When does stacking ecosystem services payments add ecological value?
Pilot programs for ecosystem services payments and markets are beginning to consider whether to allow stacking—where landowners combine multiple market or mitigation payments for a single management activity on a single property—and if so, how these payments should be handled.
In theory stacking could provide multiple benefits, including increased revenues for landowners who provide services; better ecosystem services projects than are possible with a single payment; and management across multiple services (a move toward optimizing rather than maximizing).
A panel I moderated at the July Ecosystem Markets Conference in Madison, Wisconsin, explored some of the early stacking efforts. The Willamette Partnership’s Counting on the Environment program has developed an approach that allows grouping projects to sell to multiple markets—essentially when one credit type is sold, the other credit types are reduced by a proportionate amount. The Ohio River Basin Trading Project is beginning work to assess the potential benefits of stacking water quality credits with carbon credits, and the new city of Damascus, Oregon is focused on allowing conservation easements to sell services in ecosystem services markets and stack value.
While there have been assessments of stacking that consider the economic impacts (Woodward 2010), risks to ecosystem service outcomes (Cooley and Olander 2011), and practitioner views on stacking (Fox 2010); we don’t have good examples of the benefits. Where would stacking result in greater participation and more ecosystem services benefits? When would stacking allow a different type of project—one that generates greater benefits—to proceed? What do these examples look like?