Ecosystem Services in Working Lands: US Northeast

Part 2: Introduction


In March 2021, the Extension Foundation released a Request for Proposals (RFP) for projects that would research and produce an assessment of ecosystem services practices, policies, and relevant organizations in the U.S. Northeast. Funded by the Association of Northeast Extension Directors (NEED) and the Northeastern Regional Association of State Agricultural Experiment Station Directors (NERA) with advisory support from the Northeast Regional Center for Rural Development (NERCRD), the goals of this RFP were twofold. First, the research would help to “build capacity and expand the portfolio of the Cooperative Extension and Agricultural Research Station Systems to support and encourage producers to deliver ecosystem services on working lands.” Second, the research would inform the design and audience of a Northeast Ecosystem Services Symposium, with the goal to encourage dialogue among producers, Land Grant University (LGU) Extension and Research programs, and policy makers across the Northeast. This report describes a range of mechanisms, programs, and organizations presently available to incentivize the production of ecosystem services on farms, identifying the source of funding as well as the range of eligible recipients. This assessment also begins to delineate the contingencies of various incentive mechanisms and the ways in which advocacy for civic concern and/or land management practices affect the pursuit of improved ecosystem services for sustainable production systems, ecological health, and the livelihood security 2 of producers, managers, and surrounding community members. The framework of landscape multifunctionality is used to account for inherent multidimensionality of ecosystem services and how these services manifest across geographic and political scales. By doing so, this report relies on newly expanded de finitions and constructs of ecosystem services, or nature’s contributions to people ( IPBES 2017), to map the webs of socio-ecological systems in the U.S. Northeast and better connect livelihoods and landscapes with practice and policy.


Incentivizing the production of ecosystem services is critical to promote specific land management behaviors that improve ecological performance and ultimately sustain an environment for present and future generations. Broad regional adoption of ecosystem service production practices at scale, with the right support, can increase agricultural and forest profitability and sustainability, position working landscapes as a primary leader in the fight against environmental degradation (rather than a primary culprit), and drive a new generation of young people to consider a career across supply chains of working landscapes. The U.S. Northeast is not unique in its need to sustain a healthy regional landscape and land-based economies, but there are several unique attributes in this region that propel the urgency to assess the production of ecosystem services on working lands: present and future land cover trajectories, expected and unknown regional shocks and threats, and opportunities to leverage natural capital as a direct and indirect source of income. Within the United States, the Northeast is “ the most heavily forested and most densely populated region in the country” ( U.S. GCRP 2017), and the urban coastal corridor between Washington D.C. and Boston is one of the most developed environments in the world (Horton et al. 2014). Between 1996 and 2010, upland forests (51%), agriculture (13%), and open waters (13%) were the most common land covers of the

2 A livelihood “comprises the capabilities, assets (stores, resources, claims, and access) and act ivities required for a means of living; a livelihood is sustainable when it can cope with and recover from stress and shocks, maintain or enhance its capabilities and assets, and provide sustainable livelihood opportunities for the next generation” (Chambers & Conway 1992).


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