USDA Secretary Ed Schafer announces that the USDA intends to establish a new office to promote markets for ecosystem services. It will be called the USDA Office of Ecosystem Services and Markets and among its tasks will include developing and handling carbon trading issues.

As USDA officials point out, agricultural industries and producers provide many ecosystem services which have historically been viewed as free benefits to society. Among those benefits are clean water and air, wildlife habitat, carbon storage and scenic landscapes. Lacking a formal structure to market these services, farmers, ranchers and forest landowners are not generally compensated for providing these critical public benefits, Schafer points out.

Market-based approaches to conservation are proven to be a cost-effective method to achieve environmental goals and sustain working and natural landscapes, he adds. Without financial incentives, these ecosystem services may be lost as privately owned lands are sold or converted to development. Therefore, more oversight and direction is needed and will fall under the responsibility of the new office.