Ecosystem Services Markets for PA Forestland

Water Quality

  • 1. Am I eligible to sell credits?

    By implementing conservation actions that lower nitrogen and phosphorus loads to waterways, landowners can generate credits and sell them to organizations whom voluntarily purchase the credits or entities like waste water treatment plants that need credits to maintain compliance with government-provided permits. Pennsylvania facilitates the trading of nitrogen and phosphorus credits between landowners and permitted facilities like wastewater treatment plants. The first step in determining your eligibility is to visit LandServer. LandServer can generate a report that estimates your potential to generate credits for a variety of market areas including nutrient trading. 

    Landowners present in the Potomac and Susquahanna River basins are eligible to generate and sell nitrogen and phosphorus credits. 

  • 2. How do I generate credits by planting trees?

    To generate credits, landowners reduce nutrient loads to waterways by implementing one or more of the following approved best management practices:

    • Riparian forest buffer
    • Wetland restoration
    • Tree planting

    Each chosen practice must also follow these guidelines:

    • Farmers must demonstrate that they have already reduced nutrient loads to levels required by the State of Pennsylvania. These limits are known as “baselines.” Farmers must comply with all local, state, federal laws, regulations, and programs. At least one of the following best management practices must be met to achieve the “baseline”:
      • Manure is not mechanically applied within 100 feet of streams, rivers, lakes, and natural ponds.
      • Streamside forest or grass buffers must be installed and maintained at a minimum width of at least 35 feet.
    • The farmer and any nutrient credit trade cannot cause or contribute to water quality effects locally, downstream or, bay wide.
    • The idling of whole or substantial portions of farms is not eligible to generate credits
    • Credits can only be generated once a practice is installed and certified by the Department of Environmental Protection.

    The number of credits that your project generates will depend on a number of factors including your location within a Chesapeake Bay tributary, the selected best management practice(s), and the number of acres you intend to treat under BMP enhancements. Credit certification, unless expressly stated otherwise, will last five years.

  • 3. How much money do credits sell for?

    Prices vary depnding on the current demands with each state river basin. As of 2014, the going annual rates for Pennsylvania range from $1 to $3 per pound of nutrients reduced. 

  • 4. How much will it cost me to generate and sell credits?

    There are costs associated with generating and selling credits. You may choose to pay a consultant or other outside experts to design your project and help prepare a contract to sell credits. The Forest for the Bay website maintains a list of qualified experts. Once a project and contract are completed, it must be verified before credits can be registered. Fees related to project design and contract development will in most cases need to be paid prior to the sale of credits.

  • 5. Is there financial assistance available to me to aid in the generation and selling of credits?

    Government cost share are available to help landowners implement the best management practices need to meet the baseline requirements for Nutrient Trading. Marginal pasturelands and active or recently actice croplands alongside waterways and/or waterbodies may be eligible for cost share assistance to plant riparian forest buffers through the Farm Service Agency's Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CREP). Landowners enrolled in CREP may receive upwards of 87.5% cost share on the eligible costs associated with planting trees and shrubs as well as other practices meant to keep cattle out of streams, including alternative watering sources, exclusion fencing, and cattle crossings. In addition, landowners receive an annual soil rental payment for the land taken out of production, plus an additional annual payment of 200% the soil rental rate, a one time practice incentive payment, and a one time sign up bonus. The USDA NRCS Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) also provides cost share assistance for best management practices need to meet the baseline requirements. 

    Private funding, unlike government funding, may be used to finance the design of the credit-generating practices and the costs associated with contract development. In some cases, you may arrange with conservation grups and consultants to bear up-front expense, which may be recouped once credits are sold. Contact forests@allianceforthebay.org to learn more about programs the Alliance currently is offering to support these efforts. 

  • 6. Can I see specific requirements?

    For more information, visit Pennsylvania's nutrient trading website

  • 7. What is required of me to generate credits?
    • All credits must be registered with the State of Pennsylvania. This allows landowners to document their conservation actions and buyers to obtain certainty that each credit represents real nutrient reductions. 
    • Projects need to be verified and monitored. 
    • Project certification duration is five years. After five years, the landowner may apply for a renewal.