Update on the Grassland Conservation Exchange Pilot

Carrie Selin provides an overview of the progress made on the Grassland Conservation Exchange pilot project this summer.

One of the key objectives of the Grasslands Conservation Exchange pilot is to work in partnership to demonstrate how an effective conservation market system in Alberta’s grassland can work. This includes real application of assessment and verification processes and this past summer we made some significant progress. It’s essential to ensure that these tools and processes are cost effective, efficient and based in science, thereby ensuring the grassland conservation exchange has credibility and is trusted.

In partnership with the Western Stock Growers’ Association, we started with a field day on a ranch in southern Alberta to test our grassland conservation index. This included collecting qualitative and quantitative data from the land owner and ground truthing some modeled data provided by Alberta Biodiversity Monitoring Institute and Silvacom. Once we were happy with the process, we replicated it on an additional six ranches.

The data collected is meant to be entered into a conservation index as ecosystem service benefits. The results are cumulative scores of biodiversity, water, soil health and culture and people. Data collected includes biodiversity intactness index, equivalent connected area, nutrient loading, wetland or riparian area volume,  and soil health data such as bulk density, fungi to bacteria ratio, soil water infiltration, and soil aggregate stability. Qualitative and management data is also collected for the index such as management practices and grazing rotation, major land features such as natural areas and development, as well as recreational and traditional land use.

Some of the metrics are verified with actual sampling and testing in a lab, others are confirmed using satellite and ground-truthing photos. Data collection and measurement for ecosystem service benefits are complex and we believe we’ve used the best available science and have confidence the information and indicators used are relevant and credible. Of course, there is always a need for continuous improvement to unlock the complexity. However, current processes balance science with cost effective, practical application and we are confident this approach is the best approach to move conservation exchanges from concept to reality.

Check out the new Grasslands Conservation Exchange brochure that offers a comprehensive overview of how the exchange will work.