WASHINGTON – The Bush administration today made an unusual move on the environment by appointing an excellent candidate to head a proposed new office tasked with enhancing efforts to mitigate global warming.
Following requirements set forth by the 2008 farm bill, the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced that it is naming U.S. Forest Service Associate Chief Sally Collins to the agriculture department’s Office of Ecosystems and Markets. Collins’ primary role will be to assist the Secretary of Agriculture in developing “guidelines and science-based” methods that will help establish economic values for farm, ranch and forest assets that could play a role in supporting carbon trading markets designed to offset the negative effects of global warming.
“The announcement of the creation of an Office of Ecosystem Services and Markets is a positive step in demonstrating in tangible ways the strong relationship between economic development and environmental protection,” TWS President William Meadows said of Agriculture Secretary Ed Schafer’s press release. “For years our government has treated these ecosystem services, such as storing carbon, as essentially zero. There could be no better choice as founding director of this office than Sally Collins. Sally has provided creative and visionary leadership within the Forest Service. Exploring how private financial markets can be made transparent and honest and deliver incentives to private landowners holds great promise for protecting the larger community. We will all benefit as these markets grow.”
Meadows added that TWS urged the government to place value on “ecosystem services” provided by wildlands in a 2008 report, “Greater than Zero”, examining the value of Alaska’s national forests.
According to Schafer, 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 can help 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.
“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.”
The Wilderness Society also expressed concerns that private carbon markets not be seen as a substitute for public stewardship of public lands.
“That is something to keep an eye on,” Meadows said, “but it is important to note that the Bush administration has in Sally Collins appointed an exceptionally competent person dedicated to fulfilling the environmental mission of the office rather than to undermine it. This is a conscientious step in the right direction.”