Ecosystem Services in Working Lands: US Northeast


Conclusion 2: Programs are structured to incentivize either a single ecosystem service or multiple layered services. There are strengths and weaknesses to both approaches. Project design should account for those strengths and weaknesses as well as for the potential to scale practices from individual arms to multifunctional landscapes.

Programs that are designed to promote a single ecosystem service can be quite effective at creating measurable environmental changes at the farm scale, especially when these programs are paired with the appropriate incentive structure. However, the utility of such programs is limited, as improvements in specific metrics for a single ecosystem service do not necessarily translate to improvements in other ecosystem services or their provisioning across a landscape. As Bennett, Peterson & Gordon (2009) explain, “[e]cosystem management that attempts to maximize the production of one ecosystem service often results in substantial declines in the provisioning of other ecosystem services.” Put ano ther way, there are trade- offs between services and scales that are inherent in the structure of provisioning programs, regardless of whether these programs focus on discrete practices and services or on more diversified sets of practices and services. Through the lens of landscape multifunctionality, it is possible to envision different programs operating at different scales in order to improve ecosystem service provisioning across the landscape. Single owners of large tracts of working forests, for example, may be more enticed by the types of carbon sequestration programs that are available only to large acreages. At the same time, farmland-adjacent riparian areas with many landowners may be better suited for material-based incentive programs that improve pollution interception, wildlife habitat, and flood surge, among others. This is just one example. Determining the appropriate mix of services and scales for improving provisioning across particular working landscapes is a research challenge across the U.S. Northeast. In order to do this, new kinds of scientific thinking and institutional arrangements are required that encourage multiscalar thinking and cross-boundary collective action among landowners, resource managers, and policy makers (Rickenbach et al. 2011). Recommendation 2.1 Convene an expert panel about the strategic ecosystem services priorities for the region and compare to IPBES priorities for the Americas to assess gaps and opportunities for cross-scalar synergies.  For Cooperative Extension: Work closely with working lands managers and producers to conduct household- and farm-level needs assessments that incorporate economic, social, and ecological dimensions to better understand vulnerabilities as well as opportunities for future programmatic efforts.  For Agricultural Experiment Stations: Integrate ecosystem services needs assessments conducted at various scales, from the household to the community to the state, to better understand needs and priorities in particular regions as well as the possible synergies among them and across scales. One way to position working land production as a leader in climate change mitigation would be to conduct an ecosystem services needs assessment to allow for more strategic targeting of ecosystem services provisioning programs and policies at multiple scales. Further studies should build from the database created for this landscape assessment to further catalog which specific ecosystem services and practices are being invested in. Such a study should investigate trends in investment data — who has been awarded grants or has received direct/indirect incentives to accomplish what. Many organizations and levels of government have begun this type of work and have their own agendas and priorities in this regard. Cooperative Extension and Agricultural Experiment Stations, however, might be able to take a broader, multi-scalar perspective on this work with the effect of reconciling these disparate agendas while also contributing their own.


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