California Water Policy Seminar Series: Money, Water and Fish: Prospects for Reconciliation

Hanak 2The California Water Policy Seminar Series, presented by the UC Davis Center for Watershed Sciences and the law school’s California Environmental Law & Policy Center in the spring of 2014, focused on the idea of reconciliation ecology, an emerging discipline based on the idea that the traditional idea of setting aside reserves of pristine habitat for nature will not protect species enough to avoid large-scale extinction, so human landscapes and ecosystems need to be re-engineered with this coexistence in mind.

In this presentation, Senior Fellow Ellen Hanak with the Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC) examines the prospects for reconciling the Delta’s ecosystem, considering the environmental, social, financial and legal issues, and drawing on the results of the extensive body of research undertaken by the PPIC over the last several years.

2014_03_17_ecoreco_prospects_Page_02Ellen Hanak began by giving some background on the research her presentation would be drawing from. The work began in 2005 with many people from the UC Davis Watershed Sciences Center, and over time was broadened to include people from other institutions. The interdisciplinary research team includes biologists, engineers, lawyers, economists, and a geologist, and over time, has produced several reports, primarily focusing on the Delta.

In the book, Managing California’s Water: From Conflict to Reconciliation, the research team did a lot of good thinking about what reconciliation means in an aquatic context, and she said she would be talking about that book, as well as some of the other more recent reports about water and the California economy, and where ecosystems fit in. She will also be discussing some of the results from their latest report on how to pay for the water system.

Water and money: Some good news

The good news is that California’s economy is getting more and more resilient and robust to being able to live within its means, in terms of water supply,” she said. “We’re not perfect yet, but we’re getting much better at it and a lot of that has to do just with the luck of the way our economy is evolving in that we don’t depend on water as much as we used to as a major production input.”

2014_03_17_ecoreco_prospects_Page_07She then presented a slide depicting urban and agricultural water use since 1960. “Agriculture is now 1% to 2% of state GDP, depending on if you count all of the manufacturing of ag products, as well as primary production. Ag still uses about 75% to 80% of the human water use with the urban areas using the other 20% to 25%.” She noted that the data is normalized to smooth out some of the variation, but there is a lot more variation between dry and wet years. “This is as smooth as you can get to take that out of the picture. The total hasn’t really increased on average since the early ’80s. Part of that is increased in-stream flow requirements and other requirements to not take water out of some systems, but fundamentally we’ve been managing within that. A is actually shrinking a little bit too, and urban is flat, even coming down a little bit, despite population growth, so that’s a good thing.”

2014_03_17_ecoreco_prospects_Page_08She next presented a slide which depicts the state GDP against per capita water use, noting that per capita human water use is now half as high as it was in the late ‘60s, while the state’s GDP per capita is twice as high. “The water story in economic terms, summarized briefly, is that state GDP per unit of water use is four times as high as it was in 1967,” she said. “Part of this is that ag is becoming more economically productive with every drop it’s using, shifting to higher value crops and higher yields … It’s a very modern, agribusiness sector that we’ve got in California and they’re always looking for possibilities for improving.”

But that’s really not the main story,” Ms. Hanak continued. “The main story is that ag is becoming a smaller share of the economy and so what happens in ag is very important for ag and for some counties and some parts of the state, but it’s not the main driver of the state’s economy. Because the urbans have done a lot to be in better shape in terms of drought resilience, this drought is really about agriculture and the environment. It’s not really about the economy of California writ large or state macroeconomic effect.”

2014_03_17_ecoreco_prospects_Page_09These trends are likely to continue, she said. “The panel of experts agreed that you can expect continued efficiency gains and managing with scarcity. Ag will probably see continued reductions in land use, continue reductions in water use, and continued move to higher value crops, crops that are earning higher profits and generating more revenue per unit of water and land use.”

As for climate change, she said, “the modeling suggests that although a lot of bad things will happen, but from a water supply perspective, it looks like California will be able to handle that and this economy will be okay with it. And that is based on work that Jay Lund, Richard Howitt, and Josué Medellín-Azuara have done, really torturing the climate with models going all the way out to 2100 and big population increases, and it’s still okay.”

The chart on the bottom of the slide draws on some modeling work out to 2050 that was done for the energy commission which was published in the journal “Climatic Change” in 2012, she said, noting that the historical climate is depicted in yellow and the climate with an increase of 2.5 is depicted in green. “By 2050, farm water use would go down by nearly 30%, irrigated acreage by almost as much, but farm revenues in real terms would still be positive. Not as positive as with historical climate, but still better because of these productivity enhancements and the continued switch to higher value crops. This presumes smart water management in the ag sector and the ability to transfer water to the higher value places.”

Water and fish, part 1: Some bad news

2014_03_17_ecoreco_prospects_Page_11So now we’re moving into the gloom and doom part,” she said, presenting a graph from the Managing California’s water book. “This is one of the key problems that California faces in water management, and it tells a sad story,” she said, noting that Peter Moyle and the collaborators looked at the status of our native fish species at three different points in time, from 1989 to 2010. “We’ve done one good thing which is have no new extinctions since 1989, but that’s a pretty low bar,” she said. “We’ve increased the number of listings at the pace of about one a year which is not necessarily bad news because a lot of those were not in great shape in ’89 already and it’s a matter of getting them listed. The really worrisome thing is the beige portion, which collectively could be called fish of special concern where the populations are not doing well – either they should be listed already or they are on their way to qualifying for listing.  You can see the trend is going up, so that by 2010, fewer than 20% of the states native fish species were not in some trouble and sort of reasonably secure state.”

The really bad news is that this is decades after the environmental laws in late ’60s and early ’70s, she said. “There’s been a lot of effort and attention and really money and water and other efforts at trying to solve this problem and we have not been cracking it,” she said. “This is leading to tremendous conflicts in terms of water management because especially when any species is being listed, that just makes any kind of water management or water investment very complicated and costly.”

2014_03_17_ecoreco_prospects_Page_12This happened for a lot of different reasons relating to the need or desire for humans to tame the system and make it more useful for us, she said. “We have a drought every summer and we need water for irrigation and urban uses, but also we have variability where we sometimes have floods and we sometimes have droughts and we need to store water for that.

Dams and diversions are good for people, but bad for native species, she said, presenting a slide with a map of the state, showing the habitat that has been made inaccessible due to dams and other structures. “This is just one of the things that has happened from this re-management of our natural systems. There has been a lot of alteration of downstream habitat as well as disturbance of natural flow patterns, all of which is not great for critters that evolved in this kind of more variable environment.”

2014_03_17_ecoreco_prospects_Page_13Land development has been a huge factor, too, she said, presenting a slide depicting changes in wetland habitat in the Central Valley. “Everything in yellow, orange and red was wetlands in 1900. Now, there is less than 5% of that left – just the red. There’s been a little replacement up in the rice fields, starting around this area and on up -that’s the gray. Up until very recently, rice fields had been thought of mainly as useful for non-fish-type critters, like birds and Gartersnakes, but with the work that’s been done recently, there may be potential for that to be more useful for fish, which one of the most hopeful things that I’ve seen coming out of this whole reconciliation idea.”

From a certain perspective, this is good for people. It makes the land farmable and it maintains flood protection,” she said. “There are other ways to do this that can also provide some of those benefits if you don’t need to use all of that land, and so that’s where the idea of kind of making more room for the river with flood management comes in.”

2014_03_17_ecoreco_prospects_Page_14Water quality is still a huge concern,” she said, presenting a slide depicting water quality hotspots across the state. “The second generation of the Clean Water Act has been focusing on storm water and polluted runoff, but, we’re far from managing it and it’s very expensive to do that. A lot of the solutions really focus on protecting people by making sure their drinking water is safe. Well, that works for us more or less, but it doesn’t work for the critters that are in these watersheds that are facing some of these problems.”

2014_03_17_ecoreco_prospects_Page_15Climate change is going to make this worse, she said, presenting a slide of results from a study that Peter Moyle along with other researchers did that looked at how 120 fish would do under climate change. “Climate change is going to make things tougher for native fishes, both in terms of temperature changes, lower flow availability late in the summer, and the difficulty in managing cold pool and reservoirs,” she said.

Water and fish, part 2: Some hopeful directions

2014_03_17_ecoreco_prospects_Page_17Ms. Hanak said they drew on the work of Michael Rosenzweig, the first speaker in the series. “The idea is how do you make lemonade out of the lemons that you have as the traditional strategy of just thinking in terms of reserves and restoration is not going to do it, because too much land and resource base is used by humans, so you’ve got to figure out ways to make that more compatible with what critters need,” she said.

This is how I interpret the term “’reconciliation ecology,’” said Ms. Hanak. “It acknowledges the extent of the human footprint, and makes this footprint more careful … it’s not just about restoration. It’s about trying to recreate as much of the kind of habitat and signals that critters need so they can survive. A lot of times that means using technology and that is something that’s scary for a lot of people, including a lot of scientists.”

Michael Rosenzweig’s book on the subject, Win-Win Ecology, doesn’t address aquatic ecosystems, but Chapter 5 in Managing California’s Water discusses the concept, she said.  That was followed by a piece called “Where the Wild Things Aren’t” from 2012 looks specifically at the Delta and tries to consider reconciliation ecology in that context, she said.

2014_03_17_ecoreco_prospects_Page_18Ms. Hanak then gave a list of things that would be included when taking a reconciliation approach to aquatic ecosystems:

  • Natural flow regimes: This is not the same thing as unimpaired flows, she said. “It’s thinking about pulse flows and patterns,” she said. “Putah Creek is a good example of that, where it is something like 5% of the unimpaired flows are used to extremely good effect, in terms of making it a much better place for the natives to hang out, relative to invasives that often move in when we manage these systems in artificial ways.”
  • Setting back or removing levees: “Making more room for the river so that you’re getting the flood protection you want in ways that are good for the economy, as well as having better accommodating habitat for critters.”
  • Reoperating or retiring dams, improving the way we manage hatcheries, reducing contaminants, and limiting new invasives, often thinking about technology to do that, she said.
  • Specialize streams: This is controversial, although it wouldn’t necessarily seem so, she said. “This is not something that current environmental policy really favors,” she said. Using steelhead as an example, she explained that instead of trying to restore all the steelhead habitat everywhere, you figure out where you’ll get the most “bank for your buck” and focus on those places, and give up on some of the others.

2014_03_17_ecoreco_prospects_Page_19She then presented a slide with the results from a survey done as part of the report, Stress Relief: Prescriptions for a Healthier Delta Ecosystem which came out last year. “One of the things that we did was we surveyed scientists who’ve been working on the Delta ecosystem as well as different stakeholders and policymakers to see what they thought about the management of multiple stressors within the system,” she said.

The scientists were asked to pick their top five actions from a menu of about 30 actions, considering the interactions, she said. The actions were grouped into nine categories of related actions, such as reducing discharges, hatchery management, and methods to control invasives, she explained. Diversion engineering includes peripheral tunnels, but it includes things like fish screens, operable gates in the Delta, and a lot of different kinds of ways to try to jiggle around with the system, she said.

The scientists really loved the idea of improving habitat and flow,” she said. “You can see that we did some cluster analysis, and almost everybody had at least a couple of actions in those areas. They were really lukewarm about all this other stuff, including, just really low in pretty much anything technology-oriented. And other questions asking them for each of these different techniques, how much do they like it or not, how promising did they think it was, the technology stuff was low, low, low, low, low. The natural flow process habitat idea resonated a lot, but often involving a lot of more water, too, so not the 5% or 10% kind of thing.”

Money and fish: Some tough work ahead

So now let’s get into the meaty work ahead about money and fish and how to make some of these things happen, she said.

2014_03_17_ecoreco_prospects_Page_21First as a context for that, healthy watersheds are a valuable economic asset to California, and in a few ways there are some direct benefits in terms of tourism and other spillover benefits,” she said. “The economics literature looks at what makes places attractive for highly productive workforces. Amenities are part of that. California has those. That’s why people are willing to live here even though it costs a lot more compared to some other places; it is because of various kinds of public amenities, including the nature that we have and the fact that you can hike, go to Yosemite, most winters go skiing or snowboarding – all of that. So that’s the economic benefit; it takes some work to measure it, but it can be measured.”

The Public Policy Institute of California does a lot of public polling, and there are a lot of environmentalists, she said, noting that this goes across party lines and age groups. “There is a lot of support even for things even that won’t necessarily give folks direct benefits. If you think about climate change, that’s long term – that’s thinking about your grandchildren, future generations. And people are voting for that,” she said. “Even during the height of the recession, there was a proposition that would’ve overturned AB-32 that went down with a pretty high ‘no’ vote, so, it suggests that there is a basis for getting people to buy into the idea of improving the health of our watersheds.”

That said, it is definitely not a blank check, and so we have to think about it judiciously in terms of what we want to ask people to pay and what we want to ask them to give up,” Ms. Hanak said. “Because although Michael Rosenzweig’s book is titled ‘Win-Win Ecology,’ it doesn’t mean that there aren’t any trade-offs in thinking about these kinds of things. It requires making choices. Reconciliation ecology strategy is exactly thinking about sort of actively, what do we want the ecosystem to be like? It’s thinking about what’s realistic from a life histories perspective of the species and what your watersheds can support, but what people are going to be willing to support is important, too. And it acknowledges that you’re not going to be trying to save every species, or at least that some species may not make it.

Rosenzweig’s book includes analysis of the extinctions that have gone on before, and in some ways it’s motivating why he’s saying we have to make more room for species because we’ve taken up too much of the resource base already,” she said. “In order to reduce that pressure, that’s sort of the approach to it.”

2014_03_17_ecoreco_prospects_Page_22In the report, ‘Where the Wild Things Aren’t,’ she said they looked at the Delta and thought about what would be realistic, understanding that we can’t do everything everywhere, just given the changes to the physical landforms, the invasions of other species that have occurred, and how much resources you have to devote to it, she said.  “So we came up with this scheme that does show that there are ways in which you can try to draw on what you know from past ecosystems and historical ecology to think about what’s practical,” she said. “But it’s also the same sort of idea as the stream specialization idea I mentioned earlier.

2014_03_17_ecoreco_prospects_Page_23We have to think about where we’re going to get the money for reconciliation, because it will cost money, she said. “It will cost money for habitat, it’ll cost money for infrastructure, it’ll cost money for water sometimes if we need to increase flows and it’ll cost money for the science,” she said. “And there are no good automatic ways to get that money right now, in general, I would say. In California, right now the sort of modus operandi of the law is that if you’re doing a new project, you have to mitigate any forward-looking bad things that would happen with your investments and not necessarily have to go back and fix things in the past. Sometimes people get forced through court orders to do some retroactive mitigation.”

There is a lot of low hanging fruit out there, just waiting for money to be applied to it, and the Matilija Dam on the Ventura River is a good example of that, she said. “There’s broad agreement in this watershed that this dam should come down. It provides no economic function anymore because it’s completely silted up. It would provide steelhead habitat if it were removed and it would provide nice sand for the surfers down at the other end of the river. It would have to be done carefully to not cause flood control problems, so it’s going to cost money to do it right and they’re basically just kind of waiting to figure out how they can fund it.”

2014_03_17_ecoreco_prospects_Page_24So let’s go back to the scientists and the technology side of reconciliation, she said, presenting a slide from the survey which ranked the different actions by how many scientists chose that action as one of their top five, along with the costs of that particular action. “We did not ask scientists to worry about cost, so I want to excuse them right off,” she said. “It’s not like they were going out of their way to pick expensive stuff, but that’s mostly what they picked, with the exception of the seasonal flood plains, which is, I think, is thanks to the work that’s been done here on the Yolo Bypass.”

With the exception of the tunnels, which are admittedly expensive, most of the technological actions are cheaper to do, she said. “We were amazed that once we actually put numbers to it, some of that stuff is probably pretty darn cheap, and it suggests that you’d want to be experimenting with some of these technological fixes. That may not be anathema to everyone in this room, but I think there is a resistance to thinking about engineering in that way for the environment that we have to get past, especially if it’s things that can be done experimentally and at relatively low cost.”

2014_03_17_ecoreco_prospects_Page_25She then presented a slide with the results from the survey of what the stakeholders and policymakers thought about those same actions. “This is the correlation between other groups and the scientists on these priorities. Look especially at the orange ones and you can see how they mesh with scientists on the ranking; the blue ones are just people ranked them. The folks that disagreed or that had very different views from scientists are the upstream interests. It’s really not surprising. Scientists really like the idea of reducing upstream diversions and increasing upstream flows into the Delta.”

She noted that exporters disagreed with the scientists as well. “The scientists agreed a lot more with the state and federal officials and with the environmental advocates than with the folks who would be probably footing the bill for some of this – at least under the current regulatory expectation that we’re not using public funds to buy that water that would be put back into the system that we’re expecting water rights holders to just cut back on.”

So we’re going to have to think about costs and find compromises that can more or less work, she said. “We certainly need to be thinking about groups that are especially hit hard by some of these changes. Are there ways in which we need to use some public resources to help them out? So, where can the money come from?

2014_03_17_ecoreco_prospects_Page_26She said there is a lot of talk in Sacramento about water bonds, and during the 2000s, there was a substantial increase in bonds. “Now comes the question of what’s going to be in the new bond, and will voters pass another bond?

So bonds are a possibility, but we don’t think that there’s going to be enough in any bond to do it all,” she said. “Bonds also do mean future taxes, so it’s not like it’s free money. New fees on water and land users are a possibility. Contentious, but maybe necessary, and something where to some extent this can be happening at the local and regional level for local watersheds. … There are examples in different parts of the state where you see this, but it’s a small change compared to the price tag we’re looking at for some big things like the Delta, so there probably would be a need for some state fees as well. And then there’s the question of ‘Can we use the dollars that we’re spending better?’ and I think that this is really insufficiently explored terrain.”

2014_03_17_ecoreco_prospects_Page_27She then presented a slide depicting overall water sector spending and noted that the spending totals about $30 billion per year, of which bonds contribute less than a billion. “So the bonds are important at the margin in some things, but they’re not doing everything,” she said. The chart categorizes water sector spending into 5 categories: water supply, water quality, floods, ecosystems, and debt service. “I’ve broken this down into capital and interest and operations because where you especially see the ecosystem dollars are in the investments, in the capital spending because that’s where you have to do mitigation for new stuff,” she said.

She noted that the ecosystem spending category represents spending by the fisheries agencies on very ecosystem-focused things, as opposed to the embedded mitigation that happens in other areas. “I estimate that just given the typical amount of mitigation that happens in investment projects, you’re probably looking at about a doubling of this in terms of the total that’s available,” she said. “We have 500 to 700, $800 million a year just through the investment process that goes into some kind of mitigation, and I will submit to you that that is often done in ways that are not getting the best bang for your buck. … We need to use those dollars better is my message here. I think that there’s a lot of ripeness among the in the field for this. When we have workshops with policy folks and practitioners at all levels, we hear a lot about the need for making more sense of how the regulations work together in the context of permitting and licensing and so on.”

2014_03_17_ecoreco_prospects_Page_28So this is just for the Delta, and this is just state and federal agencies,” she said, presenting a slide with a ‘simplified model of Delta institutions,’ and noting that it probably doesn’t have all of the arrows … “But thinking about reconciliation at a broader, institutional perspective is that you really have to think about this at a watershed scale. You can’t think about it on a project-by-project basis. There has to be a coordinated vision, and that’s the whole idea of ecosystem reconciliation, according to Michael Rosenzweig’s vision at least. You’ve got to have local engagement, partly because you want people to be stewards of their land resources, and partly because you want them to be willing to pay and care about it. And you need more flexible oversight in order to be able to do this because there are some things that you need to be able to try that are not part of the normal permitting rulebook.”

As part of our Delta Stressors project, we did a case study of the McCormack-Williamson Tract, an island in the north Delta that everybody agrees should become habitat. “It has local buy-in, it was bought by the state, it’s owned by the Nature Conservancy, and it’s on the list of local projects that people won’t object to. It has all of the ingredients that most things in the Delta do not have. And yet, we had a hard time fitting on one page all of the hurdles that the project had to jump through in terms of permits, check-ins, sign-offs with different state, federal, and in some cases, local agencies in order for that to go forward. And that’s an easy one, because that’s one that people aren’t going to be suing you about.”

Ms. Hanak said she thinks there’s a lot of appetite for figuring out how to make the process work better, but people just are not sure how to make that happen. “There are some good examples in renewable energy right now in the desert that we pointed out in that report that might be useful for thinking about our watersheds as well.”

Then there’s the big-picture accountability, and the folks that are signing off on permits, their main fear in not getting their agency sued,” she said. “And if their agency is going to be sued because they have to ‘check a box’ because it’s the way we’ve always done this, you can’t blame them for standing in the way of all this grand big-picture stuff.  It’s got to be something that’s kind of agreed upon at the level of senior management, and really in a coordinated way that will probably require both state and federal agencies to do this together with top leaders involved.”

There are positive steps to build on and people have been trying to move in the direction of more coordinated approaches to planning for improving ecosystem conditions, she said, giving four examples:

  • 2014_03_17_ecoreco_prospects_Page_29Habitat Conservation Plans and Natural Communities Conservation Plans: “I think there are definitely some good things that have been happening on the ground,” she said, noting that to date, they’ve mostly been terrestrial ecosystems and not aquatic, which is harder. “It’s a good idea; it’s an ecosystem-based approach in principle.  They’re often too small still and limited to a few stressors. I would say that the BDCP is really trying to be big on that, but even the BDCP is not dealing with the upper watershed.”
  • Mitigation and conservation banks: She explained that when a private developer or a public agency does a project and they disturb land or habitat, they have to mitigate for that, usually by replacing it somewhere else at a specified ratio. There has been an effort to have them pay into a bank and then somebody figures out where the best ecosystem value is. She said they haven’t been established much yet for aquatic ecosystems, but she thinks it offers a lot of potential.
  • Regional water quality control plans: When working on the Managing California’s Water book, Ms. Hanak said that the team was discussing permitting coordination challenges and the idea came up that the regional water quality control boards boundaries are based on watersheds, and they already do basin plans that right now focus on quality and flows, but maybe it could be the organizing principle and focal point for other things. “A number of federal agencies that we’ve talked to have recognized the problem … So California telling them that this is how we want you to do it would probably be welcome, at least for some of those agencies. Instead, what they’re doing now is each of them is making their own regions, so this really offers a lot of potential for organizing local, state and federal agencies.”
  • Delta plan: “This is an example of really to address multiple stressors in a very systematic way,” she said, “but even for planning and coordinating, the law makes upstream issues off limits, at least from a regulatory perspective. But we think that it has potential in a non regulatory perspective.”

2014_03_17_ecoreco_prospects_Page_30She then presented a slide depicting the idea of the “all-in” approach suggested in the book. “Like the regional water quality control board regions, think about integrating across water supply, water quality, floods, habitat, and we just learned transportation has to kind of be integrated into that too if you’re thinking about pollution control.  It sounds like maybe there’s some interest on the part of some folks in Sacramento about this right now, so that’s exciting.”

 

2014_03_17_ecoreco_prospects_Page_31“I want to throw this question out there without answering it,” she said, presenting a slide titled ‘Can we succeed without changing environmental laws?’ She said when working on the book, Managing California’s water, the legal team determined that there is a lot that can be done. “But I think we’re not alone in coming to the conclusion that there are some ways in which things are going to start to pinch and be an obstacle to the forward-thinking reconciliation strategies that we’re talking about both with respect to the Endangered Species Act and with respect to the Clean Water Act.” She pointed out that those pieces of legislation were drafted in the 1970s when people were not thinking about climate change and other factors.

These laws don’t handle trade-offs very well,” she said. “As an example, right now with the drought, there’s not a lot of surface water available, and there are real trade-offs on balancing water between different listed species. I think we’re discovering that we don’t have a good game plan for that. There are probably ways in which science can help us anticipate and be better at that, but there’s just not the ability for the ESA to provide guide posts on that.” She also noted that the ESA doesn’t have good ability to deal with fish that are in trouble, but not quite listed yet.

The Clean Water Act has restrictions in it with respect to anti degradation that make it hard to relax standards for certain beneficial uses in the context of stream specialization,” she said.

Our team has been talking about the BDCP or about the idea of peripheral tunnels, canals as something that could really be beneficial for the ecosystem because it gives you the potential for a lot more flexibility to manage the systems in these kind of reconciliation type ways,” she said. “What they found was that there is not a whole lot of flexibility in this project right now because even though you would have the infrastructure that would allow you to do that, just the whole host of existing regulatory constraints significantly reduces the operational flexibility.”

2014_03_17_ecoreco_prospects_Page_33Maybe down the road, society will be ready to reduce some of that; to increase the operational flexibility and some of that can happen with money to the extent that it’s water rights that you can buy and compensate people for allowing more water to be in the system for example,” she said.  “But there are probably ways in which over the longer term, we’re going to have to be thinking about adapting these laws to the 21st century.”

My final thoughts to close is that this is going to be exciting and challenging.  We need strong leadership to implement ecosystem reconciliation, we need an engaging vision and we need a willingness to take risks and that includes by the science community as well as by all the practitioners and policy makers,” she concluded.

Discussion highlights

Ms. Hanak was asked if the idea is to buy the farmers out in order to use their land for other purposes, you can pay fair value for the land, but how do you account for the continued income and productivity of the land they were planning on passing to their future generations? How do you quantify that? And how can the state pay for that?

RoomIt doesn’t always have to be the state who pays,” responded Ms. Hanak. “There are examples of other local agencies actually compensating people for not doing certain things on their land that are beneficial. The market value of the land … there is always certain room for negotiation and the purchase of the land can really cover the farmers’ interest including longer-term interest if he or she is willing to do it at all. Some people will just not want to at all, but often money gives a lot of flexibility because it gives people the opportunity to do things elsewhere. … It’s not a solution for everybody, but money is the way to give people a lot of flexibility in terms of the farmer and his or her descendants.”

The other big important thing to think about is the local economy and especially the local, the county government or the city government who is not going to be getting the same tax revenues or often they think of the option value of wanting development and getting more tax revenues,” she said. “There are ways that you have to think about how to make them whole for that change in policy.”

Ms. Hanak was asked that given the possibility of the loss of some species, does she foresee the need to rank the environmental or economic value of some species relative to others to inform their management and preservation? Or at this stage, should it we just be looking to conserve everything?

Personally I get anxious about the idea of putting dollar value on species,” she said. “There are economic techniques for doing that … this whole area of non-market evaluation. Some critters have a commercial and recreational use too, but I’m thinking more about the existence value of species. There are techniques for trying to survey people to get a sense of how they value it. It makes me nervous. I prefer thinking about things in terms of what can you achieve at what cost. … Think about cost effectiveness in terms of how do you use your dollars best and I do think that there’s a need to think realistically about what the possibilities are. … I don’t think we should do that in a small wall kind of way. I think we need to be thinking about and be optimistic about what can be done, but also be somewhat realistic and thinking about how to manage trade-offs and that’s probably something that should involve scientists and policy makers and members of the public because you do need it. You need people to be behind this.”

For more information …

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: