Ecosystem Services in Working Lands: US Northeast


Photo Credit: UMASS CAFÉ: The Center for Agriculture, Food, and the Environment

In the coming decades, the U.S. Northeast is expected to experience a number of the consequences of climate change, including rising temperatures, changes in precipitation and seasonality, and sea-level rise, among others (Horton et al. 2014). These consequences have varying implications for working lands and landscapes across the region as well as for the ecosystem services produced as part of working lands operations. 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. In this report, we document results from a regional assessment of over 1,300 ecosystem service provisioning programs and policies across the U.S. Northeast, in Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, and West Virginia as well as in the District of Columbia. Our assessment describes the programs' institutional arrangements, their incentive structures, and the ecosystem services they provide. This analysis was grounded in four overarching goals for the Northeast region named in the RFP by the Association of Northeast Extension Directors (NEED) and Northeastern Regional Association of State Agricultural Experiment Station Directors):

1. Increase farm profitability and sustainability. 2. Position agriculture as a primary leader in mitigating climate change. 3. Build the resiliency of rural and urban communities. 4. Increase the appeal of agricultural professions to a wide range of young people.

As of September 2021, a sample of approximately 1,300 programs were identified for their objectives to incentivize ecosystem service provisioning and practices on working lands in the Northeast. Overall, these programs target four primary working landscapes: 1) farming, food, and agriculture; 2) working forests and woodlands; 3) fisheries, aquaculture, and shellfish; and 4) non-industrial supporting landscapes and systems. These programs operate on national-, regional-, and state-levels and are organized through private and public sectors as well as public-private partnerships. They also contain a number of programs that allow ecosystem service producers to expand market presence and gain traction in their respective industry. As seen in Table i, four main conclusions were drawn from this assessment and are intended to inform policy, programming, and research among Cooperative Extension and Agricultural Experiment Stations in the U.S. Northeast.


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