California Dream 2.0

Plow, or Preserve and Profit?

Konza Prairie Biological Station

This weekend, long-time Minneapolis Star Tribune outdoors columnist and reporter Dennis Anderson wrote a revelatory call to arms about the dire state of conservation in Minnesota:

“This ain’t working, and we need to try something different. Radically different.”

Directly to the West of Minnesota in the Prairie Pothole Region of Montana, North Dakota and South Dakota, annual losses of native grasslands have averaged approximately 50,000 acres per year since 2007, leading to a significant loss of soil carbon. High prices for commodity crops make it much more attractive to plow grasslands than to keep them intact.

What if a market-based initiative paid farmers and ranchers for keeping grasslands grass? A new carbon offset protocol announced yesterday may just do that.

The protocol officially titled the “Avoided Conversion of Grasslands and Shrublands to Crop Production” was developed through a partnership effort including Environmental Defense Fund, Duck’s Unlimited, The Climate Trust, The Nature Conservancy and Terra Global Capital and was funded in part by the U.S Department of Agriculture’s Conservation Innovation Grant.

Just approved by the American Carbon Registry, this first of its kind voluntary protocol will be best applied to grasslands in the Midwest. Producers of these offsets can sell them to any willing buyer in America. Ranchers in the Midwest already recognize the value of their land lies in the soil health below ground where the soil translates to healthy food for their cattle. Now these same producers can quantify this value and sell it through new environmental markets.

“This project provides Northern Great Plains producers with new ways to earn income from conservation activities, expanded opportunity for outdoor recreation and an opportunity to create jobs in their communities,” said Robert Bonnie, USDA Under Secretary for Natural Resources and the Environment. “The American Carbon Registry’s approval of this innovative ACoGS protocol enables vital projects like our partnership with Ducks Unlimited to preserve a treasured national landscape, while also preventing the release of greenhouse gas emissions.”

This first project the Under Secretary mentions, is estimated to perpetually conserve 5,000 – 6,000 acres of native mixed-grass prairie. The protection of grasslands will also indirectly protect 500-600 acres of seasonal and semi-permanent wetlands situated in the protected grasslands.

And these lands are protected not through onerous regulations or hollowed out federal conservation programs but through innovative new revenue streams for the agriculture sector from emerging environmental markets such as California’s carbon market.  Between now and 2020, companies in California can purchase more than 200 million metric tons of offsets.  This protocol has the opportunity to help supply that demand.

This is an exciting step forward for Midwest producers. By making ecosystems a part of the economy ranchers and their families will benefit from diverse opportunities to make more money off their land.


Posted in Climate, Ecosystem Restoration, Ecosystem Services, Offsets, Sustainable Agriculture / Tagged , , | Read 1 Response

EDF Wades into the Sierra Meadows: a photo tour

Whitney. Yosemite. Sequoia. Lake Tahoe. These show-stopping landscapes of the Sierra Nevada mountain range are well known and much loved. Yet nestled above the Sierra’s oak woodlands and amidst the alpine forests lie overlooked gems in the landscape—the Sierra meadows—wide open valleys with once meandering rivers. These working landscapes have the potential to provide high quality forage for the regions’ cattle industry, increased water storage for our cities, farms, and ranches, and key habitat for our state’s distinctive wildlife.

But while the Sierra meadows provide numerous benefits or “ecosystem services”, many are now damaged and degraded – approximately 40-60% or between 130,000 and 200,000 acres of meadows have altered hydrology. A new project of the Environmental Defense Fund is looking to prioritize the restoration of some of these meadows: Working Meadows on Private Lands in the Sierras.

Through a grant from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, EDF is coordinating a partnership of Sierra and rangeland experts to provide robust incentives to revitalize the Sierra meadows. We’re officially collaborating with American Rivers, the Cosumnes, American Bear Yuba Integrated Regional Water Management Group, and county resource conservation districts. The project will be extended through outreach to the larger Sierra community and other organizations such as UC Cooperative Extension, California Rangeland Coalition, and California Cattlemen’s Association.

The goal of this project is two-fold: further the scientific and economic data to illustrate the costs and benefits of meadow restoration in the Sierra and to build a Sierra-wide community in support of this effort.

Restoration has already begun on a small scale on a few sites in the northern reaches of the Sierra. We’ve gone on a series of site visits to learn first-hand from landowners and scientists about meadow restoration. I plan to write more about these site visits in future blog posts – but to give you a sneak peak, below you’ll find a photo tour of our first trip to Perazzo Meadows, in the Tahoe National Forest, taken by my talented colleague Mathew Grimm.

I can learn about meadow restoration from talking to my ecologist colleagues and reading peer reviewed papers. But there’s nothing like pulling on some boots and walking a newly-restored meadow with the aspens showing signs of fall in the granite valleys of the Sierra.

Many thanks to Randy Westmoreland from the Forest Service and Beth Christman from the Truckee River Watershed Council for a great tour of Perazzo Meadows.

Next blog update on the Sierra Meadows? A closer look at meadow restoration and a trip to the Feather River.

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