Tag Archive | "ecosystem services"

Defenders Comments on New Forest Planning Directives

Defenders Comments on New Forest Planning Directives

As long time followers know, Defenders has been working hard to shape National Forest conservation policy for decades, including non-stop campaigning for the last several years to make sure new forest planning regulations conserve and recover forest dependent wildlife.  To ensure that these new rules translate into real on-the-ground protections for wildlife and forest ecosystems, Defenders kicked off our Forests for Wildlife Initiative.  The goal of the initiative is to transform how the Forest Service manages forests for wildlife, and to protect and restore national forest landscapes through on-the-ground conservation projects and actions.

The Forests for Wildlife Initiative takes us from the policymaking world of Washington D.C., to the majestic landscapes of Alaska and California.  Last year, I was appointed by the Secretary of Agriculture to a Federal Advisory Committee charged with overseeing implementation of the new planning rule.  One of the committee’s first tasks was to work with the Forest Service to craft policy “directives” that will guide how the new regulation is interpreted and applied to individual national forests.  Our comments on the draft directives can be found here.  The complex forest policy world is like an onion trapped in a spider’s web.  Numerous statutes govern the management of National Forests, including the National Forest Management Act, as well as associated federal rules and regulations.  Keep peeling and one finally gets down to the highly technical internal agency policies that tell forest managers how to navigate and implement all of the various rules and regulations.  The directives tell managers “how” to do the “what”— the requirements that are spelled out in the regulations.  Good planning directives provide strong, clear direction to managers on how to identify, conserve and monitor species of conservation concern; account for ecosystem services; or manage in the face of climate change.  Poor directives can lead to inconsistent conservation decisions that could lessen protections and raise risks for forests and wildlife.

The current draft directives need some work to provide forest managers a clear path to effectively conserving forest integrity and wildlife.  The advisory committee will be working with the Forest Service all summer to make recommendations on how to improve them.  Stay tuned for more updates and campaign reports from the Forests for Wildlife Initiative.

Posted in Climate Change, Federal Policy, National Forests, Public LandsComments (0)

How Will the Forest Service Address Ecosystem Services in Forest Planning?

How Will the Forest Service Address Ecosystem Services in Forest Planning?

The Forest Service recently adopted new planning rule that will guide the agency’s process for forest planning for the next decade or so. For the first time, the planning rule directs the staff to consider ecosystem services when deciding what management actions to implement on the public lands. Following the adoption of the new rule, the Service issued 500+ pages of detailed “directives” to guide implementation of the new planning rule.

What are ecosystem services?  According to a recent article authored by several researchers with the Forest Service in the Pacific Northwest Research Station, In the context of public land management, ecosystem services are beneficial outcomes that derive from landscape conditions (e.g., forest structures, species compositions) and ecological processes as they are altered by both natural disturbance and management activities.

Though the draft directives mention ecosystem services multiple times, what effect this relatively new term will have on the planning process remains somewhat of a mystery. On the positive side, addressing ecosystem services may lead to the consideration of a much broader spectrum of values, including some tangible benefits like improved water and air quality, more and better fish and wildlife habitat, improvement in the condition of endangered species, and additional opportunities for nature-based recreation. The new emphasis may also lead to improved integration across programs, a reconsideration of management “targets” to include an assessment of ecological conditions and trends, and an improved understanding of context implied in the new “all lands approach” to management.  Ecosystem services assessments can also be a powerful tool for collaboration with stakeholders. Ideally, incorporating ecosystem services into forest planning will add value without overly complicating the assessment and decision process, raising the costs, or delaying implementation.

On the flip side, even a great idea can go astray if it is implemented in a manner that simply applies a new idea or term to an old way of doing business. The Forest Service staff will always be under political pressure from Congress and some interest groups to increase the output of commodities at the expense of protecting the ecological values on the land. Framed entirely as a utilitarian, anthropocentric concept, some interpret ecosystem services to include only benefits to human communities. Others extend the construct even further to emphasize only those values that can be quantified, and a cottage industry has emerged among economists offering tools and methods to assign monetary value to selected services. While it is sometimes very useful to calculate the monetary costs and benefits of different management options, it is neither necessary nor appropriate to apply dollar values to relatively intangible attributes like biodiversity.  Agencies can and do make decisions every day based on society’s evolving values and preferences, expressed in a variety of ways including the adoption of federal laws like the Endangered Species Act and National Forest Management Act. Meaningful engagement with the public during the decision process – including local, state, regional, and national interests – can lead to decisions that balance human needs for products like timber, forage and fuel against the need to sustain the lands and waters on public lands for future generations.

Given the attention that ecosystem services have received within academic and some government circles, there is also a risk that instead of adding value to the complex process of evaluating the potential benefits an ecosystem will provide over time, an entirely new process will be established.  If this new process focuses primarily on the benefits that ecosystems provide to people, without giving adequate consideration to the underlying ecological attributes and processes that create these services in the first place, then management to maximize certain ecosystem services ends up competing with, rather than enhancing values that are especially challenging to measure, like biodiversity. If ecosystem services offer a way of viewing the world in which the intrinsic values of nature are acknowledged along with utilitarian outputs, it could serve as a uniting rather than divisive force.  However, there will always be tradeoffs between services, human beneficiaries, and the needs of present vs. future generations.

There are a few important steps that the Forest Service can take to ensure that the ecosystem services requirement in the new directives has a positive influence on forest planning.

  1. Adopt the definition of ecosystem services quoted above in place of the narrower definition limited by utility to humans, thereby explicitly including biodiversity – either as a service, necessary support for services, or both.
  2. Integrate ecosystem service assessments with ecological assessments rather than creating a separate process.
  3. Ensure that the planning process is as interdisciplinary as possible, taking advantage of the expertise of natural and social scientists, practitioners, and stakeholders, working across traditional boundaries and engaging people with diverse perspectives.
  4. Working with other agencies and organizations, invest in the development of more consistent measures of ecological integrity and biodiversity across jurisdictions and at multiple scales to improve our collective capacity understand ecological conditions and trends.
  5. Integrate the ecosystem services assessments with the “all lands” approach by engaging private landowners and other agencies in the process, before attempting to quantify and/or monetize ecosystem services at the project or site scale.

The Forest Service has struggled with communicating its mission over the past few decades. Creatively applying an ecosystem services approach to explain the benefits of the public lands to Congress and the public has great potential. Although different forests will likely approach this challenge differently, the new approach may create a pathway to a more harmonious and effective relationship with the public.  Or it may continue the divisive and antagonistic relationship under a new banner until the next shiny object comes into view. There isn’t much time to get it right.

You can find Defenders’ full comments on the proposed forest planning directives here.

Posted in Climate Change, Federal Policy, National Forests, Public LandsComments (0)

Getting Strategic about Climate Change Adaptation

Back in February the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, NOAA, and state fish and wildlife agencies put forth a new concept in conservation, the National Fish, Wildlife and Plants Climate Adaptation Strategy.   This unprecedented effort brought together 23 federal, state and tribal entities to “to inspire and enable natural resource professionals and other decision makers to take action to conserve fish, wildlife, plants and  ecosystem functions, as well as the human uses, values and benefits these natural systems provide, in a changing climate.”

The strategy is a call to action to protect and restore resilient habitat and habitat corridors, integrate climate change into existing conservation programs, build the conservation community’s capacity to address climate change, invest in coordinated research and monitoring, and provide natural resources managers the tools they need to adapt to a changing environment.

As we all know, a strategy is only as good as the actions that follow from it. And while it is vitally important that we enhance the climate resilience of our natural areas and habitats, climate change is going to affect many other sectors as well, and no one set of preparations should occur in a vacuum. That’s why it was interesting to see the new “Preparing for a Changing Climate: Washington State’s Integrated Climate Response Strategy.  This new plan is truly strategic in addressing climate change adaptation, drawing on the on the National Strategy for elements relating to wildlife, habitats, forests, and aquatic and marine species, but also addresses agriculture, infrastructure, and human health in a single, integrated plan.

Washington’s strategy is divided into nine different overview topics: A) Human Health; B) Ecosystems, Species and Habitats; C) Coasts and Oceans; D) Water Resources; E) Agriculture; F) Forests; G) Infrastructure and the built environment; H) Research and Monitoring; and I) Communication, Awareness, Engagement. The goals and strategies pertaining to natural resources topics closely mirror those of the National Strategy (see table below).

Incorporating the goals and elements of the National Wildlife Adaptation Strategy into the plans of federal and state agencies, tribes, and other conservation partners is the best way to ensure that the National Strategy will actually be implemented to reduce the impacts of climate change on the nation’s biodiversity.

 

National Strategy Washington State
Goal 1: Conserve habitat to support healthy fish, wildlife and plant populations and ecosystem functions in a changing climate.

 

B-1. Conserve habitat necessary to support healthy fish, wildlife, and plant populations and ecosystem functions in a changing climate, and protect connectivity areas between critical habitats to allow the movement of species in response to climate change.

 

C-3. Accelerate efforts to protect and restore nearshore habitat and natural processes.

 

F-1. Conserve and restore healthy, resilient forests across ownership boundaries and large geographic ranges to minimize the threats from climate change and extreme weather events.

 

 

Goal 2: Manage species and habitats to protect ecosystem functions and provide sustainable cultural, subsistence, recreational, and commercial use in a changing climate. Incorporating climate change information into fish, wildlife, and plant management efforts is essential to safeguarding these valuable natural resources.

 

 Strategy 2.3 Conserve genetic diversity (all  species)

B-3. Manage species and habitats to

protect ecosystem functions and provide sustainable cultural, recreational, and commercial use in a changing climate.

 

B-4 also gets at integrating climate change into planning.

 

F-2. Maintain and protect forest species and genetic diversity across the landscape to ensure long-term conservation of our forest genetic resources and help buffer against impacts of climate change.

 

Goal 3: Enhance capacity for effective management in a changing climate. B-5. Build capacity and support for the adoption of response strategies that help protect and restore ecosystem function and services at risk from climate change.

 

C-4. Build local capacity to respond to coastal climate impacts by providing tools to assess vulnerability and advancing research, monitoring, and engagement efforts.

 

F-4. Build capacity and support for maintaining, enhancing, and restoring resilient and healthy forests.

 

Goal 4: Support adaptive management in a changing climate through integrated observation and monitoring and use of decision support tools.

 

H. Research and Monitoring.
Goal 5: Increase knowledge and information on impacts and responses of fish, wildlife and plants to a changing climate.

 

 

 

 

 

B-4. Integrate climate adaptation

considerations for species and ecosystems

into natural resource and conservation planning, land use and infrastructure planning, and resource allocation and public investment initiatives.

 

C-5. Enhance our understanding and monitoring of ocean acidification (pH) in Puget Sound and coastal waters as well as our ability to adapt to and mitigate effects of seawater acidity on shellfish, other marine organisms, and marine ecosystems.

 

 

Goal 6: Increase awareness and motivate action to safeguard fish, wildlife and plants in a changing climate.

 

B-5 also discusses “building support”

 

I. Awareness and engagement.

Goal 7: Reduce non-climate stressors to help fish, wildlife, plants, and ecosystems adapt to a changing climate. B-2. Reduce non-climate stressors to help fish, wildlife, plants, and ecosystems be more resilient to the effects of climate change.

Posted in Climate ChangeComments (0)

koopmann 084

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)

Chesapeake Bay tidal marsh, David Curson, Audubon MD/DC

Climate Change Adaptation in Maryland’s Somerset-Wicomico Marshes Important Bird Area

Chesapeake Bay tidal marsh, photo by David Curson, Audubon MD/DC

The State of Maryland is moving forward with critical climate change planning for coastal areas by figuring out how to protect lands into which soon-to-be-inundated wetlands and marshes can retreat. In response to the threat of sea level rise, these efforts are essential to maintaining the long-term ecological functions of storm surge buffering, carbon sequestration, water filtration, wildlife habitat, recreation and others that wetlands provide.

Defenders of Wildlife, Audubon Maryland/DC and the Lower Shore Land Trust have teamed up on a project focused on increasing the adaptive capacity of salt marshes and salt marsh obligate bird species in the Somerset-Wicomico Marshes Important Bird Area

View video on Climate Change Adaptation in Maryland’s Somerset-Wicomico Marshes Important Bird Area

The coastal wetlands in the Chesapeake Bay provide a range of “ecosystem services” that are critical for improving the water quality by helping to remove nutrients, chemicals, and sediment from urban and agricultural runoff before reaching the open water of the Bay. In addition, coastal wetlands provide a first line of defense against rising sea levels and increased storm damage, flooding and erosion.

These wetlands are habitat for ducks, geese and shorebirds and are home to unique flora and fauna, including two birds, the Seaside Sparrow and the Saltmarsh Sparrow, which are identified as Maryland species of greatest conservation concern in the Maryland Wildlife Diversity Conservation Plan. These species evolved in this tidal environment and are found only in salt marsh habitats along the U.S. Atlantic Coasts.

Sea level rise is impacting low-lying coastal lands at twice the global average rate. Maryland Department of Natural Resources explains that the State has already seen a foot of relative sea level rise during the past 100 years, causing the disappearance of 13 barrier islands from the Chesapeake Bay. Within the Chesapeake Bay, additional sea level rise impacts are already evident, including wetland erosion and forest die-back as a result of saltwater intrusion.

Our work will focus on assisting the Lower Shore Land Trust to identify the highest priority marsh migration corridors so that they can protect these areas from future development. This project takes place within the context of Defender’s work with state wildlife agencies to update their wildlife action plans to consider the impacts of climate change, as well as Defender’s Living Lands program that enhances the capacity of land trusts and their partners in protecting biodiversity in the face of climate change.

For more information on sea level rise in the Chesapeake Bay, see the following online resources:

Maryland Commission on Climate Change  

Strategy for Reducing Maryland’s Vulnerability to Climate Change Phase I: Sea-level rise and coastal storms

National Wildlife Federation

U.S. Climate Change Science Program

North Atlantic Landscape Conservation Cooperative

Posted in Climate Change, Imperiled WildlifeComments (0)

Vernal Pool

Valuing California Rangelands – A Way Forward

Vernal Pool

Co – written with Jessica Musengezi

Three weeks ago, the Woods Institute for the Environment at Stanford University hosted an Uncommon Dialogue on Rangelands Policy and Research with the intention of bringing together scientists, policy-makers, economists, and representatives from local and state government agencies to share perspectives on ranching and its role in conserving California rangelands.  Rangelands are integral to the protection of services we sometimes take for granted – clean water, clean air, and pollination of our food crops. These systems are currently under siege from high-intensity agriculture and development of infrastructure, such as subdivisions.  The issue of conserving not only natural habitats, but preserving the culture that protects these habitats is complex, and involves multiple stakeholders encompassing an area of more than 34 million acres in the Central Valley and interior Coast Range.

Conserving rangelands is a multi-level problem, it is about conserving landscape (maintaining connectivity, extent, and biological diversity); improving and maintaining the financial and ecological viability of working ranches that are the bedrock of the landscape; and managing pastures, understanding the vegetation and habitat, and how to maintain and improve the services they provide.

Complex as the problem may be, there are promising market-based mechanisms to address the challenges rangelands are facing.  Ranchers are struggling to maintain profitability and they need additional incentives to help them stay in the black. Dr. Gretchen Daily of Stanford University emphasized the need for a new business model that allows ranches to combine revenue streams from ecosystems services (i.e. carbon sequestration, water quality improvement and wildlife habitat),  as well as sale of cattle, conservation easements, and government programs providing the level of income needed to keep ranchers from converting their lands.

Paying for ecosystem services entails identifying and quantifying the services provided by rangelands and implementing practices on ranches to secure provision of services.  Dr. Claire Kremen of U.C. Berkeley presented research that demonstrated the important services provided by wild pollinators. According to her research, wild bees pollinate approximately 35-39% of our commercial crops and about 50% of these bees come from rangelands. This is a strong argument to identify and quantify these services, so they no longer go unrecognized.

At the farm level the science of understanding the benefits of grazing is substantial and gives ranchers a variety of options for ecologically sustainable management. One novel idea is teaching cows to eat weeds. Cows are trained to seek out and eat nasty weeds, sparing the herbicide a farmer might choose to use instead – talk about cost effective weed management! Clearly there is no shortage of innovation and creativity, it is ‘Uncommon Dialogues’ such as this one held by Stanford and partnerships fostered by groups like the California Rangeland Conservation Coalition that synthesize existing knowledge and chart an integrated path forward to meet our shared conservation goals.

Posted in California, In the Field, Paying for ConservationComments (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)

Something exciting is happening in the Dominican Republic (and it is not the latest Merengue)

Something exciting is happening in the Dominican Republic (and it is not the latest Merengue)

It is conserving private lands for biodiversity!

Photo of Judy Boshoven at the workshop in the DR

Judy Boshoven, Manager, Living Lands Program with Mr. Jaime David Fernández Mirabal, Minister of the Environment of the Dominican Republic and Ginny Heinsen of Centro para el Desarrollo Agropecuario y Forestal, Inc at the workshop to discuss private lands conservation in the Dominican Republic.

The Minister of the Environment of the Dominican Republic is keen on the idea – so much so that he invited representatives from organizations involved in private lands conservation in their respective countries, including the Living Lands Program of Defenders, to present at a workshop  to conservation groups, environmental agencies, landowners, journalists and business people in Santo Domingo recently.  All involved in planning the event are hopeful that it is the start of something good.

Conservation of biodiversity on private property has taken off in the US over the past 25 or so years, but in Latin America the concept is relatively new.  However, country by country, governments and non-profit conservation organizations throughout Latin America have been working to put the pieces in place to be able to allow private landowners to voluntarily protect the natural resources on their property. Private lands conservation has taken many forms. In the US, the most common form is the conservation easement, which, very simply put, is a legal agreement between a landowner and a land trust or government agency that permanently limits uses of the land in order to protect its conservation values. This concept is not always easily transferable to Latin America.

For one, in the US there are state enabling statutes, as well as strong tax incentives for landowners to donate an easement on their property. To get the federal tax benefits, the conservation easement must be perpetual.  Agencies and land trusts may also purchase the conservation easement (development rights) from the landowner.  In contrast, most Latin American countries do not yet have the legal framework or the incentive programs in place to protect private land at the scale that we have in the US.

But still there has been a growing impetus for private land conservation in Latin America over the past 20 years. Costa Rica and Mexico are among the countries that have led the way. A number of Latin American countries have passed new laws that recognize the creation of private nature preserves.  Nonprofit organizations have inventively used existing laws to create easement between two landowners, but not for traditional purpose of a right of way, but instead to protect the conservation values of the property.

In the US, paying less tax is an attractive incentive for landowners to put their property under a conservation easement. However, tax rates are generally lower in many Latin American countries. Therefore, tax breaks might not be a strong incentive for landowners in Latin America, and governments may be apprehensive about initiating programs for landowners to pay less. Instead, it may be more feasible to create payment for ecosystem services between, for example, private landowners and a water utility or hydro-electric facility.

Another limiting factor is the lack of clear land tenure in the Dominican Republic and in other Latin American countries. In the US, due diligence for a conservation easement project includes a review of the title and a survey of the boundaries of the property.  In the Dominican Republic, as in many Latin American countries, obtaining this documentation may be an insurmountable challenge.

Aside from Merengue, the Dominican Republic has a lot to be proud of – 104 national protected areas covering 25% of the country. Although it will not be an easy mountain to climb, establishing a program to protect biodiversity of private lands will be critical to connecting these public lands into a biologically diverse network.

Posted in Paying for ConservationComments (2)

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.

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Oregon Legislature Receives Report on Ecosystem Services and Markets

In 2009, Defenders of Wildlife and colleagues promoted a bill – likely the first of its kind in the country – to address the development of markets for ecosystem services. This bill, SB 513,  defines ecosystem services as the benefits human communities enjoy as a result of natural processes and biological diversity. It establishes a policy to protect ecosystem services across all land uses, encourages agencies to use market-based approaches to achieve conservation goals, and directed the Oregon Sustainability Board to convene a diverse group of stakeholders to address several thorny policy issues. The bill was based on policy recommendations contained in a report called Policy Cornerstones and Action Strategies for an Integrated Ecosystem Marketplace in Oregon.

The work group was supported by staff from the Oregon Watershed Enhancement Board and included 28 people from diverse backgrounds. A policy-level ad hoc committee was formed to assist with political strategy and included another 17 people. Defenders staff was involved in managing the collaborative process and writing the report. Sara Vickerman was on the work group and is a member of the Oregon Sustainability Board.

The work group report was presented to the Oregon Legislature by the Sustainability Board in December 2010. It contained ten policy recommendations:

  1. Conservation and restoration goals need to be integrated across agencies to focus investment and priorities.
  2. More work is needed to address regulatory impediments to the application of market-based approaches.
  3. Public private partnerships are needed to develop more standardized tools for measuring ecosystem services.
  4. Agencies and local governments are encouraged to purchase ecological outcomes.
  5. Agencies should be able to sell ecosystem services under limited conditions.
  6. An adaptive management framework is needed to evaluate ecosystem service programs.
  7. State and local government are encouraged to use natural infrastructure in place of hard engineering.
  8. Planners should consider ecosystem services when making land use decisions.
  9. Pilot projects are needed to test the application of ecosystem service approaches.
  10. The policy dialogue needs to continue to address unresolved issues.

The lively, sometime contentious process included consideration of a series of case studies describing previous attempts, some successful, some frustrating and disappointing, to implement  wetland and conservation banking, water quality trading, and other programs. Common problems included conflicting agency missions, high transaction costs, and a lack of shared conservation goals.

Another bill has been drafted and will be introduced in the 2011 legislative session, which begins in February. Stay tuned for information on the next round of policy changes.

Posted in Pacific Northwest, Paying for ConservationComments (0)

A Community on Ecosystem Services

Ecosystem services are generally thought to be benefits that nature provides to humans. Things like clean water from healthy watersheds, clean air, climate regulation and protection from floods. As these services are diminished through over-exploitation and poor management, people discover that they are valuable, perhaps when it’s too late to reverse the damage.

Interest in ecosystem services as a new approach to resource management has grown dramatically in recent years, especially in academic and government circles. In December, a conference was held in Phoenix, called A Community on Ecosystem Services. It attracted over 400 scientists, economists, lawyers, nonprofits, businesses and federal officials and included over a hundred sessions on everything from measurements to markets for ecosystem services. Participants promoted their research, programs and new ideas.

Community on Ecosystem Services highlights
Rock Salt (yes, his real name) solicited assistance from the group to help the Army Corps of Engineers incorporate ecosystem services into the Corps’ decision-making framework – what to build, where, and how, given lots of competing demands and limited resources.

Amanda DeSantis from DuPont chided the United States for being so far behind the rest of the world in tracking environmental quality and preparing for widespread resource scarcity in the face of a growing world population that desires to consume as we do.

The best idea came from Shiprock Partners investment company managing partner Paul Brown, who pointed out that a ½ of 1% tax on the 30 trillion dollars in financial investments in the United States every year would purchase all of the carbon and other eco assets in the country.

University of Idaho law professor Dale Goble cautioned the group against taking too utilitarian and anthropocentric view of ecosystem services, and to continue using ecological risk assessment to determine impacts to the environment without confounding the results by including people’s preferences.

Defenders organized a panel on national policy options that highlighted the importance of addressing ecosystem services at the proper scale, working across agency boundaries, using consistent measurements and establishing clear ecological goals. Speakers proposed engaging utilities in programs to finance the protection of ecosystem services through ratepayers, and creating eco-enterprise zones for pilot programs.

Many sessions summarized ongoing efforts to assign dollar values to ecosystem services, using a variety of methods. Studies comparing the costs and benefits of using natural systems (like protecting forests, restoring floodplains and wetlands) instead of concrete and steel structures to retain floodwaters and improve water quality are among the most compelling.

A town hall meeting was held to invite feedback on a proposal to establish a National Ecosystem Services Partnership, initially housed at Duke University at the Nicholas School.  I am on the steering committee, so share your ideas on the topic with me. View A Community on Ecosystem Services presentations and abstracts.

Posted in Paying for Conservation, UncategorizedComments (1)

Biodiversity as an ecosystem service: what to measure, how, and why?

The G8+5 recently released a report titled “Mainstreaming the Economics of Nature” that argues that the current financial system is fundamentally flawed – not because of the recent meltdowns, but because it does not account for the provision, use, or loss of ecosystem services such as clean air and water, flood mitigation, and natural pollination. It predicts that failing to address this problem will continue to harm not only ecological but also economic and social systems. The emerging ideas of ecosystem services and ecosystem markets represent interesting new thinking about the benefits provided by natural systems, how those benefits are represented in economic systems, and what kinds of policies and economic tools might be used to make sure they persist into the future.

One of the first and most significant challenges in this area lies in quantifying the services being provided. The sub-field of environmental economics has produced some innovative approaches to valuing ecological services, but assessing the value conservation land adds to local economies through property values or spending on recreation falls far short of describing what we lose when a natural area is degraded or destroyed. Emerging markets in water quality and carbon have helped to pave the way, but quantifying the value of biodiversity and other unregulated resources lags far behind.

As a result, a small cottage industry has sprung up recently around the creation of environmental metrics, tools for quantifying the ecological values provided by a particular area of land. We have participated in a few of these efforts, including the Stewardship Index for Specialty Crops, which aims to develop environmental and social metrics for agriculture and food processing and distribution systems. We are also working on an effort to create metrics that efficiently and effectively quantify the biodiversity outcomes of conservation lands. These metrics should be useful in efforts to integrate ecosystem services into market values, but it may also be used more immediately to describe the impact of conservation incentive programs or to measure the biodiversity value of lands being placed in conservation or affected by development.

Developing metrics for ecosystem services is a small step toward the fundamental shifts in economic systems that are described in the G8+5 report, but it may prove to be a significant step in improving the outcomes of conservation efforts on the ground. The ability to reliably measure the impacts of development and the outcomes of conservation actions can help make sure we gain the best results from every dollar spent on conservation, whether that dollar comes from government incentive programs, mitigation for development, or private investment.

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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.

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