The USDA announced today that it will establish an Office of Ecosystem Services and Markets. According to their press release, the office will help develop new guidelines and methods to assess ecosystem service benefits and create markets for ecosystem services. The authorization for this office was approved in this summer’s Farm Bill, which Agriculture Secretary Ed Shafer spoke out against.
Ecosystem services are one way that ecologists can place a currency on the valuable services our environment provides, such as water filtration and air purification, carbon sequestration, pollination and recreation. The new office’s first priority will be carbon sequestration. Says the press release:
“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.”
Valuing ecosystem services in a way that allows environmental benefits to act as currency is one way that conservation ecologists can raise awareness about the importance of environmental protection. What does the ecological community think about this new office? Is this the right approach to valuing ecosystem services?