What's nature worth?

We create markets that let landowners profit through preservation

Sierra Nevada meadows Tour

EDF is attracting investors to restore the ecosystems on which California’s farms and cities depend.

Photo credit: Mathew Grimm

Two-thirds of America’s land is dedicated to farming, ranching and forestry.

These industries help feed and house the nation, but that can come at a cost to our clean water, wetlands and forests.

EDF believes there is a better approach, one in which the protection of natural resources is a profitable way of doing business.

America’s farmers, ranchers and forestland managers are front line stewards of our natural resources.

David Festa David Festa VP Land, Water and Wildlife

"When we assign real value to nature’s services, it sends the right signals to land managers and the outcome is improvement to the environment and to local economies." says EDF’s David Festa.

Across America, ecosystems provide natural beauty and wildlife habitat. But they also help control floods and wildfires, mitigate the effects of climate change and purify drinking water.

Unfortunately, current policies often regard nature’s services as free and unlimited. This encourages their inefficient use, which often leads to scarcity and conflict among the users.

Sierra Meadow

Sierra meadows bring pure water from the Sierra snowpack to lowland farms and cities.

Photo by: Mathew Grimm.

In fact, healthy meadows, rivers and wetlands can help states and municipalities avoid building costly new dams, levees and water treatment plants.

This realization is at the core of EDF’s nationwide effort to engage government, landowners and businesses to finance the conservation of the natural systems on which they depend.

Valuing Ecosystems

In California, the Mokelumne River is born high in the Sierra Nevada, among remote forests and meadowland. These meadows hold snowmelt like a sponge, slowly releasing pure water to downstream farms and cities during the dry late summer.

Wildlife, too, depends on this lush terrain in summer, while downstream, riverbank habitat prevents erosion and sedimentation that is harmful to fish and can fill in dams. Unfortunately, logging, grazing, agriculture and development have diminished this remarkable system’s capacity to provide clean water and protect wildlife.

Mokelumne canal

An irrigation canal brings Mokelumne River water to farms vineyards in Lodi, CA.

Photo by: mcwont.

Recently, the U.S. Department of Agriculture awarded a grant to EDF and its partners, Sustainable Conservation, Sierra Nevada Conservancy, Vino Farms and East Bay Municipal Utility District, to facilitate market transactions that improve the health of the Mokelumne River watershed. This includes measuring the environmental value of restoration, which we’ll use to attract utilities, government agencies and others to pay landowners who conserve habitat.

The goal is to replace concrete with green infrastructure. For example, global warming and changes in runoff patterns are increasing the risk of costly flooding downstream. For the state’s utilities, investing in floodplain and riparian buffers and rebuilding habitat could be far more cost-effective than building new dams. Ranchers and wildlife would also benefit.

We want to make these kinds of investments the standard across the country. So, over the next five years, EDF plans to establish markets for environmental services throughout the West and the Upper Mississippi, where we’re focusing on protecting wetlands alongside farmland to protect freshwater quality and control floods.

“EDF is a leader in determining which of nature’s services are most valuable and translating that information into investment decisions on a large scale,” says Mark Nechodom, director of California’s Department of Conservation.