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Expanding Protection of Ecosystem Services on Agricultural Lands in the U.S.

Zondervan, Maria LU (2011) In IIIEE Master thesis IMEN41 20112
The International Institute for Industrial Environmental Economics
Abstract
Ecosystem services that people depend upon for their well-being are being lost at an alarming rate. These services include the provisioning of natural resources, food, medicine, flood protection, climate regulation, water purification, and biodiversity retention. In the U.S., the main threat to these services comes from the rapid pace of land conversion. In just a twenty- year period, an area the size of the State of Illinois of farmland, wildlife habitat and open space was converted to urban, suburban or industrialized uses. The majority of land in the U.S. is privately owned and maintained in some form of agriculture. These lands, whether used for cattle grazing, crop production, or timber production, are essential to providing the... (More)
Ecosystem services that people depend upon for their well-being are being lost at an alarming rate. These services include the provisioning of natural resources, food, medicine, flood protection, climate regulation, water purification, and biodiversity retention. In the U.S., the main threat to these services comes from the rapid pace of land conversion. In just a twenty- year period, an area the size of the State of Illinois of farmland, wildlife habitat and open space was converted to urban, suburban or industrialized uses. The majority of land in the U.S. is privately owned and maintained in some form of agriculture. These lands, whether used for cattle grazing, crop production, or timber production, are essential to providing the ecosystem services people depend on for the basic necessities of life.
This thesis author examined what can be done to expand the protection of ecosystem services on agricultural lands to provide for the well-being of the nation, while maintaining an economically viable agricultural industry. It provides options for 1) improving existing conservation programs, 2) increasing landowner participation in conservation programs, and 3) increasing the use of better environmental practices on agricultural lands, regardless of program participation.
The methods used for formulating these options began with an extensive literature review of existing U.S. policies and conservation programs affecting land stewardship on agricultural lands. This was followed by a review of the EU policies and a case study of the UK’s Environmental Stewardship Program, to look for potentially transferable agricultural environmental plan options. Additionally, extensive interviews were conducted with USDA program managers, state conservationists, other agency officials, landowners, and environmental consultants to determine the daily functioning logistics of the current programs and regulations.
Findings from this research show that current conservation programs are effective in reducing impacts and are even improving ecosystem services; but their reach is limited, applications can be cumbersome, landowner understanding and acceptance is highly variable, and implementation could be more effective. This thesis author concluded that combining and streamlining current conservation programs has the potential for large cost savings while simultaneously making the programs easier for landowners to comprehend. This should result in both increased desire on the part of landowners to enroll, and increased capacity for enrollment. An increase in cross-compliance requirements or shifting funds from commodity support payments to conservation payments would provide even greater capacity, while still providing income support to the agricultural sector. Finally, consideration should be given to fining landowners who cause excessive ecosystem damage. These fines that would attempt to equalize the ‘market price’ with the ‘real price’. This would be a revenue neutral program where the funds received from these measures would be allocated to the conservation programs. Ideally, costs of these measures would be sufficiently high to encourage investment in better conservation practices. (Less)
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author
Zondervan, Maria LU
supervisor
organization
alternative title
Expanding Protection of Ecosystem Services on Agricultural Lands in the U.S.: U.S. Farm Bill and Regulation Considerations
course
IMEN41 20112
year
type
H2 - Master's Degree (Two Years)
subject
keywords
ecosystem services, agriculture, farm bills, conservation programs, environmental policies
publication/series
IIIEE Master thesis
report number
2011:34
ISSN
1401-9191
language
English
id
2174138
date added to LUP
2011-10-19 11:52:32
date last changed
2011-10-19 11:52:32
@misc{2174138,
  abstract     = {Ecosystem services that people depend upon for their well-being are being lost at an alarming rate. These services include the provisioning of natural resources, food, medicine, flood protection, climate regulation, water purification, and biodiversity retention. In the U.S., the main threat to these services comes from the rapid pace of land conversion. In just a twenty- year period, an area the size of the State of Illinois of farmland, wildlife habitat and open space was converted to urban, suburban or industrialized uses. The majority of land in the U.S. is privately owned and maintained in some form of agriculture. These lands, whether used for cattle grazing, crop production, or timber production, are essential to providing the ecosystem services people depend on for the basic necessities of life.
This thesis author examined what can be done to expand the protection of ecosystem services on agricultural lands to provide for the well-being of the nation, while maintaining an economically viable agricultural industry. It provides options for 1) improving existing conservation programs, 2) increasing landowner participation in conservation programs, and 3) increasing the use of better environmental practices on agricultural lands, regardless of program participation. 
The methods used for formulating these options began with an extensive literature review of existing U.S. policies and conservation programs affecting land stewardship on agricultural lands. This was followed by a review of the EU policies and a case study of the UK’s Environmental Stewardship Program, to look for potentially transferable agricultural environmental plan options. Additionally, extensive interviews were conducted with USDA program managers, state conservationists, other agency officials, landowners, and environmental consultants to determine the daily functioning logistics of the current programs and regulations. 
Findings from this research show that current conservation programs are effective in reducing impacts and are even improving ecosystem services; but their reach is limited, applications can be cumbersome, landowner understanding and acceptance is highly variable, and implementation could be more effective. This thesis author concluded that combining and streamlining current conservation programs has the potential for large cost savings while simultaneously making the programs easier for landowners to comprehend. This should result in both increased desire on the part of landowners to enroll, and increased capacity for enrollment. An increase in cross-compliance requirements or shifting funds from commodity support payments to conservation payments would provide even greater capacity, while still providing income support to the agricultural sector. Finally, consideration should be given to fining landowners who cause excessive ecosystem damage. These fines that would attempt to equalize the ‘market price’ with the ‘real price’. This would be a revenue neutral program where the funds received from these measures would be allocated to the conservation programs. Ideally, costs of these measures would be sufficiently high to encourage investment in better conservation practices.},
  author       = {Zondervan, Maria},
  issn         = {1401-9191},
  keyword      = {ecosystem services,agriculture,farm bills,conservation programs,environmental policies},
  language     = {eng},
  note         = {Student Paper},
  series       = {IIIEE Master thesis},
  title        = {Expanding Protection of Ecosystem Services on Agricultural Lands in the U.S.},
  year         = {2011},
}