Projects and Stories

Ecosystem Services Research Project

With our partners we are researching how ranchers and family forest owners are prospering from protecting or enhancing ecosystem services on their land.


Around the country, ranchers and family forest landowners face complex challenges that threaten their ability to stay on the land and maintain their operations. These include high demand for competing land uses, an aging population, pressure from environmental regulation, and razor thin profit margins.  While landowners strive to keep their operations intact, they are increasingly recognizing the natural benefits or ecosystem services that their private working lands provide. At the same time, a growing number of mechanisms for compensating landowners for these services is emerging.

Sustainable Northwest, Oregon State University, and the Ecosystem Workforce Program at the University of Oregon teamed up to identify the factors that affect how ranchers and family forest landowners may benefit by providing ecosystem services through sustainable land management practices.

The ultimate goal of this research project is to provide recommendations for how to shape payments for ecosystem services (PES) programs so that they work for landowners and help them to prosper, while also enhancing our land and water resources by providing strong conservation outcomes. Learn more about the project and what we found.

What are ecosystem services?

Ecosystem services, simply stated, are the benefits people receive from nature, such as water quality, wildlife habitat and carbon sequestration.

To keep working lands in operation, many ranch and family forest owners are diversifying their operations through stewardship-based opportunities. In different landscapes, groups are using programs such as:

  • Government funded programs (e.g., Farm Bill conservation incentive and cost-share programs)
  • Voluntary and regulatory markets (e.g., carbon markets, water rights leasing, wetland mitigation banking)

  • Certification schemes (e.g., Forest Stewardship Council, Salmon Safe)
  • Conservation easements (e.g., working lands, agency or land trust held, etc.)

These and other payments for ecosystem services programs provide financial and/or other benefits to landowners in return for the ecosystem services they provide through sound land and water management practices.

Looking ahead

To grow understanding about ecosystem services and provide information about pilot projects and payments for ecosystem services programs around the West, Sustainable Northwest is coordinating the Ecosystem Services Learning Action Network. Visit the ESLAN page to learn more.

For more information contact the project partners:

Hannah Gosnell, Oregon State University,

Lauren Gwin, Oregon State University Extension,

Cassandra Moseley, University of Oregon,

Max Nielsen-Pincus, University of Oregon,