Managing Agricultural Landscapes for Environmental Quality: Strengthening the Science Base
Edited by Max Schnepf and Craig Cox
206 pages, illustrated, 7" x 10" softbound
This multidisciplinary book brings together the expertise of individuals in the scientific community to quantify the environmental benefits of conservation practices at landscape and watershed scales. A special section presents the needs and perspectives of a wide range of practitioners and policy makers responsible for projects designed to improve soil, water, air, and habitats.
Part 1. What should we measure, and how, to account for environmental effects
Ecosystem services in agricultural landscapes
Peter Groffman, Paul Capel, Kurt Riitters, and Wanhong Yang
Integrating the biophysical and social sciences
K.M. Sylvester and C.L. Redman
What science can and cannot provide policymakers
Part 2. Methods for environmental management research at landscape and watershed scales
New approaches to environmental management research at landscape and watershed scales
G. Philip Robertson, L.Wesley Burger Jr., Catherine L. Kling, Richard Lowrance, and David J. Mulla
Coping with the data dilemma
F.J. Pierce, P. Nowak, and P.E. Cabot
Part 3. The science of targeting within landscapes and watersheds to improve conservation effectiveness
The science of targeting within landscapes and watersheds to improve conservation effectiveness
Todd Walter, Mike Dosskey, Madhu Khanna, Jim Miller, Mark Tomer, and John Wiens
Buying environmental services: Effective use of economic tools
The disproportionality conundrum
P. Nowak and F.J. Pierce
Part 4. Realistic expectations about the timing between conservation implementation and environmental effects
Realistic expectations of timing between conservation and restoration actions and ecological responses
Stan Gregory, Arthur W. Allen, Matthew Baker, Kathryn Boyer, Theo Dillaha, and Jane Elliott
The promise of adaptive management
Mary C. Watzin
The Chesapeake Bay experience: Learning about adaptive management the hard way
Thomas W. Simpson and Sarah Weammert
Part 5. Research information needs: Constituency perspectives
A local stakeholder perspective
A state agency perspective
A Natural Resources Conservation Service perspective
William E. Puckett
A policymaking perspective
The “Managing Agricultural Landscapes for Environmental Quality: Strengthening the Science Base” workshop was one of a series of activities the Soil and Water Conservation Society (SWCS) has undertaken in support of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Conservation Effects Assessment Project (CEAP). The purpose of CEAP can be narrowly defined as an effort to improve our ability to quantify the environmental effects of conservation practices applied to agricultural land. That narrow definition, in my opinion, misses the most important and lasting contribution of CEAP—building the science base for effective, sustained, and confident management of agricultural landscapes to improve soil, water, air, and fish and wildlife habitat. The reason we need to better quantify the environmental effects of conservation practices, in other words, is to better focus our conservation programs and activities where they will do the most good.
The workshop that is the subject of this report grew out of an ambitious effort, led by Max Schnepf, to document the scientific knowledge of the effects of conservation practices on the environment. The book Environmental Benefits of Conservation on Cropland: The Status of Our Knowledge recently published by SWCS is the product of that effort. As Max notes in his preface to that book, the literature review stopped at the edge of the crop field—the stopping point of most research on the effects of conservation practices in recent decades. The limitations of this edge-of-field focus were evident early on to everyone involved in the “Environmental Benefits of Conservation on Cropland” project. Indeed, participants at a workshop organized early in the project strongly recommended that SWCS take on the task of pulling together the state of our knowledge of the effects of conservation practices at watershed and landscape scales. The “Managing Agricultural Landscapes for Environmental Quality” workshop is our first attempt to take on that task.
I have been privileged to participate in, and in some cases lead, the activities SWCS has undertaken in support of CEAP. I have learned a great deal in the process. The most important lesson, I think, is the essential difference between an environmental effect and an environmental benefit. We can document many environmental effects of conservation practices at the field or farm level, but those effects don’t produce meaningful benefits until they are expressed at the watershed or landscape scale. Environmental quality is an aggregate phenomenon. It is the result of multiple activities—often highly disproportionate in their individual contribution—that add up to a perceptible improvement in a component of the environment important to local, national, or global communities. The effect of conservation tillage on reduced sediment loads doesn’t become a benefit, in other words, until the aggregate effect is enough to reduce the number of beach closings or to increase the viability of natural reproduction of trout.
The most important contribution of science and professional judgment in conservation is, I think, to connect the dots. Conservationists must understand how individual effort at the farm and ranch level adds up to real and meaningful results at the watershed or landscape scale. Conservationists must effectively direct conservation effort based on that understanding. Unless we learn how to connect the dots at the appropriate watershed or landscape scale, our efforts at the farm or ranch scale will come to naught.
We undertook this project in a spirit of exploration and experiment. We knew that many people have struggled and continue to struggle with the challenge of understanding the benefit of conservation at the watershed and landscape scale. Our plan was to contribute to this effort by bringing together a multidisciplinary group of scientists and practitioners to share their understanding of how to connect the dots. The result far exceeded my expectations. I, for one, left the workshop with more confidence that we can connect the dots. I also left the workshop with greater conviction that connecting the dots will dramatically improve the effectiveness of our conservation efforts.
Confidence and conviction alone will not build the science base we need or translate that science base into practice. We have a great deal of work to do. I hope our workshop and this book contribute to that important work.
In January 2007, the Soil and Water Conservation Society (SWCS) completed work on a book summarizing what the scientific literature tells us about the environmental effects of applying individual conservation practices on cropland. Environmental Benefits of Conservation on Cropland: The Status of Our Knowledge was assembled at the request of U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) officials involved in the Conservation Effects Assessment Project (CEAP) initiative. Work on that book in late 2005 and early 2006 prompted discussion about what could be done by conservation researchers to extend the effort to quantify the environmental benefits of applying conservation practices on agricultural land beyond the field and farm scales—the focal point of most research in recent decades.
Subsequent discussion with USDA and other scientists led to the suggestion that SWCS plan a workshop on how to strengthen the science and account for the environmental benefits of conservation efforts on agricultural land at landscape and watershed scales. During the course of those discussions, which took place over several months’ time, four recurring themes emerged. Those four themes ultimately provided the framework for an international workshop—“Managing Agricultural Landscapes for Environmental Quality, Strengthening the Science Base”—that was held October 11–13, 2006, in Kansas City, Missouri. The themes were as follows:
- What should we measure, and how, to account for environmental effects at landscape and watershed scales?
- Methods for environmental management research at landscape and watershed scales.
- The science of targeting within landscapes and watersheds to improve conservation effectiveness.
- Realistic expectations about the timing between conservation implementation and environmental effects—lessons learned from long-term research (or what scale of change is possible over what period of time).
From the outset, the emphasis was on planning a multidisciplinary workshop in an attempt to assess what science has to tell us about applying conservation more effectively and efficiently on a landscape or watershed scale—beyond the usual research plot, field, or farm scale—and what the implications of that might be for strengthening the science through research and extension in the future. A secondary objective of the workshop was to expose the scientific community to the needs and expectations of conservation policymakers and practitioners struggling to account for the environmental benefits of projects intended to enhance soil, water, air, and habitat at broader geographic scales.
To set the stage for discussion at the workshop, SWCS commissioned the preparation of a paper for presentation at the workshop on each of the four aforementioned themes. A lead author was invited to write each paper in collaboration with a multidisciplinary team of physical and social scientists. Two additional individuals were then invited to present “value-added” perspectives on each of the four themes at the workshop. Drafts of the four commissioned papers were shared with these eight perspective presenters in advance of the workshop.
To extend the discussion about strengthening the science of conservation at landscape and watershed scales during the workshop, SWCS also issued a call for oral papers and poster papers. The emphasis in this call for papers was on research and experience at landscape and watershed scales or work that had application at these scales. More than 250 proposals were ultimately submitted. About 110 of these were selected for oral presentation; another 80 were chosen as posters.
This book contains the four commissioned papers, along with the two perspective presentations that accompanied each (save for one paper in the research methods segment that was not available for publication). A fifth part of the book features comments offered by conservation policymakers and practitioners—users of research—on what they would like in the way of new information from the research community.
A short “Roundtable” section follows each of the four commissioned papers in this book. These sections summarize four roundtable discussions held one evening during the workshop. The roundtables involved the speakers from each of the four themed sessions and workshop participants, who attended the roundtable of their choice. In addition to giving speakers and workshop participants an opportunity to elaborate on what was said during the formal sessions at the workshop, roundtable participants were asked to identify what they considered to be the five most important “next steps” that might be taken to strengthen the science surrounding each particular theme.
Prior to the workshop, a decision was made not to publish the oral and poster papers from the workshop’s technical sessions in this book, but rather post those made available by the presenters on the SWCS website after the fact. Most of those presentations are available at www.swcs.org. The workshop program also is available at this site.
Any number of individuals and institutions deserve thanks for their contributions to and support of this event. Nine governmental agencies supported the workshop and publication of this book financially: Agricultural Research Service; Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada; Cooperative State Research, Education and Extension Service; Economic Research Service; Farm Service Agency; Natural Resources Conservation Service; U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service; U.S. Forest Service; and U.S. Geological Survey. The International Cooperation Office of the Mexico National Institute for Forestry, Agriculture and Animal Husbandry Research lent its name to the list of workshop sponsors. Dozens of individuals served on the technical committee that laid the groundwork for the workshop, on the program committee that helped establish the workshop format, and on the abstract review committee. Many of these same individuals and others served as session moderators during the workshop. Special thanks are due Mike Burkart and Cathy Kling, Iowa State University, who helped SWCS staff members formulate an initial plan for the workshop and Peter Groffman, Institute of Ecosystem Studies, who served as chair of the program committee.
Many farmers and ranchers work hard to conserve soil, water, air, and fish and wildlife resources within the confines of their individual agricultural enterprises. But many of society’s environmental management goals require the collective action of producers across multiple farm or ranch units to achieve the critical mass of conservation action needed to make a difference in soil, water, and air quality; water conservation; and improved habitat for both fish and wildlife. This fact presents a significant challenge to researchers who must think about what research they conduct, and how, to help conservation policymakers and practitioners better serve their constituents and the environment. Likewise, this fact challenges conservation policymakers and practitioners to demand more of the research community in the ongoing effort to improve the efficacy and efficiency of conservation policy and programs. Hopefully, the Kansas City workshop moved thinking in each of these communities a step beyond where it has been.