Incentives For Carbon Sequestration May Not Protect Species

“The main thing we found is that if you want to
conserve species, that policy might not be
compatible with carbon sequestration,” said
co-author Andrew Plantinga, a professor in the
Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics
at Oregon State University. “On the other hand,
if you want to get carbon out of the atmosphere,
it’s not clear that will be good for species.”
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Incentives For Carbon Sequestration May Not Protect Species

ScienceDaily (July 9, 2008) – Paying rural
landowners in Oregon’s Willamette Basin to
protect at-risk animals won’t necessarily mean
that their newly conserved trees and plants will
absorb more carbon from the atmosphere and vice
versa, a new study has found.

The study, to be published in the Proceedings of
the National Academy of Sciences, analyzed
hypothetical payments that were given to
landowners to voluntarily take their acreage out
of production for conservation. Scenarios
conserving different types of land were also
developed. The study then examined the
relationship between the absorption of carbon, a
contributor to global warming, by trees and
plants and the protection of 37 different types
of animals under each of these scenarios and
payment schemes.

“The main thing we found is that if you want to
conserve species, that policy might not be
compatible with carbon sequestration,” said
co-author Andrew Plantinga, a professor in the
Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics
at Oregon State University. “On the other hand,
if you want to get carbon out of the atmosphere,
it’s not clear that will be good for species.”

He and seven others wrote the report: “Efficiency
of Incentives to Jointly Increase Carbon
Sequestration and Species Conservation on a
Landscape.”

The take-home message, he said, is this: “When
you think about policies targeted to private
landowners, government has to be careful about
how it does this because it may achieve one
objective but at the expense of something else.”

The researchers created five scenarios in which
different types of land were taken out of
production in the Willamette Basin, which
consists of a flat valley floor and the
surrounding forested Coast and Cascade ranges.
They applied three different budgets to each
scenario. In the first budget, an entity (for
example, the government or a land trust) had $1
million to give to landowners each year. The
other annual budgets were for $5 million and $10
million.

In the first scenario, all landowners were
eligible for the financial incentives. The result
was that the precarious animals, which excluded
fish and insects, increased as much or more than
they did in the four other scenarios. Also, the
amount of atmospheric carbon was about the same
as it would have been if the landowner hadn’t
accepted payment.

In the second scenario, only land whose natural
state is prairie, oak savanna, wetland or
late-succession conifer forest was eligible for
the money. The result was that species increased
but in one model, the carbon level decreased from
what it would have been without the financial
inducement.

In the third scenario, only owners who can
significantly increase the forest coverage on
their land were eligible for the incentive
payments. Consequently, the amount of carbon
removed from the atmosphere increased but the
at-risk animals hardly increased, and in one
model they even decreased.

In the fourth scenario, only land dense with
streams was eligible for payments. There was a
negligible increase in species and carbon
sequestration.

In the last scenario, payments were given to
parcels deemed important for the conservation of
terrestrial vertebrate species in the basin. The
animals increased but carbon stayed about the
same.

Based on these findings, the study concluded that
the conservation of species generally is
maximized when landowners who accept financial
incentives restore habitats that are relatively
rare on the current landscape. Carbon
sequestration, on the other hand, is maximized
when landowners who accept payments restore
forests.

In addition to OSU, the research team was made up
of professionals from Stanford University, the
University of Minnesota, the University of
Wisconsin, the University of Washington, the
Environmental Protection Agency and the Lincoln
Park Zoo in Chicago. The U.S. Forest Service
financed Plantinga’s contribution to the study.

The National Science Foundation has given the
research team $1 million to conduct a similar
three-year study on a national scale, Plantinga
said.

Adapted from materials provided by Oregon State
University, via EurekAlert!, a service of AAAS.

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