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Assessing Trade-Offs Between Crop Production and Ecological Services: The Calapooia Basin


<OL> <LI> To quantify linkages between conservation practices and biophysical responses including water quality and biological indicators; <LI>To develop a model to assess tradeoffs between agricultural practices that maximize economic benefits and conservation actions that sustain or improve ecosystem services. </OL>We will meet these goals by testing a set of specific hypotheses which in aggregate, will allow us to test the following overall hypothesis: the extent and distribution of tillage practices and riparian vegetation are associated with an optimum balance of economic value and ecological services in the watershed. Our specific objectives are: <OL> <LI>To describe the extent, timing and placement of conservation practices currently in the study watershed; <LI> To assess the effects of those conservation practices, their location and their interactions on water quality and quantity; <LI>To evaluate the effects of conservation practices on key biological indicators that respond to cumulative alterations in land cover and resulting water quality and quantity. <LI> To develop an objective-optimization model based on the information derived from objectives (1a) through (3e) to assist farmers, NRCS staff, and local conservation districts in identifying cost effective conservation practice strategies; <LI>To disseminate the findings of this research project to specific target audiences through adequate outreach activities and extension products.

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Non-Technical Summary: Agriculture-related land uses have affected not only the quality but also the quantity of water in many ecosystems. Agricultural fields are often drained to increase productivity, while eroded soils and agro-chemicals are likely to find their way into neighboring water bodies. Some 'traditional' farm practices may negatively affect both a farmer's economy and the proper functioning of an ecosystem. Hence, there is increasing need for the development of farm conservation plans that can effectively optimize both business profitability and environmental quality. This is a dual-purpose project that aims at: 1) quantifying linkages between conservation practices and biophysical responses (including water quality and biological indicators); and, 2) developing a model to assess tradeoffs between agricultural practices that maximize economic benefits and conservation actions that sustain or improve ecosystem services. <P> Approach: We propose to assess the relationships between land area affected by land use practices and the resulting biophysical and economic factor responses at the scales of the entire Calapooia watershed and its sub-watersheds. We hypothesize that these practices when used in certain combinations and at appropriate locations and times will effectively reduce soil erosion, improve water quality, and enhance habitat quality for biological indicators of water quality. We will combine existing information, with farmers interviews, and aerial photographs followed by site visits to update the agricultural landuse/landcover GIS for the Calapooia Basin over the past 6 years. This data layer will identify by field the crop species grown and the conservation practices used in the watershed. We will use existing and newly collected water quality data to examine relationships between land use/land cover and water quality indicators. Automatic water samplers and flow gauging stations will be used for continuous monitoring of water variables. The Soil and Water Assessment Tool (SWAT) will be applied to estimate water quality outputs for different alternative conservation practices by sub-basin. Detailed variables needed to understand associations between land cover and habitat quality will be estimated for non-farmed riparian zones and water bodies near points used to sample fish and wildlife indicators. Data on invertebrate, fish, amphibian, and bird species composition, relative abundance, movement, spatial distribution, habitat utilization, and general demographics will be used as response variables or indicators of ecosystem functions and the quality of aquatic and riparian habitats. Taxa-specific field sampling protocols will be used to collect the appropriate data. Comparative analyses will allow us to associate the specific influence at the tributary, sub-watershed and watershed of some of the most prevalent land uses and conservation practices. For the economic analysis we will use Data Envelopment Analysis (DEA), which is effective for analyzing multiple inputs and outputs and has been applied to problems in many areas of agriculture and resource management. The calculation of program efficiency is simply the ratio of the cost of a program to the value of the benefit that results. These values do not necessarily have to be expressed in monetary terms. The research proposed here will calculate a wildlife habitat quality and performance by calculating an index using the same methodology as the water quality index required in ARS-CEAP. The deliverable for the economic analysis will be a data base that contains the optimal trade-offs among the objectives of profit maximization, water quality, habitat quality for a suite of species, and program efficiency for different policies. We will disseminate our findings through workshops, an interactive CD-ROM, peer reviewed publications, and extension reports.

Giannico, Guillermo
Oregon State University
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