ESA donates to PNW conservation orgs to offset envr costs of its meeting

By Nadine Lymn, ESA director of public affairs When 5,000 individuals from across the United States and around the globe convene for a scientific conference such as the Ecological Society of America’s (ESA) recent meeting in Portland, Oregon it takes an environmental toll: The energy required to power the planes, trains and automobiles people use to travel to and from the meeting (although some attendees bike!).  And, the hotels and convention center that were built to provide the facilities needed to host thousands of people ate up habitat and displaced wildlife. As one way to offset these environmental costs, ESA contributes $5 for each meeting registrant which the Society then donates to a local project or organization in the city in which it meets.  This year’s meeting in Portland, Oregon was the Society’s largest and ESA donated $12,475 each to the Columbia Land Trust and to Friends of Trees. The Columbia Land Trust works to conserve the lands, waters and wildlife of the Columbia River region, from east of the Cascades to the Pacific Ocean.  It collaborates with landowners, local residents and government entities to conserve forests, ranch lands and critical habitats in Oregon and Washington states and uses a science-based stewardship program to restore and manage these areas. The Trust will use ESA’s donation for its Mt. St. Helens conservation project, which aims to protect working forest and habitat on some 20,000 acres at the base of Mt. St. Helens.  The area is under development pressure because of its alluring mountain views and scenic waters and is home to threatened species such as bull trout.  The acreage includes high elevations that, with global warming, may become increasingly important habitat for some species. Friends of Trees is a Portland-based organization that describes its mission as bringing people in the Portland-Vancouver and Eugene-Springfield metro areas together to plant and care for city trees and green spaces.  The organization also provides guidance to volunteers on restoration techniques and has planted nearly half a million trees and native plants since its founding in 1989. ESA’s donation will help Friends of Trees offset the Tree Scholarship Program during the 2012-2013 planting season. Each year, Friends of Trees provides scholarships to low-income families who want to plant with the organization, but cannot afford the $35-$50 cost. ESA’s donation will allow Friends of Trees to subsidize the purchase and planting of 275 trees for these families. The organization says the trees will go where they are needed the most and will provide benefits for the community for years to come. Last year’s ESA meeting was held in Austin, Texas and the Society donated to Bat...

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A marketplace for nature’s services

In the Willamette River watershed, an experiment in ecosystem economics is underway. Map of the Willamette River Basin; Temperature Effects of Point Sources, Riparian Shading, and Dam Operations on the Willamette River. Credit, Oregon Water Science Center, USGS. “What we want to do,” said Bobby Cochran, “Is take the money that we’re spending now and redirect it the way nature would spend it.” Cochran is executive director of the non-profit Willamette Partnership, and he was talking about the limited supply of conservation dollars. How does he think nature would spend them? It’s easier to get him to say what nature would want to achieve: improvements that meet the needs of human and wildlife communities, not just the stipulations of regulatory checklists. But ideals can be difficult to accomplish. He thinks market systems can point the way to efficient solutions by giving people a monetary incentive to get creative. “Look at all the money we are investing in the environment – we’re spending a lot of money,” Cochran said. Our traditional mechanism for protecting natural resources is to react to visible problems, big problems, burning river-type problems – problems that can be addressed with the regulation of specific industries, or point sources of pollution. The problem of how to make human development sustainable is diffuse, and complex. It is a Wicked Problem with no easily defined solution. And the public mood is turning against disaster narratives. Cochran doesn’t want the public to think of streams, trees, and fish as obstacles and expenses. They are precious assets. He says framing a natural system as an economic good puts it into a context where decision makers recognize its value. So the Willamette Partnership is embarked on an experiment in harnessing market forces to protect the watersheds of the Willamette River Basin in northeastern Oregon. Cochran’s plan requires the establishment of a market for “ecosystem services,” the benefits that nature provides to people. The idea of trading ecosystem services has surged in popularity since the 2005 United Nations Millennium Ecosystem Assessment. It translates the beauty and utility of a wetland into pounds of phosphorus removed from agricultural runoff, Joules of heat pulled out of urban wastewater, and inches of floodwater absorbed upstream of riverside communities. The Willamette Partnership is a coalition of public utilities, academic, agriculturalists, environmental non-profits, and do-gooder for-profits united by an interest in the ecology of the Willamette River Basin in northeastern Oregon. That ecology encompasses the native ecosystems of the coastal Pacific Northwest between the rainshadowed slope of the coastal range and the oceanward slope of the Cascade Mountains, the population of the greater Portland metropolitan area ( and...

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