Ecosystem Services

Decisions regarding natural resources are often made with limited regard for the real economic cost that can result from damaging or destroying natural systems. Payment for Ecosystem Services (PES) tools monetize the values that healthy ecosystems provide to human communities and utilize market mechanisms to address threats to those ecosystems through “win-win” finance and practice models. In the last five years PES tools have made progress in the state of Colorado. Specific examples include the increasing popularity of “forest to faucet” programs, whereby the United States Forest Service (USFS) is paid by a municipal utility to focus on healthy forest management practices within the city’s watershed; the development of the Colorado habitat exchange program to help prevent the listing of the Greater Sage Grouse, and the National Forest Foundation’s “In Lieu Fee” program to allow wetland banking on public land, with related mitigation fees to pay for the restoration of wetlands. The program anticipates federal approval for implementation in 2017, with positive results for Camp Hale and a potential for concept replication in Colorado and throughout the US Forest Service’s regional office jurisdiction.

This emerging field has great potential, but the practical implementation of these concepts is still in its infancy. The Foundation will consider support for research and pilot projects in Colorado that advance valuation and market development for ecosystem services, and the integration of these tools into public and private decision-making.  Gates investment in this area targets support to pilot projects in Colorado that demonstrate the potential to provide viable, long-term solutions to conservation issues through market-based solutions.