Preserving rangeland ecosystems could be profitable
Sixty percent of the ecosystem services that all life depends on are being degraded and used in ways that cannot be sustained. This is the conclusion of the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, a scientific report about human interaction with the lands and waters of our world. Fortunately, finding ways to incorporate ecosystem services into our world economies is also on the rise.
The current issue of the journal Rangelands offers several articles focusing on the intertwining of ecosystems and economies in the context of America’s rangelands. Authors discuss topics such as payment for ecosystem services, market-based approaches to climate change mitigation, and carbon offsets.
About 31 percent of the United States consists of public and private rangelands, providing an abundance of ecosystem opportunities. Ranchers are the primary stewards of large sections of the western U.S. landscape. Their businesses depend on clean water and abundant vegetation, and provide the public these benefits as well.
But with rising costs for land and production, public scrutiny, and other challenges, ranchers may turn to extractive uses of their land, such as housing development, to make a profit. While livestock sales currently provide a rancher’s income, payment for practicing good stewardship could provide income and ecosystem preservation at the same time.
Increased plant production and biological sequestration can increase carbon uptake, mitigating climate change. This can be accomplished by sustaining ranchlands against land conversion and promoting good land management. A carbon market could compensate ranchers for managing their lands in ways that sequester carbon and offset the emission of greenhouse gases in other places.
The 52,000-acre Trigg Ranch in New Mexico offers a case study in carbon sequestration. The Trigg family took part in the 2008 Chicago Climate Exchange program that allowed ranchers to generate and sell carbon credits. The family earned $90,000 by selling the carbon credits they generated to a Texas corporation.
The path of the Trigg Ranch illustrates how landowners might transition to carbon-oriented grazing management. The family has re-created their ranch as an enterprise that emphasizes continuity and sustainability rather than short-term profits.