Tag Archive | "Oregon"

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)

Planning for Climate Change Across Sectors

Over the last several months, Oregon’s state land use planning agency has been leading an interagency effort to develop a cross-sectoral framework for climate change adaptation planning. The final document (including a separate executive summary) was released last week. This report was requested by Governor Ted Kulongoski and was intended to be a first assessment of how the different agencies can help Oregon’s communities and ecosystems respond adaptively to future climate change. The result was a joint effort of the state’s natural resource, energy, transportation, and public health agencies.

This new state adaptation framework is in many ways a first crack at a very difficult nut. The process was limited somewhat by a short timeframe and severe limitations in the state budget, but it was also a valuable opportunity for representatives from a diverse set of state agencies to sit down at the same table and talk about their plans for preparing for climate change. Perhaps most importantly, it helped identify adaptation strategies that would benefit multiple sectors – for example, rehabilitating riparian areas to improve natural water storage on the landscape, which can benefit cities, agriculture, and wildlife – and to look for areas where adaptation strategies in once sector might unintentionally undermine efforts in another sectors. The process really highlighted the importance of coordinating adaptation planning to avoid duplicative or counterproductive efforts.

I participated in developing this framework as part of an ongoing contract with the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, and I was impressed with the willingness of the diverse set of agencies at the table to think about the challenges and opportunities of climate change in an ecological context. Everyone around the table clearly recognized the interconnectedness of human and natural systems and was eager to find solutions that had multiple benefits across multiple sectors. Likewise, everyone recognized that technologies that benefited one sector at the expense of others were likely to fail in the long run.

At the same time, our conversations made it increasingly clear that there are not a lot of easy answers when it comes to climate change. The goal was to identify inexpensive actions for short-term implementation – the low-hanging fruit, as it’s often called – but in a world where climate conditions are changing rapidly and both humans and wildlife are already struggling to keep up with those changes, these kinds of solutions are hard to come by. I think this highlights the importance of making significant early investments in both mitigation and adaptation efforts, even at a time when budgets are tight. This problem will only become more intractable and more expensive the longer we put those investments off., and climate change itself will soon start having significant negative impacts on local, national, and global economies. Kudos to Oregon for being one of the first states to start having these difficult conversations and mapping out the best way forward.

Posted in Climate ChangeComments (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)

A photo of an estuary

At the front lines of climate change

A photo of an estuaryEstuaries, the ecosystems that exist where rivers and oceans meet, are at the front lines of climate change. Rising sea levels threaten to inundate coastal wetlands, increasing their salinity and causing a shift in vegetation communities. Air and water temperatures, precipitation patterns, and ocean chemistry are also changing. All of these processes likely add up to a loss many of the values these systems provide, including providing habitat for fish, migratory birds, and other species, filtering water, stabilizing shorelines, and buffering coastal communities from storm damage.

On November 18-19th, a group of researchers and managers got together in Newport, Oregon, to mull over what to do about this situation. We asked ourselves:  How can we best manage these sensitive ecosystems so that they continue to provide fish and wildlife habitat and other important values as the climate changes?

The question is a particularly tough one, because relatively simple physical changes in climate and water chemistry will create complex effects in biological systems. For example, we know that air temperatures here in the Pacific Northwest are likely to rise some 2-5°F over the next several decades and that we can expect on the order of 3-4 feet of sea-level rise globally by the end of the century (although the magnitude of sea-level rise remains much debated).  These changes are likely to affect factors that are critical to estuary function like water salinity, sediment deposition, and vegetation type, but we know relatively little about exactly how these cascading effects will play out on the ground. As a result, many managers feel that climate change projections are still too uncertain to inform management decisions

One of the conclusions from the group was that many of the conservation tools we already have will be useful in responding to climate change. For example, many estuaries can effectively migrate inland as sea levels rise. Where they are hemmed in by development, though, they are unable to shift and some of their function and value as wildlife habitat is almost certain to be lost, so protecting coastal lands from development through conservation easements and purchase is vitally important. We also discussed some creative strategies for managing estuaries and the riparian areas that feed them, such as reintroducing beavers into streams and rivers improve water storage on the landscape and help moderate water flows.

Many of these strategies are robust to uncertainty, in the sense that they are very likely to be beneficial even if we are wrong about the magnitude or effects of future changes in the climate. Developing more of these robust strategies will help keep conservationists from becoming paralyzed by the uncertainty inherent in climate prediction and modeling. In Oregon, the next step is to delve deeper into some of the solutions we identified and start thinking critically about what tools to use, where, and why. We’ll also be working to spread the word so that that general public is more aware of likely climate change impacts and our options for managing it.

Posted in Climate Change, Pacific NorthwestComments (0)

Photo of a greater sage grouse

Sage Grouse Conservation Strategy Delayed in Oregon

Photo of a greater sage grouse

Photo courtesy of U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Faced with strong opposition from wind developers and some eastern Oregon counties, the Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission has delayed final adoption of the state’s updated sage grouse conservation strategy, which had been scheduled for December 3.  In the meantime, the Natural Resources Conservation Service is moving ahead with the next round of funding for its Oregon sage grouse initiative, providing an additional $3.5 million for projects to improve habitat for sage grouse on private lands in eastern Oregon.  The focus is on juniper removal within three miles of sage grouse leks in Baker, Crook, Deschutes, Harney, Lake, and Malheur counties.  Deadline for signups is December 15.  Payments for juniper removal typically average about $141 per acre.

Posted in Imperiled Wildlife, Pacific Northwest, RenewablesComments (0)

Oregon celebrates passage of Measure 76

Getting 954,000 Oregon voters to say yes to anything, much less funding for conservation, is pretty remarkable.  But the 69% vote in favor of the Water, Parks and Wildlife initiative also included majorities in every county (with a high of 77.5% in Benton County and a low of 53.6% in Grant County), according to the final Measure 76 tally.  Many joint venture partners can share in the credit, but we all owe a big debt of gratitude to The Nature Conservancy, which provided much of the leadership and the bulk of the money for the successful campaign.  Looking forward, the most significant change for the Oregon Watershed Enhancement Board’s grant program will be the elimination of the current distinction between capital and non-capital expenditures, which should open the door to a more holistic approach to project funding.   Joint venture partners will also be seeking statutory and administrative changes to improve OWEB’s process for land acquisition grants.

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Malheur National Wildlife Refuge develops planning alternatives

In eastern Oregon, Malheur National Wildlife Refuge tested a set of preliminary draft alternatives in several stakeholder meetings in October.  The two action alternatives are likely to differ primarily in their emphasis on restoration of a more natural river through the Blitzen Valley;  consensus among the stakeholders has been that control of the carp that have decimated Malheur Lake and other refuge wetlands is priority number one, and the major question is how much else the refuge should try to take on with its limited resources.  In the Blitzen Valley, conservation interests have signaled their willingness to consider use of a targeted grazing program to meet specific ecological objectives in conjunction with a rigorous monitoring and evaluation program.

Posted in National Wildlife Refuges, Pacific Northwest, Public LandsComments (0)

The Fate of the Washington Ground Squirrel

The Washington ground squirrel’s largest remaining block of habitat is effectively an island of native grasslands and sagebrush steppe in a sea of dryland wheat and irrigated croplands.  The Navy operates a naval weapons training facility in the area, but their activities have been primarily focused on electronic warfare tactics.  The squirrel is listed as endangered under Oregon’s law and has been listed as a candidate species (currently a category 5 priority for listing) under Federal law.

Threats to the squirrel were not considered imminent until a few years ago when the Oregon National Guard proposed building a heavy weapons training on the Navy’s Boardman Bombing Range in the heart of the Washington ground squirrel’s remaining habitat. The proposed facility would offer live-fire training exercises and utilize tanks, artillery, machine guns and ground-launched missiles.  Not only is there a risk of direct loss of squirrels due to ground disturbance, construction activities, and increased road traffic, but also increased threat of wildfire and encroachment of invasive species.  Using live ammunition is likely to result in fires, also increasing the post-fire invasion by cheatgrass and weeds.

The Oregon Military Department issued a Draft Environmental Assessment in 2006 but the training facility has been on hold until recently when the U.S. Navy’s announced their plan to draft an Environmental Impact Statement for the proposed project.  As threats become more imminent, Defenders and other conservation groups close to this issue are preparing scoping comments for the EIS and will work to protect the future of the Washington ground squirrel.

Posted in Imperiled Wildlife, Pacific NorthwestComments (0)

Settlement funds pay for land conservation in Oregon

The state of Oregon’s $150 million settlement with the Bonneville Power Administration for mitigation of wildlife habitat affected by the federal hydroelectric system in the Willamette Basin cleared the way for last-minute closing of two big land deals in late October.  The Nature Conservancy completed its $23.4 million purchase of the 1,270-acre Wildish property at the confluence of the Willamette River’s coast and middle forks,  long identified as one of the highest conservation priorities in the Willamette Valley.  BPA provided $20.8 million for the Wildish purchase, OWEB contributed $2.5 million through its Willamette Special Investments Partnership, and TNC tapped its Northwest Wildlife Conservation Initiative for $100,000 from the Doris Duke foundation.  The settlement agreement also included BPA’s $9.7 million purchase of a conservation easement on the 1,310-acre Trappist Abbey property near Lafayette, one of the valley’s largest remaining blocks of upland forest.

Under the terms of the settlement agreement, BPA will provide an additional $2.5 million a year in 2011-13 for projects recommended by the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, increasing to $8 million per year from 2014 to 2025. BPA will also give ODFW $837,000per year in 2011 and 2012 to operate the mitigation program, including maintenance of conserved lands, increasing to $1.7 million per year starting in 2014.

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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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