Ecosystem Services in Working Lands: US Northeast

Recommendation 2.2 Programs to provision ecosystem services are differentially accessible. Ecosystem services themselves impact communities differently. It is important to consider not only the effects of programs on ecosystem services but also their effects on equity.

 For Cooperative Extension: Develop outreach and educational programs and provide resources that are designed for traditionally marginalized and disenfranchised groups, particularly people in the BIPOC community, LGBTQI+ community, and the landless.  For Agricultural Experiment Stations: Investigate disparities not only in the effects of ecosystem service provisioning but in who has access to programs that promote it to better understand these inequities and develop programs capable of addressing them. In one sense, improving climate change mitigation on working lands is an ecological challenge, one that is centered on the need to improve ecological functions across working landscapes. In another sense, , improving climate change mitigation is also a socio-economic challenge, one that forces us to focus not just on the social and economic dimensions of ecological services, but also on the unequal vulnerabilities and discrepancies that exist within these same working landscapes. These inequalities manifest in not only who has access to the programs and policies being implemented, but also in how ecosystem service provisioning is felt and experienced and who benefits the most from this provisioning. This dynamic points to trade-offs and potential synergies that often arise in ecosystem service programs between the equity and efficiency of different schemes or incentive structures to improve provisioning on working lands (see Loft et al. 2019). According to Pascual et al. (2014), while payments for ecosystem service schemes are often portrayed as being more efficient, this efficiency is sometimes at odds with a more comprehensive understanding of social and equity considerations. To some extent, resolving this tension is beyond the scope of any single program or policy. The design of individual programs still needs to consider how to best achieve the ecosystem service goals of that particular project as well as the structures or incentives that are needed to do so. But as an increasing number of scholars make clear, equity considerations are an essential component of designing ecosystem service provisioning programs that are capable of addressing the social, economic, and ecological dimensions of ecosystem services (McDermott et al. 2012). In this assessment, a number of innovative and interesting programs addressed issues of equity in programs for ecosystem service provisioning. At the national level, the non-profit Agrarian Trust runs a number of programs to help farmers and land-based organizations by focusing on issues of land tenure, reparative justice, and regenerative agriculture. At the regional level, the organization Land For Good offers the Working Lands Program, which helps non-farming landowners bring land into agriculture to improve community food systems, increase access to farmland, and address land stewardship goals. At the state level, the Connecticut Department of Agriculture offers the Farm Viability Grant for supporting institutions that focus on issues of equity, urban agriculture, and farmland accessibility. In the broader scheme of ecosystem services policies and programs in the U.S. Northeast, greater focus and attention is needed on the importance of equity in addressing not only the ecological dimensions of ecosystem services provisioning but the social and economic dimensions, as well.

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