USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) Chief Jason Weller was one of several government leaders to present last week at the A Community on Ecosystem Services (ACES) Conference to discuss how USDA incorporates ecosystem services and market-based approaches into its conservation mission.
Every two years, leaders in the study and practice of ecosystem services and environmental markets meet at a large conference. The conference, held in Arlington, Virginia this year, aims to link science, practice and sustainable decision-making by bringing together stakeholders from across the nation and world.
In his remarks, Weller outlined NRCS’ approach to incorporating ecosystem services and environmental markets into its conservation mission. NRCS has an innate interest in ecosystem services and environmental markets —for nearly 80 years, the agency has been helping farmers, ranchers and forest landowners generate ecosystem services, like clean air and water, for the good of the environment and human health.
While NRCS does not directly develop or administer markets, the agency is interested in providing the best available scientific and technical assistance to farmers and ranchers interested in participating in environmental markets, and to market administrators and practitioners looking to engage the agricultural community.
Weller highlighted three priorities for the agency:
1) Support and harness market mechanisms to stimulate private investment in conservation. NRCS has been a federal leader in supporting water quality and greenhouse gas trading markets for a decade through its Conservation Innovation Grants program.
2) Leverage private capital to complement NRCS’ public investments. Weller noted that “It’s no accident that financial entities and institutional investors are interested in conservation finance and green infrastructure. Let’s find ways to help investors generate returns and simultaneously generate ecosystem service returns for landowners and environmental quality.”
3) Harness the power of consumers. “With education and proper signals, I think there’s a way you can engage consumers to buy conservation,” Weller said. NRCS is engaging with groups like Field-to-Market to explore how to make buying natural resource conservation a reality for the American public.
NRCS’ technical assistance, conservation programs and initiatives are all tools we use to help private landowners put conservation measures on the ground. Harnessing the power of market mechanisms is just another way to engage producers in voluntary conservation, at a lower cost and using investments from the private sector.
Read more about the other USDA leaders who spoke at ACES.