Ecosystem Services in Working Lands: US Northeast

This might entail, for example, targeting a specific type of agricultural industry with a year-long campaign of federal-level easement purchase programs (direct incentive) along with state-level tax credits (indirect) and NOFA technical education (indirect). It might also entail the introduction of a federal-level PES program on private forestland coupled with state-level technical assistance to help monitor and document ecosystem services production. There are a number of ways to couple direct and indirect incentive structures to avoid the trade-offs that naturally arise through either incentive type alone. Researching and exploring these possibilities is an interesting avenue for future efforts.

Recommendation 1.2 Promote ecosystem service provisioning at smaller scales (e.g., the household, farm or the community) to illustrate value, ensure long-term sustainability, and maintain local stakeholder participation.

 For Cooperative Extension: Work closely with working lands managers and producers to develop comprehensive economic and ecological sustainability plans at 1-year, 10-year, and 25-year intervals.  For Agricultural Experiment Stations: Research how to (i.e., what types of ecosystem services, producers, and incentives will) best scale up ecosystem service provisioning programs to achieve changes at the landscape scale and beyond. Balancing long-term and short-term goals is one challenge of implementing ecosystem service provisioning programs in the U.S. Northeast. A related challenge is the need to ensure sustainable stakeholder buy-in and commitments to new practices after program windows close and active incentives cease. To do this, it is essential that working lands producers not only derive economic benefit from these programs, but also that they see the effects of these programs in a way that is local and tangible and worthy of the investment of time. According to Piñeiro e t al. (2021), β€œit seems that one of the strongest motivations for farmers to adopt and maintain sustainable practices is the perceived positive outcomes of these practices for their farm or the environment.” Viewed from this perspective, certain programs like carbon credit markets or offset trading, for example, might sound good in the abstract, but on the ground, they mean very little to producers and landowners who do not see the effects on their lands or in their communities. Other programs, especially those that are more locally focused and that address not only ecological returns but also social and economic ones, hold greater potential for achieving long-term results through higher adoption rates. For small-scale producers and landowners, in particular, who as discussed are inherently risk-averse, direct incentives may help offset the risks of initial buy-in. Long-term sustainability, however, will be attained only through programs and practices that demonstrate value through improved ecosystem services delivery at a scale that is accessible and meaningful to these same producers and their livelihoods.

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