Monday, November 28, 2011

Dollars for Water and Water Quality Keep Forests as Forests

A key component of the Endowment’s Theory of Change is to provide new value streams to forest landowners. One way we approach this is through our Healthy Watersheds through Healthy Forests Initiative. A path that we are pursuing in this arena is developing "payments for ecosystem services," and more specifically, payments for watershed services.

In this scenario, forested landowners who maintain a healthy, working, sustainable forest that protects water quality and that helps moderate water flow, such as flood protection, would be paid for those services, preferably by downstream water users.

The Endowment is funding four pilot projects in the East to better develop this concept, with an eye toward making payments for watershed services a commonplace activity. If successful this approach could potentially:
  • help conserve millions of acres of forested watersheds (an estimated 180 million American’s drink water that originates in a forested watershed);
  • generate new sources of income for owners of forested watersheds, helping them maintain and better manage their properties); and
  • reduce drinking water costs for the public (the cleaner the water coming into treatment facilities, the cheaper it is to treat it.)
One pilot project is underway right in the watershed where the Endowment’s headquarters is located. To tell you more about this program, we asked John Tynan, Deputy Director, Upstate Forever, and the Endowment’s grantee, to describe their efforts.

Peter Stangel, Senior Vice President, the Endowment

Saluda-Reedy River Watershed
In early 2011, the Endowment committed to match a $6,000 grant that Upstate Forever
www.upstateforever) received through the Land Trust Alliance (LTA) to explore the feasibility of establishing a Clean Water Credit program in the Saluda-Reedy Watershed.  The overall objective of our efforts was to assess if water and wastewater utilities in the watershed would compensate owners of forest and agricultural properties for conservation efforts or improved management practices because of the nutrient reductions that these activities provide.

The Saluda-Reedy is well positioned for this type of pilot project as it is at risk for forest cover loss, is facing increased regulation for nutrients, has been the focus of significant research and conservation implementation, and is an EPA priority watershed.  Upstate Forever began by estimating the amount of phosphorus (the critical nutrient in the watershed) that may enter the watershed from each property.  This will serve as a prioritization tool for the implementation phase of the project.

Finding Partners Support from the Endowment and LTA also allowed us to facilitate discussions with the core stakeholders in a Credit program.  The largest wastewater discharger, one of the significant water utilities, and the state permitting agency, have all been supportive of the concept and committed to working through an iterative process to develop a functional system that will result in funding for conservation or improved land management and, in turn, reduced nutrient inputs to the watershed.  

We are now researching existing nutrient trading program protocols throughout the country and plan to propose a project framework to the stakeholders in early 2012.  We have also initiated a related project to identify possible pilot phase landowners.  This related project is a 319 grant awarded from South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control that involves outreach to and one-on-one work with local landowners to implement practices that will reduce nutrient runoff into Walnut Creek, a tributary to the Reedy River.

Small Grant Leverage Bigger Pots of Money The grant provides $370,000 in cash and is matched with $250,000 of private contributions (through cost-share or "payment for ecosystem service" funds). An integral and innovative component to the $620,000 project is the incorporation of payments for ecosystem services.  Current cost-share models, such as the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) Program offered through the Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resource Conservation Service, only provide funds to agricultural landowners for the initial cost to establish a Best Management Practice (BMP) on site. 

Traditional programs do not compensate landowners for lost revenue from the land placed into a BMP (for example, revenue might be lost because trees in a riparian buffer are not cu, to preserve their ability to hold soil and filter nutrients) despite the fact that the lands set aside continue to provide water quality benefits to the watershed.  One component included in our 319 grant will allow us to provide yearly payments for ecosystem services to landowners to compensate for lost revenue as a result of BMP installation as well as for the ongoing ecosystem benefit that the BMP provides. 

It is Upstate Forever's hope that successful, on-the-ground improvements will result both from the 319 grant and the ongoing Clean Water Credit program funded by the Endowment and LTA, providing significant funds for improvement of the watershed and protection and improved management of workings forest and agricultural lands.

Written by: Peter Stangel and John Tynan
Approved by: Carlton Owen, the Endowment

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

The Convergence of National Security and Working Forests

How might working forests contribute to national security?  Providing "buffers" around military installations is one important opportunity that simultaneously supports the military’s training needs and that might also provide a much-needed revenue source to private forest landowners.

A Changing Landscape
When the military’s large training facilities were created decades ago, they were typically placed in rural areas with low population density, so that training operations would minimize the impact to local communities of the noise, fire, smoke, and other by-products of maneuvers.  Over time, however, urban sprawl has increasingly brought people closer to bases.  In some areas, housing developments extend literally to the edge of the fence.  At the same time, new technology and weaponry is requiring even more space for the military’s training activities.  This clash of needs has stimulated the Department of Defense to seek cost-effective ways to expand the area around their bases where training activities may safely be executed.

Private Forest Owners and the Military -- Cooperating for National Security
Given the prohibitively high cost of land acquisition, conservation easements and similar tools are becoming increasingly important to military planners.  Because of the still rural nature of land around many bases, using easements to prevent development in these "buffers" is cost-effective and also provides income to the land owners.  For many bases, particularly those in the South, this means working with corporate or family forest owners.  The Endowment is helping bring together both the Department of Defense and forest land owners to explore mutual benefits. 

The Endowment’s Partnership for Southern Forestland Conservation (,  a group of more than 30 landowners, agencies, and non-profits, is now working with the Southeast Regional Partnership for Planning and Sustainability (, a group of federal and state agencies, including the military services, on this issue.  A Working Forest Task Force was created to study opportunities. This draft strategy is being reviewed and was presented to the SERPPAS leadership on November 9.

Watch this blog site for updates on the strategy and the Endowment’s plans to keep working forests an important part of the military’s base buffering strategy.

Submitted by:  Peter Stangel, Senior Vice President, the Endowment
Approved by:  Carlton Owen, President, the Endowment

Thursday, November 03, 2011

A New Tree Grows in Greenville

While we've been in our new "organizational home" since late May (with construction still going on), we had a formal dedication of the facility on October 28th in concert with our fall Board of Directors meeting.  Dozens of community leaders, partners, donors, and vendors, joined the Endowment's Board and staff for a reception and tours of the eclectic space. 

And, in keeping with the Endowment's "tree-centric" view of the world, instead of a ribbon cutting, we had a tree planting to commemorate the occasion.  Contrary to the song, "we took down a parking lot and put up a tree..."

As reported in our June 3, 2011 Blog, driven by need to find additional space for an expanded staff and hoping to take advantage of the deeply depressed commercial real estate market, the Endowment opted to buy a long-abandoned building and rehab (recycle/repurpose) it for our offices.  We met all of our goals plus some with the decision...

...We now have the space we need to conduct business;
...we were able to bring the project in with only a slight excess over budget but still at a cost that compares very favorably with rent; and,
...the facility which has hard floors and beautiful wood walls has had a noticeable positive impact on our staff members who suffer with allergies.

Here are just a few of the images from that wonderful evening.

Endowment Chairman Mack Hogans thanks Board and Community Leaders for Their Support while  President Owen looks on.  (That's not our building in the background)

Community Leaders Mark Taylor, President of SynTerra Corp (left) and Dr. Walt McPhail (right) Sign In for the Event

Endowment Staffer Florence Colby Leads a Tour for Vendor Partner Michele Perron

President Owen Explains Some of the Office Features

Board Members David Dodson (right) and Mil Duncan (center) Visit with Chairman of The Palmetto Bank, Leon Patterson (left)

Kevin and Becky Hatch (left) Read the Endowment's 2010 Annual Report While Touring

Minor Shaw of the Daniel-Mickel Foundation visits with John Warner of the SC Governor's School for the Arts and Humanities

If you get the chance to visit Greenville, it will be our pleasure to show you our home.  Ya'll come!