Posts Tagged: ecosystem services
“The physical and chemical environment of the ocean is changing with the climate,” said John Largier of the UC Davis Bodega Marine Laboratory. “This affects ecosystems — like tidal marshes and coral reefs that protect us from storms and flooding.”
The ocean brings stability to the earth’s climate. It heats up and cools down more slowly than the land and the air. With climate change, the ocean absorbs excess heat trapped in the earth’s system by the increased concentration of gases in the atmosphere.
As seawater warms, it expands. The increase in the ocean’s heat content has contributed to one of the most visible effects of global warming — rising sea level. Thermal expansion, along with melting polar ice caps and glaciers, has led to global sea level rise of more than seven inches over the last century.
“When the ocean begins to warm up, then you know that the earth’s climate is changing,” said Largier, a professor in the Department of Environmental Science and Policy. “Even if we stop putting greenhouse gases into the atmosphere right now, the ocean has warmed up, and it will take centuries for it to cool down. People don’t realize that we’ve already made a long-term commitment to climate change.”
At the Bodega Marine Lab, Largier and other scientists are studying the regional impacts of climate change on the waters off California, which include an increase in coastal upwelling. Driven by winds, upwelling pulls cold water and nutrients from the ocean depths to the surface along the shore and contributes to the “marine layer,” the blanket of cool moist air that moderates California temperatures. Largier’s research shows a trend toward stronger winds and an increase in upwelling since 1982, leading to cooler waters off central and northern California.
“Worldwide, the ocean’s surface water is getting warmer, but in California, the ocean is getting colder near shore,” said Largier. “This is intriguing because it shows that climate change is not going to have the same effect everywhere. There will be regional differences.”
This article was condensed slightly from UC Davis “CA&ES Outlook” magazine. Read the full article on page 7.
Read John Largier's scientific advisory group report on how changes in the ocean might affect two valuable marine sanctuaries off the northern California coast: "Climate Change Impacts: Gulf of the Farallones and Cordell Bank National Marine Sanctuaries"
John Largier along the northern California coast. (Photo: Jennifer Sauter/UC Davis)
The closer homes are to open spaces – parks, stream and river corridors, forests and other natural lands – the higher the value of the homes in Riverside and San Bernardino counties. However, if homes are far from such open land, homebuyers tend to place an especially high value on lot size.
These were some of the findings of research, which graduate student Monobina Mukherjee at UC Riverside conducted in collaboration with Linda Fernandez, a former associate professor in the UC Riverside Department of Environmental Sciences. A summary of this research is in the September-October 2011 issue of UPDATE, a newsletter published by the Giannini Foundation of Agricultural Economics.
Open space provides a broad range of benefits to communities – such as rural vistas, wildlife habitat and relief from urban congestion – which go beyond the benefits of the land to its owners. In conducting this research, Mukherjee and Fernandez sought to analyze how a policy of land conservation and wildlife habitat preservation influences the housing market.
Mukherjee and Fernandez's study was focused on San Bernardino and Riverside counties. Riverside implemented the Riverside County Integrated Project in 1999 to support conservation of open space and wildlife habitat. San Bernardino County has abundant open space, including wildland in national and state forests. The researchers designated study zones and used statistical analysis to determine the impact of open space and other variables on residential sale value.
“Larger yards sometimes seem to act as a substitute for public open space,” Mukherjee said. "I can see why this happens because these two counties experienced less dense, bigger parcel sales for period of time we have been analyzing."
In Riverside County, a 10 percent increase in the distance from the nearest park is associated with a small but statistically significant decrease in the sale price of the property, the study found. The same was true in San Bernardino County with respect to both wildland and city parks. The results showed that scarcity of open space in areas with big cities could lead homeowners to place even higher value on proximity to open space.
Mukherjee and Fernandez found the amenity values generated in this study could help public policymakers estimate the monetary benefits of open space and habitat conservation. The results can also be used for land-use planning and conservation decisions in Riverside and San Bernardino counties plus other regions with similar geographical characteristics and residential markets.
Open space in San Bernardino County, including Big Bear Lake and Lucerne Dry Lake. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)
California’s vast dry rangelands are dotted with water troughs ideal for quenching cattle’s thirst. But in most cases, the troughs’ designs are a torment to wildlife drawn for a drink.
Monterey County rancher George Work observed how traditional water troughs frustrated the wildlife on his family’s 12,000-acre cattle ranch. Small birds couldn’t reach water two or three inches below the top edge. Coyotes, bobcats and cottontails weren’t tall enough to reach over the rim. Work set to making a water trough that would meet the needs of all animals on the range – from cattle, hunting dogs and horses to deer and rabbits.
While raising cattle remains the primary function of the Work Ranch, in order to generate more income from the scenic open space the ranch opens its doors to hunting wild boar, quail and Tule elk. The visitors enjoy seeing a diversity of wildlife.
“One-third of our business comes from wildlife,” Work said.
In 1998, Work drew from decades of first-hand experience to design a better water trough. With a grant from USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service, he constructed a prototype. The concrete trough is sunk into the ground under an elderberry tree. Work modified a float like those used in toilet tanks to keep the water within centimeters of the rim.
That first man-made watering hole was an improvement for many species, but it also revealed some problems. Birds needed an escape ramp to climb out of the water should they fall in while drinking; the ramp should be shallow enough to allow the birds to bathe. Larger animals had to be kept from using the trough for a cooling dip. Work found that sloping the sides to a sharp V at the bottom of the trough made it unappealing for a soak.
Years of experimentation and innovation resulted in the development of pre-manufactured concrete water troughs, which are now commercially available. The next challenge is selling the idea to ranchers.
Enter UC Cooperative Extension. On an unrelated visit to the Work Ranch, UC Berkeley wildlife biologist Reg Barrett was impressed by Work’s invention and encouraged UC Cooperative Extension rangeland advisor Royce Larsen and NRCS rangeland conservationist Karl Striby to help spread the word.
Larsen and Stirby are now completing the first step, adding the ground-level water trough specifications to NRCS's published Technical Notes. The publication will provide ranchers and other land owners with the information they need to install the wildlife-friendly troughs.
“If you’re thinking of installing a basic, traditional trough for cattle, it may or may not be the best idea,” Larsen said. “But you’re thinking about supporting both cattle and wildlife, it’s great.”
In the video below, rancher George Work shows the ground-level water trough prototype and the second-generation, pre-manufactured version.
Ecosystem services is a new term I've been hearing. Naturally I wondered, what are these services and is the ecosystem serving me? Ecosystem services are benefits we receive from the environment, such as clean water, open space, beautiful scenery, food production, wildlife habitat and diversity of plants and animals.
Not surprisingly, ecosystem services appeal to a broad audience. However, in the past, many people advocated for a single favored service and would fight with those who were partial to a different service. Now there is a strong trend toward partnerships.
“There’s been sea change on the topic of livestock management and rangeland ecosystem services,” said Ken Tate, UC Cooperative Extension watershed specialist based at UC Davis.
In a scenario 20 years ago, many ranchers would have focused solely on livestock production and ranch profit, while some environmental groups would have voiced concerns solely about wildlife habitat, and a government regulatory agency may have considered water quality the most important service. All parties have begun to recognize the connections among these important services and the need to work together to enhance all of them.
“If a ranch is not economically viable, then there is risk that land could become a shopping mall or some other development,” Tate explained. “A working ranch provides more ecosystem services than developments such as malls or suburban sprawl.”
A UC study published in the current issue of California Agriculture journal found that rangeland owners valued their land for its natural amenities as well as a financial investment.
Recently more than 120 people representing new and long-time ranchers, conservation groups, federal and state natural resources agencies, UC scientists and others gathered for the “Managing Rangeland for Ecosystem Services Workshop and Field Day” to discuss their common goals.
“Interest in this event reflects the growing interest in ecosystem services in a growing number of people,” said Tate, who organized the Oct. 18 event at UC’s Sierra Foothill Research and Extension Center, located 60 miles northeast of Sacramento. “Some people drove four or five hours to attend.”
At the workshop, Tate introduced the Prescribed Grazing for Ecosystem Service Project.
Despite their different backgrounds and ecosystem service priorities, there was no adversarial discussion among the attendees, observed participant Morgan Doran, UC Cooperative Extension livestock & natural resources advisor for Solano County.
“Everyone seemed to be in agreement that livestock are a useful tool in sustaining a healthy rangeland ecosystem,” Doran said. “And all seemed to acknowledge a need to better understand the balance of provisioning goods and services from rangeland systems.”
“We used to talk about one service at a time,” Tate said. “Now we talk about tradeoffs and synergies involved in managing for many services simultaneously. Optimizing water quality might take away from profitability. Talking about tradeoffs used to be confrontational. Now if we can understand the costs of these tradeoffs, there may be an individual or organization willing to pay for that difference. Basically, purchasing ecosystem services.”
Tate credits the workshop cosponsor California Rangeland Conservation Coalition for fostering the collaborative attitude. UC is among the more than 100 agricultural organizations, environmental interest groups, and state and federal agencies that have signed the California Rangeland Resolution, which recognizes that rangelands and the diversity of species they support largely exist due to grazing and other stewardship practices of the ranchers who own and manage the land.
“New people have come to the table who might not have gotten involved in a negative process,” Tate said. “The coalition is a positive approach to the conservation of rangelands, that makes it attractive to people. They are working together to achieve common goals.”
Tate is excited about Cooperative Extension’s role of trying to identify the information needs and conducting the research to supply this information.
Leslie Roche, a UC Davis postdoctoral researcher and presenter, remarked on the interest and enthusiasm in collaborative research and management demonstrated among the diverse group of attendees.
“Everyone is genuinely motivated to work together in bridging the gap between research and management communities on this topic, and that is really exciting," Roche said.
A list of speakers and their presentations for the workshop and field day are posted on the California Rangeland Watershed Laboratory website.
Although the term ecosystem service was unfamiliar to me, it’s not new. In 2000, United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan called for the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment. The objective of the project was, “to assess the consequences of ecosystem change for human well-being and the scientific basis for action needed to enhance the conservation and sustainable use of those systems and their contribution to human well-being.”
The Sierra Nevada and Coastal Range foothills are replete with wide open spaces - a home for birds and other wildlife, majestic oaks and grazing cattle. The bucolic countryside vistas that come courtesy of California’s ranchers are among the many public benefits of rangeland grazing.
“The public doesn’t always realize what ranchers are doing and how that benefits everyone,” said Bill Tietje, UC Cooperative Extension natural resources specialist based in San Luis Obispo County. “No one really thinks about it, until it’s gone.”
Many rangeland benefits can be grouped as “ecosystem services.” According to scientists:
- Rangeland plays a role in the state’s water cycling. Eighty percent of California water flows through rangeland.
- The diversity of plants and animals is greater on grazed, managed grassland than on unmanaged grassland.
- Wild raptors overwinter on grasslands managed for beef cattle.
- Half the habitat for the tiger salamander is grazed stockponds, created by ranchers to provide water for their cattle. The stockpond’s edge of clipped grass and the absence of crowding shrubbery mimic the rare species’ natural habitat – vernal pools.
- Rangeland provides habitat for insects that are valuable for pollination.
- Cattle reduce the dry grass that could fuel wildfire.
- Grazing improves the habitat for the Bay checkerspot butterfly, a threatened California insect.
- Rangeland sequesters carbon in the soil.
There are threats to the long term viability of cattle ranches in California that put all these benefits at risk:
The sale of the ranch for development is very attractive for a rancher who isn’t making a sufficient profit on the land. Also, the division of a ranch for inheritance purposes can make it difficult to keep a ranch intact and in the business of raising cattle.
UC Berkeley professor of rangeland management and ecology Lynn Huntsinger said public misunderstanding of and a lack of appreciation for ranching is another way the system is threatened.
“Imposing regulations that aren’t needed and not valuing ranchers as stewards can have a demoralizing effect,” Huntsinger said.
Much of the land grazed by ranchers is public and grazing is supported by public and environmental agencies - the U.S. Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, parks and preserves - because of the many benefits it provides.