Ecosystem services are part of the focus of market-oriented approaches proposed for a component of the Conservation Title in the 2007 Farm Bill. The goal of market-based conservation is to take conservation beyond the farm, ranch, and forest and develop a system that mainstreams environmental credit trading. A USDA policy memorandum, USDA Roles in Market-Based Environmental Stewardship established a role for agriculture and forestry in providing environmental offsets and enhancements and developing accounting practices and procedures for quantifying environmental goods and services.
The USDA has instituted new standards and targeted specific portions of incentive programs toward an ecosystem market place by aligning its conservation programs with other Federal programs aimed at reducing non-point source pollution, preserving wildlife habitat, enhancing carbon sequestration in soils, and reducing GHG emissions. The USDA-NRCS and the Department of Interior Fish and Wildlife Service and Associated Agencies signed a partnership agreement to explore and facilitate habitat credit trading markets for conservation benefits of listed, endangered and other at-risk species.
NRCS has also partnered with EPA to collaborate on efforts to establish a water quality credit trading market and coordinate related programs. A pilot program in water quality credit trading is being developed for the Chesapeake Bay Basin in support of this collaboration. These activities and partnerships are all expected to stimulate and facilitate other actions including participation in carbon or bundled environmental benefits markets.
USDA policy goals in this section are also linked to other major legislative mandates including the EPA Clean Air Interstate Rule (CAIR), the Healthy Forest Initiatives in 2002, the National Environmental Policy Act Task Force (NEPA) in 2003, and the White Waters to Blue Water Initiative under the Oceans Act of 2000.
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Images above: Photos courtesy of USDA-NRCS