Payments for Ecosystem Services: Will they grow the choir?

newpubIn Wisconsin, there are over 300,000 woodland owners. Only 30,000 or so are enrolled in the Managed Forest Law program. The MFL has a timber focus, which might make it unappealing to some. Also, society values other forest benefits, often called “ecosystem services”. To study this, we surveyed non-MFL enrolled landowners to assess their willingness to consider payments for ecosystem services, as engaging them in forest management would expand the “choir” of active woodland owners. Results of this study have just been published on-line in the Journal of Forestry. Here are some highlights, including the full citation.

Citation: Knoot, T., M. Rickenbach, & K. Silbernagel. In press. Payments for ecosystem services: Will a new hook net more active family forest owners? Journal of Forestry. Link:

Abstract: Payments for ecosystem services offer the potential to financially benefit landowners in exchange for active forest management. Given their nontimber focus, such payments might be particularly attractive to those owners who do not participate in typical forestry programs. To investigate, we surveyed “nonparticipating” Wisconsin landowners to assess their interest in possible payments for ecosystem services. Our design experimentally compared the effects of ecosystem service type (carbon storage, water, and wildlife) and program sponsorship (government and market) on landowner interest. We also tested the effects of increasing program requirements (no requirements, written plan, required practices, and required inspections). Findings indicate that 42% had some interest under no requirements. This portion dropped to 18% with requirements that resemble how payments might work in practice. Under “real-world” requirements, reliance on a forester in future decisions and the importance of a forest-based income were significant explanatory factors. Findings suggest that program requirements are key in shaping landowner willingness.

Management and policy implications: Payments for ecosystem services offer the potential to increase the number of landowners who actively manage their woodlands. In seeking to understand what factors might explain the interest of Wisconsin landowners who don’t participate in a forestry program, three implications emerged.

  1. A substantial portion of landowners currently not in a forestry incentive program are potentially interested in payments for ecosystem services. Even when accounting for the “real world” practices of such programs—written management plan, forestry practices, and inspections requirements—nearly
    one-fifth were somewhat or very likely to participate.
  2. In developing payments for ecosystem services, landowners will focus on what they have to do, not what they are expected to produce (e.g., carbon storage, water quality, etc.). Policymakers would do well to consult landowners—particularly those who don’t currently participate in a separate program—to design programs that are conducive to the widest range of landowners.
  3. Landowners having a forester as an “influential peer” were more open to pursuing payment opportunity, as were those most interested in deriving income form their land. As such payments for ecosystem services could modestly expand active forest management, but other engagement strategies are still needed.

Related: post on leasingextension publication

About the authors: Tricia G. Knoot is a former post-doctoral research in the Department of Forest & Wildlife Ecology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She currently works for the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, Bureau of Science Services. Mark Rickenbach writes this blog. Kara Silbernagel is a former graduate project assist in the Department of Forest & Wildlife Ecology; she is currently working and pursuing graduate work in Colorado. .

Funding and project support: The Environmental and Economic Research and Development Program of Wisconsin’s Focus on Energy provided primary support for this study (EERD 3104-01-09). Additional support came from the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture via the McIntire-Stennis Cooperative Forestry Research Program (Grant WIS01432) and the Renewable Resources Extension Act. During final article preparation, Dr. Knoot worked for Iowa State University and the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, Bureau of Science Services.

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