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Developing the scientific foundation for the green economy

Spatial Informatics Group—Natural Assets Laboratory

The science and policy of natural assets and environmental markets are evolving rapidly and require nimble institutions to provide the innovations necessary to link economic and environmental interests. In 2012, the non-profit SIG-NAL was created to meet this need. SIG-NAL broadens the reach of the technical capacity and professional networks of Spatial Informatics Group (SIG) to create a more flexible entity with increased effectiveness in a dynamic economic and political context working for the public benefit.




Economic Impact Assessment of Wood Chip Heat in Maine


September 27, 2017


SIG-NAL has released a new study commissioned by the Natural Resources Council of Maine on the economic implications of increasing wood chip heat installations in Maine.

The report states that that redirecting wood chips away from aging, subsidized and struggling biomass power plants towards heating buildings would save Maine over $1 billion in less than 15 years while preserving a low-grade wood market for the forest sector.

It would take about 1,900 wood-chip heating installations (0.5 to 3 Megawatts in size) to use the volume of chips and sawmill waste currently used by biomass power plants. Installation costs for the new boilers would total about $2.21 billion. If Maine invested in this transition over five years, the payback would take about ten years due to savings on oil and propane.

A wood chip heat initiative such as this would lead to indirect job creation as high as 4,150 jobs over a 20-year wood boiler lifetime.


The full report can be downloaded here.



Work on Carbon Farming Conservation Innovation Grant Project Continues


September 9, 2016


As the impacts of climate change become more pronounced in Indian country, Native American nations and Indian landowners are faced with the challenge of implementing resource conservation land management systems while sustaining economic vitality. Market-based approaches to conservation present an opportunity to improve resource management and realize revenue from emerging environmental markets such as carbon offsets. Work on our collaborative USDA Conservation Innovation Grant project to pilot new approaches to facilitate tribal access to voluntary carbon markets continued this spring and summer with site visits and meetings at the Comanche Nation in Oklahoma and the Lower Brule Sioux Tribe in South Dakota. In April, John Gunn (SIG-NAL), Erick Giles (Indian Land Tenure Foundation), and Dr. Jeff Creque (Carbon Cycle Institute) met for two days with the Comanche Nation Secretary of Agriculture Milton Sovos and Realty Specialist Stephen Lee. Also joining the group was the Oklahoma Carbon Program Director Stacy Hansen. Site visits included potential agricultural lands for implementing carbon farming practices such as converting from conventional to no-till agriculture and planting tree-lined shelterbelts. Next steps include quantifying the potential carbon benefits of farming practice changes and finalizing the parcels to be included in an initial voluntary market transaction.

In late June, Shane Romsos of SIG joined John, Erick, and Jeff at the Lower Brule Sioux Tribe Reservation to meet with tribe’s Department of Fish, Wildlife, and Recreation to discuss how the carbon benefits of restoring native grassland could generate revenue to support restoration activities. For more than 10 years, the tribe has restored grassland habitats for many species of wildlife including pronghorn antelope, sharp-tailed grouse, and the greater prairie chicken. Fish and Wildlife Director Ben Janis and wildlife biologist Dr. Shaun Grassel maintain an active program planting formerly-tilled cropland to native grass species to support the Lower Brule’s wildlife management objectives. These practices also result in significant carbon benefits by building prairie grass root systems that allow much more carbon to be stored in the soil than can be achieved under a tillage system. The project team hopes to turn these carbon farming benefits into revenue for the tribe through a voluntary carbon market transaction. Maintaining the native grasslands is costly and could benefit from the sale of carbon offsets. Follow up activities will consist of mapping the restored grasslands, quantifying current and future soil carbon benefits, and discussions with potential buyers.





SIG Provides Local Fire Management Training in Indonesia


Sumatra, Indonesia (November, 2015) – Brett Shields and Dr. Chris Mallek conducted a five day fire training course on behalf of the US Forest Service and Burung Indonesia at the Harapan Rainforest site in Jambi, Sumatra (Indonesia). Brett is SIG’s Director for Asia Pacific (top center in orange) and Chris (top right in yellow) is a new SIG affiliate with our Natural Hazards team.


Harapan Rainforest is a 100,000ha conservation reserve that is prone to land encroachment and fires associated from the encroachment. Burung Indonesia is a conservation group managing the site (as part of the Indonesian Government Ecosystem Conservation Reserve, ERC, system) and six other ERC site staff participated in the training to make the group more than 20 people strong from across Indonesia including staff from Sumatra, Kalimantan and Sulawesi. The training occurred during the fire season and so real fires were happening at the time, which were incorporated into the live fire practice and exercises. The course also had involvement from training staff from the Ministry of Environment and Forestry, Pak Ronni Wibowo, and two trainers from the local Manggala Agni (Government fire fighting teams).


Indian Land Tenure Foundation Awarded Federal Grant to Help American Indian Tribes Combat Climate Change


Little Canada, Minnesota (October 14, 2015) – The U.S. Department of Agriculture has awarded the Indian Land Tenure Foundation a $295,000 grant to help American Indian tribes combat climate change.


The Indian Land Tenure Foundation will use the Conservation Innovation Grant to develop carbon sequestration projects on over 200,000 total acres on the Wind River Reservation in Wyoming, Comanche Nation Reservation in Oklahoma, Santa Ana Pueblo in New Mexico, and lands in South Dakota belonging to several Lakota and Dakota nations. The Spatial Informatics Group-Natural Assets Laboratory (SIG-NAL) and the American Carbon Registry (ACR) are partnering with the Indian Land Tenure Foundation on the project. The grant will be matched by an additional $295,000 of cash and in-kind support from the project partners.


“In the past, outside groups have exploited natural resources on Indian reservations with little economic benefit for American Indian communities,” said Erick Giles, who runs the Indian Land Tenure Foundation’s program to combat climate change. “Carbon sequestration projects make it possible for American Indian communities to benefit economically by protecting undeveloped lands and managing agricultural and rangelands to protect natural resources.”


The Indian Land Tenure Foundation will develop the first greenhouse gas offset market guidance specific to tribal lands, will launch pilot carbon offset projects and will built an education network to help tribal leaders, land managers, and landowners understand the conservation benefits and economic opportunities for managing carbon sequestration and greenhouse gas emissions in agricultural and rangeland systems.


“We will offer outreach and technical support focused on carbon offset markets and low-carbon emitting agricultural and conservation practices,” said John Gunn, executive director of SIG-NAL. “The project will develop capacity within the tribal land departments so they can better manage agricultural and range lands that provide carbon sequestration and water quality benefits.”


The Indian Land Tenure Foundation is a national, nonprofit organization dedicated to helping American Indian nations and people recover traditional homelands and sacred sites to revitalize and preserve Indian culture, create prosperity for Indian communities, and protect natural resources and Indian lands.


SIG-NAL is a nonprofit organization that uses science to connect economic and environmental interests by accounting for the full value of natural assets. SIG-NAL integrates the science of natural assets with tools, policies and management decision-making for public benefit. SIG-NAL makes science accessible to decision makers and the marketplace.


American Carbon Registry (ACR) , a nonprofit enterprise of Winrock International, was founded in 1996 as the first private voluntary green gas registry in the world. ACR addresses climate change by bringing buyers and sellers of carbon credits together.


Email John Gunn for more information about the project. Or follow @NatAssetsLab on Twitter.


Photo: Erick Giles (right), who directs the Indian Land Tenure Foundation’s program to combat climate change, discusses the carbon benefits of adding compost to rangelands.




SERVIR Mekong Project
Officially Launched

On August 31 USAID, NASA and ADPC officially launched the SERVIR-Mekong Program at Asian Disaster Preparedness Center’s headquarters in Bangkok. Funded by USAID, and with lead scientific and technical support from NASA, SERVIR-Mekong is being implemented by the Asian Disaster Preparedness Center (ADPC) with inputs from consortium partners Spatial Informatics Group, Stockholm Environment Institute, and Deltares. For more information, visit servir.adpc.net .



Lake Tahoe Basin Stream Environment Zone Delineation and Mapping Project Completed


Spatial Informatics Group recently released a new report that recommends improvements to water quality protections in the Lake Tahoe Basin.


“A Review of Stream Environment Zone Definitions, Field Delineation Criteria and Indicators, Classification Systems, and Mapping – Collaborative Recommendations for Stream Environment Zone Program Updates” was the result of work with local stakeholders, land managers, an NGO, regulators and technical experts, such as Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS).


The Stream Environment Zone (SEZ) is a land use designation unique to the Lake Tahoe Basin that includes lands surrounding and including streams, lakes and wetlands – those areas that owe their physical and biological characteristics to the presence of surface water and/or shallow groundwater for a significant duration of the growing season. In addition to providing water quality protection, SEZ conservation policies and management strategies support and protect aquatic and terrestrial habitats, provide recreational opportunities and enhance scenic quality and associated real estate values.


More than 25 years ago, the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency along with other agencies adopted a program to protect and conserve SEZ that includes policies, regulations, ordinances, definitions and restoration targets. Although the program has been considered by many as an effective means to conserving sensitive lands in the Lake Tahoe Basin, land managers and regulators recognized the need to update SEZ program elements to better reflect best available science and management practices.


SIG experts and local partners reviewed existing program elements and made recommendations for updating the program, including using new remote sensing data to update maps representing aquatic resources and SEZ throughout the Lake Tahoe Basin.


Several updates were recommended in the report, namely, changes to existing field delineation indicators and agency consideration for adoption of new and improved maps of aquatic resources and SEZ. Working groups recommended that agencies retain adopted SEZ definition and overarching delineation criteria that are based on a site’s geomorphic, hydrologic and vegetation characteristics.


The project report summarizes the results and recommendations of the effort. The report and digital maps are available upon request. Please contact Shane Romsos at sromsos@sig-gis.com.


New Publications from Spatial Informatics Group and Natural Assets Lab scientists and collaborators:


K.L. Larson , K.C. Nelson, S.R. Samples, S.J. Hall, N. Bettez, J. Cavender-Bares, P.M. Groffman, M. Grove, J.B. Heffernan, S.E. Hobbie, J. Learned, J.L. Morse, C. Neill, L.A. Ogden, J. O’Neil-Dunne, D.E. Pataki, C. Polsky, R. Roy Chowdhury, M. Steele, T.L.E. Trammell. (2015). Ecosystem services in managing residential landscapes: priorities, value dimensions, and cross-regional patterns. Urban Ecosystems .


M.W. Schwartz, N. Butt, C.R. Dolanc, A. Holguin, M.A. Moritz, M.P. North, H. D. Safford, N.L. Stephenson, J.H. Thorne, and P.J. van Mantgem. (2015). Increasing elevation of fire in the Sierra Nevada and implications for forest change. Ecosphere .


E. McGlynn, T. Buchholz, J.S. Gunn, D. Saah, and B. Kittler. (2015). Opinion:Low-risk Bioenergy Can Be A Critical Climate Solution. Ecosystem Marketplace .


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