holdings of approximately 150,000 acres. The group is currently developing new forest land investment strategies for both themselves and their clients to capitalize on the ever changing Texas landscape.

Siva-Tech South is a vegetation management business that actually conducts most of the restoration or management-related activities on Advanced Ecology’s projects.

Mitigation Solutions USA is another affiliated business. The experts here market and sell the mitigation credits.

Advanced Ecology is also in the process of developing a land brokerage firm to assist with its land transactions as well as private sector projects associated with legacy forests, commercial timber lands and other large acreage projects.

Anderson said, “Without a doubt, our greatest insurance of success is the group of people I have had the privilege to help assemble and work with on a daily basis, both employees and partners. June will mark 20 years since we decided to roll the dice on Advanced Ecology. Since that time we have witnessed dramatic and often unprecedented change to the landscape, the people and the markets within which we work. Along the way, we have constantly attempted to evolve our business, often in a radical manner, sometimes successfully, sometimes not. But when you look at the change looming on all horizons of Texas today, I suspect our company mantra of operating in a strict form of ‘ridged flexibility’ has only begun to be tested.”

Anderson said, “Without a doubt, our greatest insurance of success is the group of people I have had the privilege to help assemble and work with on a daily basis, both employees and partners. June will mark 20 years since we decided to roll the dice on Advanced Ecology. Since that time we have witnessed dramatic and often unprecedented change to the landscape, the people and the markets within which we work. Along the way, we have constantly attempted to evolve our business, often in a radical manner, sometimes successfully, sometimes not. But when you look at the change looming on all horizons of Texas today, I suspect our company mantra of operating in a strict form of ‘ridged flexibility’ has only begun to be tested.”

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