Growing Returns

Selected tag(s): ranchers

A reality check on the drones boom

A drone flies over a farm field. Photo credit: Flickr user ackab1

A drone flies over a farm field with an on-board camera. Photo credit: Flickr user ackab1

Last week, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) released much anticipated rules on commercial small drone use. In a nutshell:

  • The rules loosen restrictions on commercial drone use, and later this summer the FAA will start legally allowing permits for drones weighing less than 55 pounds.
  • The rules are a boon to producers and ranchers interested in precision farming practices, thanks to drones’ advanced imaging technologies.

Industry groups estimate that precision agriculture has the potential to account for almost 80 percent of civilian drone use by 2020. Already, 16 percent of agricultural retailers are selling drones – a figure set to skyrocket in the coming years.

So this is big news for the ag industry – but will it help the environment, too?

Not necessarily. Drones provide lots of data, and nothing more. They don’t actually change anything on the ground or benefit the environment directly. It’s up to growers and their advisors to use the information collected by drones to make informed decisions that can benefit profitability and the planet. Here’s why drones are just one (important) piece of the puzzle. Read More »

Posted in Sustainable Agriculture / Also tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Read 1 Response

Monarch butterflies get help from Texas ranch

A monarch caterpillar eats antelope horn milkweed! growing at Shield Ranch.

A monarch caterpillar eats antelope horn milkweed growing at Shield Ranch.

A few weeks ago, I visited Shield Ranch, a 6,000-acre property devoted to responsible cattle management and wildlife conservation. I made the visit to the ranch – less than 20 miles west of my home in Austin – to test a new tool being designed to more accurately assess habitat for the monarch butterfly.

Standing in a field of wildflowers with a team of scientists, we used the monarch butterfly habitat quantification tool to measure vegetation and determine what monarch habitat was available on the property. We’ve used similar habitat quantification tools for other at-risk wildlife like the lesser prairie-chicken and greater sage-grouse, but this was the first time we tested a tool for monarch butterfly habitat.

Read More »

Posted in Habitat Exchange / Also tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments are closed

What do western ranchers and a southern environmentalist have in common?

Sagebrush in Carson Valley, Nevada. Photo credit: Flickr user loren chipman.

Sagebrush in Carson Valley, Nevada. Photo credit: Flickr user loren chipman.

I trace my love of the outdoors to two memories: the first, sitting with my grandmother watching the goldfinches, chickadees and wrens that visited her feeder, and the second, camping in Pisgah National Forest with my parents and sister.

Days spent with my grandmother in our small South Carolina town left an indelible mark on my life. She taught me a conservation ethic that led me to Environmental Defense Fund (EDF). Camping taught me a love of the land and a respect for those that manage it.

As director of habitat markets, I’m focused on building conservation solutions for wildlife like the greater sage-grouse, a bird that lives more than 2,000 miles from my home in a landscape unlike any of the forests or farms I grew up exploring.

The sage-grouse is an indicator species of a vast declining ecosystem spanning more than 150 million acres across 11 states. The grouse relies on the cover of sagebrush – one of the most iconic symbols of the western landscape.

Because EDF puts a premium on policy, science and collaboration with diverse stakeholders, we’ve been working with landowners, industry, and state and federal agencies to create a habitat exchange program to better ensure the bird’s survival. Common values make this collaboration possible. Read More »

Posted in ecosystems, Habitat Exchange, Partnerships, Wildlife Protection / Also tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments are closed

Monarchs still need milkweed, and farmers are growing it

Rain builds over a field near Lubbock, Texas. Photo credit: Flickr user Craig O'Neal

Rain builds over a field near Lubbock, Texas. Photo credit: Flickr user Craig O’Neal

I am watching the rain pour down outside my window as I write this blog. El Niño is once again giving central and north Texas a good drenching, which has brought with it some severe and deadly flood conditions. But the rains are a welcome sight to Texas farmers and ranchers who have become all too used to drought and wildfire conditions. And they aren’t the only ones benefitting from the heavy rains.

All this wet weather has resulted in a spectacular display of spring wildflowers, including vast expanses of milkweed and nectar plants that the iconic North American monarch butterflies need to survive and thrive.

Recent headlines suggest that milkweed loss is just one of several threats to monarch populations, with drought, habitat fragmentation and reduced availability of nectar plants also influencing the species’ decline. In reality, all of these threats are interconnected in a recipe that could spell disaster for the monarch. Read More »

Posted in Climate Resilience, ecosystems, Habitat Exchange, Partnerships, Wildlife Protection / Also tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Read 2 Responses

First-ever habitat exchange opens for business

Nevada rancher works to conserve sage-grouse

Nearly two dozen Nevada landowners have already submitted letters of interest to generate conservation credits for sage-grouse through the exchange. Read more >>

For the first time ever, ranchers are able to enroll in a habitat credit exchange program to earn revenue for activities that protect and enhance habitat for the greater sage-grouse.

The state of Nevada and federal agencies today announced the approved use of the Nevada Conservation Credit System to protect the grouse’s sagebrush habitat on public lands.

This program will create a robust mitigation market that will bring greater certainty and transparency to the state’s agriculture and energy industries, ultimately allowing both sage-grouse and the economy to flourish.

About the Nevada Conservation Credit System

The Nevada Conservation Credit System is an advanced approach to protecting habitat for the greater sage-grouse that ensures impacts are fully offset in a way that helps create net benefit. It does so by creating new incentives for industries to avoid and minimize impacts, and for private landowners and public land managers to preserve, enhance, and restore habitat. Read More »

Posted in ecosystems, Habitat Exchange, Wildlife Protection / Also tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Comments are closed

The devastation of the Soda Fire, and the seeds of hope for the future

soda fire

Wildlife warning sign on Highway 95.

My family and I returned home to California a few days ago following an idyllic week camping on Payette Lake near McCall, Idaho. Our route home took us down Highway 95 in southwestern Idaho, a road typically bordered by the beautiful farmlands of the Snake River Basin. But our views weren’t so picturesque.

Just south of Nampa, Idaho we began to notice the charred landscape left behind by the Soda Fire, the largest of recent fires burning across the United States. The Soda Fire has burned more than 280,000 acres of prime sagebrush steppe, which provides key grazing lands for cattle ranchers and important habitat for threatened wildlife like the greater sage-grouse.

As I gazed upon the aftermath of the fire, all I could think about was the devastating effects it has had on local ranching families and wildlife. Fortunately, there are steps we can take to restore these scorched landscapes and prevent damaging wildfires in the future, but we have to act fast. Read More »

Posted in ecosystems, Habitat Exchange, Wildlife Protection / Also tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments are closed

Grasslands protocol opens another carbon market for farmers

GrasslandsGrowers with grasslands on their property have a new reason to leave that land untouched.

On July 22, the Climate Action Reserve, a non-profit organization that creates offset standards and serves as one of the offset registries for California’s cap-and-trade program, approved a new protocol that rewards farmers for avoiding the conversion of grasslands to cropland.

The new “grasslands protocol” highlights a growing trend in agriculture: farmers being paid for reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Read More »

Posted in Carbon Market, fertilizer / Also tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Read 1 Response

With the launching of a new market, he’s a vanguard of grouse conservation in Wyoming

Eric Peterson

Eric Peterson has been hired to fill a new position as pilot administrator of the Wyoming Conservation Exchange.

A landowner-led conservation effort in Wyoming has sparked a new market and has now created a new job.

The University of Wyoming recently announced the hiring of a new pilot administrator of the Wyoming Conservation Exchange, a voluntary, market-based program that seeks to enroll local landowners in landscape-scale conservation of greater sage-grouse, mule deer and hydrologic services.

Eric was formerly manager of the Sublette County Conservation District, where he played a critical role in developing the Wyoming Conservation Exchange with partners from the University of Wyoming, Environmental Defense Fund, the Wyoming Stock Growers Association and the Wyoming chapter of The Nature Conservancy.

In his new role, Eric will work with potential buyers and sellers of conservation credits to facilitate pilot transactions and market growth.

I asked Eric to share some thoughts on what drew him to this role and what he hopes to achieve over the next few months.

Read More »

Posted in ecosystems, Habitat Exchange, Partnerships, Sustainable Agriculture, Wildlife Protection / Also tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Read 1 Response

How agriculture’s resilience to climate change benefits us all

NYCity_shutterstock_12345841_RF (1)

81 percent of Americans live in cities, but rely on rural areas for everyday needs.

Traditionally, governments haven’t factored farms and ranches into their climate mitigation and adaptation planning. Instead, the focus has mostly been on protecting urban communities. But that is all changing. At the National Adaptation Forum earlier this month in St. Louis, agriculture was top-of-mind in discussions about reducing emissions and building resilience to climate change.

That’s because in order to protect people, 81 percent of whom live in urban areas, we’ll need to protect what’s around where they live, too. It’s largely rural areas, like the farming town of 1,100 people where I grew up, whose working lands and farms provide valuable services to urban areas. These services include food security, flood and drought protection, recreation and water storage. Agriculture can also play (and is already playing) a big role in reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

The more resilient we can make agriculture, the better off we’ll all be. Read More »

Posted in Carbon Market, Climate Resilience, fertilizer, Sustainable Agriculture, western water, Wildlife Protection / Also tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Read 3 Responses

USDA: Helping ranchers is crucial to helping sage-grouse

Central Oregon rancher restores sage-grouse habitat with NRCS assistance. Source: nrcs.usda.gov

Central Oregon rancher restores sage-grouse habitat with NRCS assistance. Source: nrcs.usda.gov

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) just announced new funding to support sage-grouse habitat conservation on working lands.

This is very promising, considering the last round of sage-grouse funding engaged more than 1,000 ranchers to conserve 4.4 million acres of bird habitat – an area twice the size of Yellowstone National Park.

That last round of funding – made available in 2010 through the Natural Resource Conservation Service’s (NRCS) Sage Grouse Initiative – invested $296.5 million to restore and conserve sage-grouse habitat. Today, NRCS pledged to extend these efforts by $200 million over another for years.

Doubling down on a good investment
Read More »

Posted in ecosystems, Habitat Exchange, Wildlife Protection / Also tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Comments are closed