Agriculture Secretary Ed Schafer announced the intention to establish a new USDA Office of Ecosystem Services and Markets, as well as a federal government-wide Conservation and Land Management Environmental Services Board. The office and board was created to "assist the Secretary of Agriculture in the development of new technical guidelines and science-based methods to assess environmental service benefits," which will promote markets for ecosystem services, including carbon trading to mitigate climate change.
"Our nation's farms, ranches and forests provide goods and services that are vital to society - natural assets we call 'ecosystem services,'" Schafer said. "The Office of Ecosystem Services and Markets will enable America's agriculture producers to better compete, trade their services around the world, and make significant contributions to help improve the environment."
Agriculture producers provide many ecosystem services which have historically been viewed as free benefits to society - clean water and air, wildlife habitat, carbon storage, and scenic landscapes. Lacking a formal structure to market these services, farmers, ranchers and forest landowners are not generally compensated for providing these critical public benefits. Market-based approaches to conservation are proven to be a cost-effective method to achieve environmental goals and sustain working and natural landscapes. Without financial incentives, these ecosystem services may be lost as privately-owned lands are sold or converted to development.
Shafer intends to name Sally Collins the director of the Office of Ecosystem Services and Markets. The office will be located within the Office of the Secretary, providing direct access to the secretary. Collins will assume this position after serving as Associate Chief of the USDA Forest Service for the past eight years.
The office will provide administrative and technical assistance to the Secretary in developing the uniform guidelines and tools needed to create and expand markets for these vital ecosystem services and will support the work of the Conservation and Land Management Environmental Services Board. As directed by the authorizing legislation the first ecosystem services to be examined will be carbon sequestration. The Office of Ecosystem Services and Markets and the Conservation and Land Management Environmental Services Board will be established to implement actions authorized by the 2008 Farm Bill.
The Conservation and Land Management Environmental Services Board will be comprised of the Secretaries of Interior, Energy, Commerce, Transportation, and Defense; the Chairman of the Council of Economic Advisors; the Director of the White House Office of Science and Technology; the Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency; and, the Commander of the Army Corps of Engineers. The Secretary of Agriculture will Chair the Board. The Chairman of the White House Council on Environmental Quality and the Administrator of Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs will serve as vice-chairs.
Nominations will be sought in the near future for a federally chartered public Advisory Committee to advise the Board. The Advisory Committee will include farmers, ranchers, and forest landowners, Tribal representatives, as well as representatives from State natural resource and environmental agencies, agriculture departments, and conservation and environmental organizations.