By Jessica Keith
Imagine a world in which everyone values nature. Companies weave environmental sustainability into the fabric of their business plans. Policymakers base their decision making on maintaining our “natural capital.” And governments charge payments for ecosystem services that deliver benefits like clean water more cheaply than building and operating public utilities.
The Nature Conservancy understands the business of nature and the many benefits that conservation provides humanity, often for a fraction of the cost of engineered solutions. We’re working with policymakers and businesses on numerous fronts to help illustrate the value of conservation to bottom lines and human well-being.
Great Lakes Compact
The Great Lakes are a globally important resource containing 20 percent of the world’s fresh surface water. Despite their importance, the Great Lakes traditionally have lacked the protection they need. But efforts in the 1990s to divert water to the western United States and abroad prompted bordering states to unite under the Great Lakes Compact, which requires that each state manage water use in a way that recognizes these many values. The Conservancy in Ohio is working with the governor’s office and the Ohio Department of Natural Resources to develop specific water management policies. Legislation to implement the Great Lakes Compact in Ohio was introduced last year. The Conservancy opposed the bill because it failed to comply with the Compact and the Governor agreed by vetoing it. This March, a new bill was introduced but some of the same problems remain. The Conservancy has offered its recommendations on how to improve the bill to safeguard this tremendous resource.
Shale Gas Development
Oil and gas exploration and the related hydraulic fracturing process (known as “fracking”) is one of the most controversial environmental issues of our time. As the natural gas boom expands into our state, The Nature Conservancy is advocating for strong protections for Ohio’s streams and wetlands. It has provided extensive comments on proposed rules and oversight of drilling practices in the state’s Marcellus and Utica shale. The Conservancy has also submitted comments on gas and oil well construction rules, urging policymakers and the industry to embrace a planning approach that avoids and compensates for environmental impacts, especially to high-quality freshwater resources during the well development and wastewater disposal process. These rules should be reviewed and updated regularly as new research becomes available, especially from a pending U.S. EPA study. The Conservancy believes that natural gas development must be balanced by strong environmental protections that ensure other human needs like clean drinking water are met.
Federal Farm Bill
Conservation funding comes from many places, including the federally sponsored Farm Bill, which is up for renewal in 2012. The Farm Bill represents the nation’s largest investment supporting voluntary and successful conservation, restoration and management of the nation’s private lands. It provides incentives to farmers, ranchers and other landowners that result in cleaner water, improved soil conservation, enhanced wildlife habitat, outdoor recreation activities, increased flood control and economic benefits for communities. But each year thousands of conservation contracts go unfunded. By shortchanging the programs, we ultimately end up hurting revenue-generating opportunities, such as from the Great Lakes’ $18 billion annual hunting, fishing and wildlife-watching industries. With the nation in the throes of budget discussions, The Nature Conservancy is emphasizing to Congress that Farm Bill conservation program funding is an investment in the very natural resources that contribute to our economic well-being.
Water Management Agreement with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers
The Nature Conservancy and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers recently committed to work together to manage water resources throughout the Ohio River and Great Lakes basins. The Conservancy will contribute scientific and conservation planning information to the Corps, which will use the information to protect the ecology of lake and river systems as human needs are met. Dam management for native fish passage, floodplain protection, invasive species, and fish and mussel reproduction needs will be of special consideration. By protecting ecological integrity, the Conservancy and the Corps help to ensure that human needs will continue to be met.