Program helps Texas ranchers save endangered bird, but more conservation is needed

Dr. Nancy Heger with the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department presented results of three decades of GIS analysis (from 1986 to 2015) showing that loss of golden-cheeked warbler habitat continues apace, particularly in the Austin to San Antonio corridor just west of Interstate 35.

Dr. Nancy Heger with the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department presented results of three decades of GIS analysis (from 1986 to 2015) showing that loss of golden-cheeked warbler habitat continues apace, particularly in the Austin to San Antonio corridor just west of Interstate 35.

Earlier this month, I helped organize the 2016 Golden-cheeked Warbler and Black-capped Vireo Symposium in Austin, Texas. The Symposium was attended by nearly 200 scientists, consultants, academics, regulators and interested citizens from as far away as Wisconsin and southern Mexico – all convening to review and discuss the science of the two species of interest.

Despite a recent petition to the contrary, the science on the golden-cheeked warbler is clear: habitat for the bird continues to disappear and the species warrants its endangered status.

We need more conservation, not less

A petition filed by Texans for Positive Economic Policy claims that there is ample population and habitat for the warbler, and that its status is inhibiting development and thereby the economy. There are two reasons why this claim is unfounded. Read More »

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My quest to balance nature and the agricultural economy

California's Sutter Buttes are the remnants of a volcano that are sometimes called the "smallest mountain range in the world."

California's Sutter Buttes are the remnants of a volcano that are sometimes called the "smallest mountain range in the world."

On a clear day I can see the Sutter Buttes, the smallest mountain range in the world, from my office in Sacramento. It’s a landscape that inspires me.

Although the Sacramento Valley is not without its problems, when I look out my office window, explore the local outdoors with my kids, or catch the woodsy whiff of a pencil made from California incense cedar (yes, I collect those), what I sense in those sights, sounds and smells is balance.

Striking the right balance in our working landscapes

The Sacramento Valley is a real working landscape. I use that term a lot: “working landscape.” By that I mean a place where natural resources are used to provide economic benefit – “working” to support jobs, industries and economies, both local and of scale – in a way that strikes a balance between maximizing profits and sustaining the natural resources, or the “landscape.”

Striking that balance between economic output and environmental protection has been a pillar of my work at EDF. I’ve long believed that if we can find and replicate this delicate mix everywhere, we’d be in much better shape. Read More »

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Carbon markets in agriculture are the next big thing

Scuba diving in the Great Barrier Reef.

I knew I wanted to focus my career on protecting the world’s great places, says Robert Parkhurst, pictured snorkeling in the Great Barrier Reef.

In 2006 California passed AB 32, legislation requiring the state’s Air Resources Board to develop market mechanisms to reduce the state’s greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2020. It was a watershed moment, and I was lucky enough to be at the event where Governor Schwarzenegger signed the bill.

Even back then I saw the potential for environmental markets to improve climate stability by engaging, rather than penalizing, business. That’s why I’ve spent the past 10 years – seven with electric and information technology companies and the most recent three at Environmental Defense Fund – working to make agricultural GHG reduction programs a reality.

But my passion for conservation started long before passage of AB 32. Growing up in the San Francisco Bay Area, I spent nearly all my free time outdoors, largely through Boy Scouts where I became an Eagle Scout. The moment I earned merit badges for water and soil conservation, I knew I wanted to focus my career on solving environmental challenges and protecting the world’s great places. I’ve been extremely fortunate to spend Thanksgiving atop Mount Kilimanjaro, Christmas on the Great Barrier Reef, and New Year’s Eve soaking in the natural beauty of New Zealand.

I believe carbon markets are the best tool we have for limiting emissions from agriculture, maintaining yields, and ensuring a food secure future.

These days my camping excursions involve my son and daughter, who are lobbying me to buy a plug-in electric car. Seeing my kids share that same excitement for solving environmental challenges brings a smile to my face like nothing else can.

That’s why I’m working to build a $2 billion market for agricultural greenhouse gas reductions by the end of 2020. I believe carbon markets are the best tool we have for limiting emissions from agriculture, maintaining yields, and ensuring a food secure future. Read More »

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What’s next for the greater sage-grouse? A public lands strategy

A few months have passed since the greater sage-grouse was deemed “not warranted” for listing under the Endangered Species Act. But that doesn’t mean that I’ve forgotten about the bird. Nor have the countless agency staff at the Department of Interior, Fish and Wildlife Service, Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and Forest Service (FS) who continue to work to ensure that the bird stays off of the Endangered Species List.

The listing decision signaled that the state, federal and other conservation plans for the greater sage-grouse should be enough to ensure healthy populations, and now we must continue the hard work on implementing these plans.

BLM and FS have already committed to developing Regional Mitigation Strategies for the greater sage-grouse within one year of the September 2015 listing decision – a strategy that I hope will bring consistency, transparency and high standards to mitigation on public lands. Read More »

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Why grasslands can bring in the green for growers

grazingcows_8475832_shutterstock.com_RFRebecca Haynes is a High Meadows Fellow with EDF's Agriculture Greenhouse Gas Markets program.

Next week, hundreds of ranchers, landowners, land trusts, and environmental groups will gather in Stockton, California, for the California Rangeland Conservation Coalition’s annual summit. The event isn’t new, but the enthusiasm from attendees is unprecedented and palpable.

Why such a bustle in the grasses? Because of two recent landmark developments that reward ranchers for avoiding the conversion of grasslands to croplands:

  • In August, the Climate Action Reserve (one of the offset registries that oversees carbon credit development) approved a new voluntary grasslands protocol that offers payment for conservation activities.
  • In September, the Climate Action Reserve received a Conservation Innovation Grant (CIG) from the USDA to create a pilot grasslands project in coordination with EDF. This project will assist participating landowners in generating carbon credits. If adopted by the California Air Resources Board in the future, these credits could be sold in the California cap-and-trade market.

These two developments are part of a rapidly growing trend that offers landowners payments for conservation measures. Protecting grasslands means big wins for the planet and for ranchers, who have been committed partners in conservation and now have the opportunity to receive additional incentives to protect their landscapes. Here’s how it all works. Read More »

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From California to Idaho: Protecting rural pit stops on the monarch butterfly's great migration

The eastern population of monarch butterflies overwinter in the forests of central Mexico, with the most prominent migration path following Interstate 35 from Amarillo Texas to Duluth Minnesota. (Credit: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service)

The eastern population of monarch butterflies overwinters in the forests of central Mexico, with the most prominent migration path following Interstate 35 from Amarillo Texas to Duluth Minnesota. (Credit: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service)

As a kid growing up in northern California, I found myself migrating to the beaches and boardwalk of Santa Cruz (along with tens of thousands of other land-locked youth) to escape the sweltering inland heat each summer.

Now, as an adult more than a decade into my conservation career, I’ve come to learn that the monarch butterfly, one of America’s most well-known and beloved insects, is drawn to the same place, only during winter.

The western population of monarch butterflies spends their winters along the California coast, seeking the temperate climate and coastal forests the area offers. This overwintering habitat extends as far North as the San Francisco Bay Area and as far South as San Diego along the U.S.-Mexico border. But the highest concentrations occur in a handful of sites in and around Santa Cruz.

A few weeks ago, I paid a visit to my old summer stomping grounds to see this iconic North American butterfly.

First stop: Natural Bridges State Park Read More »

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