Compensating Landowners for a Healthy River
A total of 8 projects were executed through the Big Hole River Incentive Program to improve private properties along the lower Big Hole River. Our river corridor is predominantly private land, so incentivizing landowners to do these types of projects has direct conservation outcomes. The Big Hole is the first watershed in Montana to pursue this incentives payment concept. Main projects have included: repairing, maintaining, and installing fencing around riparian areas; reducing conifer encroachment in riparian areas; bank stabilization projects to reduce sedimentation; and riparian plantings to promote vegetation establishment.
This pilot program demonstrated that landowners will engage in conservation when a trusted local partner supports them through the design and permitting. We were also able to make an important value statement by reimbursing landowners who fenced their streamside areas years ago, because we all benefit from those un-developed lush cottonwood galleries.
Thank you to the DNRC and all landowner participants for contributing to health of the Big Hole River and watershed!
WHAT IS AN “INCENTIVE” PROGRAM?
Payments for Ecosystem Services, or incentives, are offered to landowners in exchange for managing their land to provide specific ecological services. These programs leverage the marketplace to incentivize environmental protection that otherwise would not occur and, sometimes, to maintain the level of stewardship that is producing public benefits, such as clean, cold water. Ecosystem services have no standardized definition but might broadly be called “the benefits of nature to households, communities, and economies”.
INCENTIVE TO DO WHAT?
There are two ways qualifying landowners can use this program:
1. ACCEPT PAYMENTS TO MAINTAIN ALREADY HEALTHY AREAS:
For example, your river corridor is already in wonderful condition or hosts a healthy floodplain. You may be able to accept payments for maintaining your current conditions.
2. ACCEPT PAYMENTS TO REPAIR OR IMPROVE AN UNHEALTHY AREA
For example, your property has some riparian erosion due to cattle use. You may be eligible for cash payments to fence cattle from the eroded area and replant and in future years, accept payments to maintain your newly improved conditions.