Government agencies and organizations in Pennsylvania, Maryland and Virginia have been building water quality trading systems for cropland conservation practices during the past few years to lower the cost of regulatory compliance with water quality laws, notes Justin Fritscher. Now, says the public affairs spokesperson for USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service, NRCS is opening the program for forest land in the Chesapeake Bay watershed.
Water quality trading enable farmers and landowners to generate income by selling water quality credits to waste water treatment facilities, developers and other regulated entities. Now, the Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay, with funding from an NRCS Conservation Innovation Grant, is developing tools to make it easier to offer up forested land for possible water quality and other ecosystem service credits. In other words, you can receive income for best management practices in woodlands.
"It can be quite confusing to figure out the different options," acknowledges Eric Sprague, director of Chesapeake Forest Programs for the alliance. "Your first step is figuring out your potential."
Pick the right tool
Three new credit-related tools will help forest owners and managers determine if they're eligible. They'll also help you determine which program makes the most sense and find people that can help. From there, you can enter an online marketplace to connect with companies or groups looking to purchase ecosystem service credits.
These credits enable developers to build in one place because they've purchased a credit pledging forested land will stay in its natural use nearby. Typically, the credit protects forests in the same watershed as the area for which it was purchased.
Some of the credit-related tools offered are:
* LandServer: It lets landowners perform an easy conservation assessment of their property to determine potential eligibility for tax, cost-share and ecosystem service programs.
* Conservation Marketplace: It helps landowners find conservation professionals, learn about funding opportunities and find buyers for their actions.
* Woodlands Crediting Platform: It helps make project development easier for landowners.
"Forests are the least polluting land use," Sprague explains. "The amount of forests in a watershed is critically important, and we see water quality declines when forests are removed."
The Conservation Innovation Grant from NRCS played an important part in developing this credit system, for both the online tools and for financial assistance for landowners wanting to pilot the system.
"You need proven examples for people to adopt it," Sprague adds. "Throughout putting the puzzle together, CIG was very helpful in getting this concept going."