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Innovation in Conservation - A New Slate of NRCS Environmental Markets Projects

Posted by Kari Cohen, Natural Resources Conservation Service in Conservation
Sep 18, 2015
A wheat field
50,000 acres of rangeland in North and South Dakota have permanent protection when enrolled into a carbon offset program through a USDA Conservation Innovation Grant. These offsets will be sold on the voluntary market. Photo credit: Scott Bauer.

Environmental markets—the buying and selling of ecosystem services like clean air and water, and wildlife habitat—help more private landowners get conservation on the ground. Markets attract non-Federal funding to conservation, complement USDA’s work with agricultural producers, and can yield natural resource improvement at a lower cost to other approaches.

USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) is a Federal leader in supporting the development of environmental markets, largely through its Conservation Innovation Grants (CIG) program. Among CIG recipients are one of the earliest and most successful water quality trading programs in Ohio’s Great Miami River watershed and the Ohio River Basin water quality trading program, a recipient of the U.S. Water Prize this year. Also through CIG, USDA hosted an event in November 2014 celebrating a first-of-its-kind transaction—the purchase by Chevrolet of carbon credits generated on ranch lands in North Dakota.

On Tuesday, September 15, NRCS announced its 2015 Conservation Innovation Grants awards. Twenty-three of the 45 awards are going to environmental markets projects. These projects are spread across three categories—water quality trading, greenhouse gas markets, and conservation finance and impact investments. The third category is new to CIG and focuses on projects that develop innovative approaches and partnerships to attract private capital to private lands conservation.

Below are highlights of a few of the new projects—you can view the full slate of 23 environmental markets projects and the complete list of 45 CIG projects here.

  • Environmental Defense Fund ($960,101)—Proposes to build on its strong relationships with United Suppliers, the Almond Board of California, and farmer networks to create a large scale pilot generating the first aggregated nutrient management greenhouse gas credit project. This project will demonstrate how growers implementing enhanced nitrogen management practices on both annual and perennial crops can participate in carbon markets, setting the stage for significant reductions in nitrogen fertilizer pollution—a win for the environment and for growers’ bottom lines.
  • The Nature Conservancy (TNC) ($498,477)—Proposes to demonstrate the potential of carbon markets to support financial investment. TNC will enroll 50,000 acres of rangeland in North and South Dakota into a carbon offset program that offers permanent protection to the acres and the generation of approximately 750,000 tons of carbon offsets. These offsets will be sold on the voluntary market; net revenues will be used for additional conservation in the Prairie Pothole Region.
  • Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) ($300,000)—Proposes to develop and execute, for the first time, trades of “stacked” ecosystem services—both water quality and greenhouse gas emissions reduction credits. EPRI administers the Ohio River Basin nutrient trading program, the only multi-state trading program in the country.
  • Conservation Marketplace Midwest ($243,933)—Proposes to develop and pilot a Field Stewards program, an innovative conservation credit system designed to allow companies in the food industry to buy “offsets” for water quality and agricultural conservation. Through the purchase of certification credits, food companies can demonstrate sustainability to their customers without having to create a new chain-of-custody supply chain for agricultural commodities, keeping costs low for retailers and the consumer.
  • Partners for Western Conservation ($279,400)—Proposes, with partners including Colorado Cattlemen’s Association and The States of Nevada and Utah, to develop a pay-for-success investment instrument for wildlife habitat and water quality conservation. The State of Nevada will pilot the instrument as part of its efforts to conserve Greater sage-grouse habitat.
Category/Topic: Conservation