Riddle: what helps fish, improves air or water quality, provides new capital for public services and puts Oregonians to work? An Oregon state agency may have found an answer.
The Oregon Department of Forestry (ODF) recently concluded a pilot project to test the feasibility of having state-managed lands participate in the rapidly emerging ecosystem services credit trading market. This type of trading market compensates landowners through the "pricing" of natural assets (the benefits that people get from nature) as a credit that can be bought, sold, or otherwise paid for. For example, a land owner or developer could purchase credits to mitigate environmental effects of a particular activity.
During summer 2010, ODF partnered with the Oregon Department of Fish & Wildlife and the Tualatin River Watershed Council to place large wood into a one-mile reach of upper Gales Creek in Washington County. Thanks to an Oregon Watershed Enhancement Board (OWEB) grant, project partners were able to place approximately 100 logs within the stream channel and floodplain, as a part of planned thinning and timber sale activities on the ODF-managed land.
Project partners were able to test the ecosystem services potential of restoring the stream by working with the Willamette Partnership to participate in their “Counting on the Environment” (COTE) initiative.
Willamette Partnership is a broad coalition of stakeholders committed to restoring the health of the ecologically, socially, and economically complex landscapes of the Northwest, in part by building the tools and infrastructure to help purchase and sell ecosystem service credits using market-based approaches. So far, the Willamette Partnership has developed model agreements with federal, state, and local agencies on ecosystem markets, developed tools for landowners to quantify the water and habitat benefits of restoration and stewardship, and facilitated improvements to wetlands, streams, and prairies across Oregon.
Over a two-year span, Willamette Partnership developed protocols to evaluate ecosystem enhancement projects and determine the appropriate ecosystem service credits in four areas:
-- Salmon Habitat
-- Wetland Habitat
-- Water Quality (Temperature & Nutrients)
-- Upland Prairie Habitat
In July, 2010, the Gales Creek Wood Placement Project was accepted as a Counting on the Environment pilot project for salmon habitat enhancement and water quality to calibrate and test these protocols.
The pilot created two benefits – improved stream habitat for fish and some good lessons on how emerging ecosystem markets can help generate revenue for conserving forests.
The project generated more than 4,000 linear feet of high-functioning stream, providing shade that kept the stream from heating up (measured at 1.9 million kilocalories per day of blocked solar energy). These credits were verified by the Willamette Partnership, and retirement certificates for the credits were issued by MarkIt Environmental Registry in August 2011.
Since the project was funded in part with an OWEB grant, and under Oregon law public agencies are not currently authorized to deal in ecosystem service credits, the project was carried through the full ecosystem credit estimation, verification, and registration cycle without the credits being purchased. Had the credits been traded at current prices for salmon and temperature credits, they might have generated about $1.4 million in revenue for project partners. While no funds changed hands for the ecosystem credits in this test, ODF will continue to explore the potential for stream enhancement credits to generate revenue.
Stream-restoration ecosystem credit projects yield a benefit to the environment and provide a potential new source of revenue for public resource management agencies such as ODF. But there’s a third benefit to Oregon.
They create jobs.
A study by the Ecosystem Workforce Program at the University of Oregon in 2009 found that forest and watershed restoration projects have considerable economic impact and job growth potential. The study determined that for every million dollars invested in restoration credit projects, twenty jobs and over $2.3 million in total economic activity were returned for river and road restoration. While these project jobs may be short-term in nature, ongoing demand for such restoration work could result in a consistent demand for Oregon workers involved in a “restoration economy.”