Tag Archive | "ecosystem markets"

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Protecting ranchers protects wildlife habitat – What?

Picture from the California Cattlemen's Association

Yes, it’s true. For generations, many ranchers have been managing their lands for wildlife on purpose and inadvertently. In California, private ranches contain unique and vulnerable habitats, such as vernal pools, grasslands, and oak woodlands. These ecosystems have been largely shaped over thousands of years to withstand and thrive under disturbances from fire, roaming buffalo, deer, and other ungulates. With the loss of these large herds and natural disturbances, ranchers have stepped in to mimic many of these disturbances through management of livestock. As Pelayo Alvarez says, Co-director of the California Rangeland Conservation Coalition, “They are ‘keystone species’ – you lose them and you lose the ecological integrity of the lands they manage.”

Defenders of Wildlife, along with the Coalition and some of their partners are working on keeping ranchers ranching by paying them for the ecological and socio-economic benefits they provide. Current conservation programs mostly pay ranchers for their practices, however there are groups working on moving beyond this form of conservation and paying ranchers for actual outcomes. These innovative conservation programs are taking shape in the form of Payment for Ecosystem Services (PES) programs and/or markets.

To help inform the formation of these innovative conservation programs in California, Defenders of Wildlife conducted a survey of ranchers, the first of its kind to focus on the supplier perspective towards PES programs or markets. The survey was designed to give insight into the demographics of ranchers; their knowledge and attitudes towards current conservation programs; their level of interest in participating in future PES programs or markets; and outlining the most important aspects of a potential future program with respect to administrator, level of payment, and length of contract.

Five key insights emerged from the survey’s results:

  • The threat of rangeland conversion in California is real and immediate and the time is ripe for a new approach to conservation
  • California ranchers’ high rate of participation in public conservation programs, coupled with their dissatisfaction with the perceived administrative hurdles associated with these programs, offers an opportunity to introduce more appealing conservation options.
  • California ranchers are strongly interested in PES programs, particularly those tied to wildlife habitat.
  • California ranchers recognize the importance of the environmental benefits provided by their land and want to improve these benefits with the right mix of assistance and incentives.
  • California ranchers prefer flexible program structures that are built on shorter contracts, larger payments, and non-profit organizations or private companies as administrators.

The report is still in its final stages and has not been released to the general public. A shorter report and blog post will be accompanied with the release of the final report within the next few weeks. Stay tuned.

Posted in California, Paying for ConservationComments (0)

Phenology and Climate Change

You have probably seen it, maybe in one newspaper or another.  Or maybe you heard it on the radio, or noticed it yourself.  It’s happening everywhere: timing of natural events is changing.  Many studies have documented the phenomenon: Miller-Rushing and Primack (2008) [used historical data on 43 plant species in Massachusetts to show that they are currently flowering an average of 7 days earlier compared to the second half of the 1800’s.  Parmesan (2006) wrote a comprehensive account of such changes in various organisms, and also changes in species ranges and in important ecological interactions of species, all of which are linked to climate change.

The periodic cycles through which plants and animals go is called phenology.  Over thousands of years, organisms have had their phenology defined and established through natural processes and environmental cues such as temperature changes.  Many of the organisms dependent on temperature changes to guide their phenology also developed some close relationships with other organisms essential for their survival, such as food plants or prey.  If the timing is off, due to factors such as climate change, those relationships will be affected, and the organisms may experience stress.  The Edith butterfly is a well-known example where climate change was a factor contributing to a density decrease and eventual local extinction of populations (although it was not the only factor at play).  According to Parmesan:

“The relationship between climate and survival of E. editha is typically mediated not by direct effects of temperature or precipitation on the insect, but by their indirect effects on timing of the butterfly’s life cycle relative to that of their host and nectar plants. […] The gradual warming and drying trend in southern California has likely led to a steady shortening of the window of time in which the host is edible, causing increased larval mortality in these southernmost populations.”

Of course, there has always been variation in timing for many natural events that are brought about by cues other than sunlight or photoperiod.  Temperature and humidity vary on a yearly basis, as exemplified by a warm winter or an unusually cold one.  However, there has been a conspicuous and proven pattern towards warmer temperatures in our recent past, and in spite of year-to-year variability, it has become clear that it is getting warmer earlier than it used to.  Maybe you and I don’t notice it, but those ultra-sensitive organisms, which perfected their phenological timing over thousands of years, certainly do.  And if they happen to be dependent on another organism whose phenology has not responded to increased temperatures in the same way, well, you get the picture. 

Unlike phenotypic changes, whereby organisms change their physical and/or structural appearance in response to climate change – and which can help a species adapt to climate change in the long run, because they are genetically based – phenological changes are just an immediate response with no adaptation value to be carried from generation to generation.  They can lead a species to endangerment, and eventually even to local extinction, if essential interactions are not kept correspondingly.  Therefore, we see that climate change not only can affect species directly, but also indirectly, in many and complex ways. 

It’s happening everywhere, and it is due to climate change.  There are many ways to detect important phenological changes, and there are various efforts underway that involve local communities.  See how you can help at the USA National Phenology Network website.

Posted in Climate Change, Imperiled WildlifeComments (0)

Ecosystem Services Payments: Opportunities and Challenges

A new report written by Defenders of Wildlife in conjunction with the U.S. Forest Service Pacific Northwest Research Station discusses the opportunities and challenges related to ecosystem service payments.  One of the most challenging issues in environmental policy today is how to create incentives for private landowners to participate in conservation efforts that protect biodiversity and prevent forest and farm lands from being lost to development. No single regulation, government incentive, tax program, or other tool operates at the scale that is necessary to accomplish this goal. To improve how we approach biodiversity conservation, market-based payments for ecosystem services could be used in conjunction with other policies to create better incentives.

Ecosystem services are the benefits human communities enjoy as a result of natural processes and biological diversity. Some of these services are already recognized and sold into established markets. Timber, food, fuel and fiber are all examples of services with recognized economic value. Yet there are other services produced from healthy, functioning landscapes that are not well recognized in current payment structures, providing little or no incentive for landowners to maintain them. These services include sequestering or storing carbon in trees and soil, providing fish and wildlife habitat, filtering water, and reducing damages from natural disasters. In addition, most programs pay landowners to protect or restore a specific service rather than the suite of services produced from well-functioning ecosystems. Various incentive programs need to be better integrated or new programs need to be developed that recognize the value of ecosystem protection.

Bundling and stacking payments for ecosystem services offers a promising option to improve landowner compensation while also delivering better ecological outcomes. Rather than being compelled to focus on one particular attribute or a discrete portion of regulated services as current programs and markets do, landowners should be able to benefit from the multiple services, both regulated and voluntary, their land is producing on a broader, landscape scale. To be both ecologically and economically effective, payments, at a minimum, need to address multiple values, function at the landscape scale, and minimize transactions costs.

Posted in Pacific Northwest, Paying for ConservationComments (0)

Using Payments for Watershed Services for Conservation

Ecosystem services markets reveal the value of benefits provided by natural systems and provide incentives for landowners to provide more of these beneficial services. Water has emerged as a strong rallying point for the development of ecosystem service payment initiatives. The State of Watershed Payments report released by Ecosystem Marketplace catalogued 288 watershed payment programs and markets across the world. These initiatives focus on getting the beneficiaries of ecosystem services to pay for the services they consume, and incentivizing producers of services to implement practices and strive for outcomes that improve the quality and quantity of water services.

Water markets have been driven by regulatory standards designating acceptable levels of water quality such as the Clean Water Act and financial or in-kind incentives to land managers to adopt practices linked improvements in water quality.  Voluntary programs have been taking hold in the U.S.  The classic example is the New York City and the Catskills watershed program in which the New York City paid upstream farmers in the watershed to acquire land and implement practices to reduce sediment rather than pay for construction of an expensive new water treatment plant. More recently the Cities of Santa Fe and Denver have implemented similar models protecting upstream water supply.

The Santa Fe Municipal Watershed Restoration Project funds costs of land management in the watershed. In an area that is mostly forested, fire was identified as the biggest threat to water quality. The cost to maintain restored forest for 20 years was estimated at $4.3 million, whereas the savings of avoiding a future fire amount to $22 million – you do the math, the forest enhancement clearly saves money for the taxpayers of Santa Fe.

In Denver, Colorado the model was scaled up to include five watersheds encompassing two forests in 2010. Denver Water, the utility company, and the Forest Service entered into a 5-year $ 33 million partnership to implement projects to reduce the risk of wildfire, restoring wild areas and, minimize erosion and sedimentation of reservoirs.

Challenges still remain the biggest among these is the issue of measurable outcomes. While the amount of improvement in water quality from specific practices is not clear, these programs have been able to get around this by basing the value of improved water quality on the land management costs (which were clearly defined). For example, in Santa Fe the program was preceded by an environmental impact assessment in the watershed.

Posted in UncategorizedComments (0)

dotWild is the blog of scientists and policy experts at Defenders of Wildlife, a national, nonprofit membership organization dedicated to the protection of all native animals and plants in their natural communities.