Ecosystem Services & Environmental Service Markets
In addition to high quality local agricultural products, Marin’s rangelands and working farms and ranches provide ecological benefits referred to as “ecosystem goods and services”. By definition these are the benefits people obtain from healthy ecosystems, and include things like clean water for boating, swimming, and drinking; habitat for wildlife; and sequestration of atmospheric carbon. A few good resources for learning more about these services are:
- United States Department of Agriculture definitions of ecosystem and watershed services; and
- Ecological services to and from rangelands of the United States by Kris Havstad and co-authors.
- An Economic Analysis of the Benefits of Habitat Conservation on California Rangelands by Timm Kroeger and co-authors.
Payments for Services
With increased recognition of these services, and the ways in which farms and ranches provide them, comes the interest and ability to gain additional community and public support for local family ranches and capture increased revenue through premium prices, watershed payments, and environmental markets.
- Premium Prices: Programs such as Verified Green are helping livestock producers to secure higher prices for calves sold through markets.
- Watershed Payments: Currently direct financial support to farmers and ranchers for ecological services are being made through Watershed Payments. One example of these payments is administered by the Watershed Agricultural Council, which facilitates payments made by drinking water providers and users in New York to support on-farm soil and water conservation practices. Another example is the Santa Fe Municipal Watershed Plan, which uses payments from water users to cover the long-term maintenance and management of private forest lands providing drinking water.
- Environmental Markets: More information about markets is available at the USDA Office of Environmental Markets. One example is the Chicago Climate Exchange, a voluntary carbon market, through which ranchers and farmers are selling carbon credits for rangelands carbon sequestration and other green house gas projects like methane digestion. Here in California, this function is beginning to be filled by the California Climate Action Registry and others.