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Environmental indices and the politics of the Conservation Reserve Program

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Environmental indicators can be used to target public programs to provide a variety of benefits. Social scientists, physical scientists, and politicians have roles in developing indicators that reflect the demands of diverse interest groups. We review the US Department of Agriculture's Conservation Reserve Program (CRP), the largest agricultural conservation program the United States, to determine how a set of environmental indicators were developed and used, and assess results of their application. The use of such indicators has helped the CRP increase and broaden the program's environmental benefits beyond erosion reduction, which was the primary focus of early program efforts, to meet other demands. This case study provides an example about how integration and assessment for the purpose of managing public resources requires more than natural science disciplines. Social science can help explain how public values influence what information is collected and how it is interpreted. Examples are given to show how the indices used for the CRP integrated science, politics and social values. In the end, the environmental benefits index (EBI) used to target US$ 20 billion of CRP funds reflects compromises made between science and policy considerations. It is our intention that studying this index will yield ideas and understanding from the natural science community that develops ecosystem indices about how to better plug in to programs in the future.
Ribaudo, Marc O. , Hoag, Dana L. , Smith, Mark E. , Heimlich, Ralph
Includes references
Ecological indicators 2001 Aug., v. 1, no. 1
Journal Articles, USDA Authors, Peer-Reviewed
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