WHAT'S AT STAKE
Critical habitat for wildlife in the West is disappearing at an alarming rate
Well-managed private lands are the cornerstones of both human communities and functioning ecosystems. These lands provide numerous public benefits beyond production of food and fiber, including wildlife habitat, carbon sequestration, healthy watersheds, clean air, open space and public health.
Yet private lands, including family farms, ranches and timberlands, are under immense pressure from both natural and man-made forces. Thin profit margins, volatile commodity markets, increasing regulation, wildlife needs and climate change impacts such as severe drought, flood events, wildfire and invasive species are driving these lands into development and converting them to other land uses. Once these lands are fragmented and developed, there is no getting back the ecosystem services they once provided. In the American West, these lands are disappearing at an alarming rate, as one football field worth of land is lost to development every two and a half minutes.
The responsibility and cost of caring for wildlife and ecosystems cannot be borne by landowners alone but must be shared by all parts of society and all levels of government.
A simple, proven model, applied at scale.
Long-term contracts (e.g. 10 - 30 years) that recognize and compensate landowners for the ecological benefits currently provided by open, well-stewarded lands can help keep these lands economically viable and intact.
Agricultural production compatible with the conservation objectives specified in lease terms would be allowed and encouraged to continue.
Habitat leases would be designed to secure existing habitat and ecological services currently provided on private lands that meet threshold requirements for ecological site condition.
In some cases, supplemental lease and cost-share payments could support landowners for adoption of new practices or additional investments to increase habitat, sequester carbon, provide specific green infrastructure, above and beyond baseline conditions.
USDA rental payment and cost-share assistance program
Under this program, landowners and operators can protect grassland, including rangeland and pastureland and certain other lands, while maintaining the areas as grazing lands. The program emphasizes support for grazing operations, plant and animal biodiversity and grassland and land containing shrubs and fobs under the greatest threat of conversion. Contract duration is between 14 and 15 years.
Chaffee Common Ground
County-level sales tax increase devoted to term conservation agreements with landowners
Chaffee County in Colorado approved a 0.25 percent sales tax increase to fund a number of conservation initiatives, including working lands stewardship. A portion of the sales tax proceeds go to keep working lands in production through conservation agreements with landowners and programs that support agricultural sustainability.