Scientists representing the Ecological Society of America (ESA), Council on Food, Agricultural and Resource Economics (C-FARE), and American Society of Agronomy, Crop Science Society of America, Soil Science Society of America (ASA-CSSA-SSSA) recently were on Capitol Hill to brief members of Congress and their staff about the value of ecosystem services. Speakers at the briefing included Dr. Stephen Draft, an agricultural economist and Co-Director of the Environmental Resources Policy program at Southern Illinois University, Dr. Katherine Gross, a plant ecologist and Director of Michigan State University's Kellogg Biological Station, and Dr. John Havlin, a soil science professor at the North Carolina State University.

Dr. Kraft was sponsored by the Council on Food, Agricultural and Resource Economics and highlighted the importance of ecosystems being the nation's natural capital, stating, "Natural capital must be maintained just like other types of capital." He indicated that while ecosystems have no inherent market values through which landowners can directly derive income, farmers can be compensated for taking sensitive lands out of rotation to benefit wildlife, improve water quality, and conserve soil through several federal programs, including the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP). The USDA proposal for the Conservation Title of the 2007 Farm Bill suggests consolidating several of the non-CRP compensation programs to streamline activities and produce more cost-effective environmental benefits. A draft of the 2007 Farm Bill is expected by the August 2007 Congressional recess.

Dr. Katherine Gross, who was sponsored by the Ecological Society of America, spoke on the importance of using ecosystems near agricultural lands to promote cleaner waters. She stated that while nitrogen fertilizer has historically been useful in agriculture, its current and increasing usage has led to high nitrate concentrations in our rivers, which in turn flow downstream to coastal waters, creating dead zones and devastating coastal fisheries. However, wetland and riparian ecosystems adjacent to agricultural lands can provide a valuable filtering system for removing much of this nitrogen before it hits the streams. Dr. John Havlin, sponsored by ASA-CSSA-SSSA, then discussed land use change. He pointed out that each year 1.78 million acres of rural land are converted to residential use, and urban areas have been growing by 0.88 million acres per year.

Overall, the speakers presented a unified message that ecosystem services providing food, security, clean air, water, and biodiversity are critical to the health of the nation, and, even further, the sustainable use of our "natural capital" today can yield enhanced services sufficient to meet the needs of tomorrow.

 


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