Payment for Ecosystem Services

Soil Health Kris

Brief Program Description



San Miguel County is piloting a Soil Health Payment-for-Ecosystem-Services (PES) program to develop a protocol to help farmers and ranchers improve their soil and increase the water holding capacity.  Soil scientists across the world are studying the effects of increasing soil organic matter and encouraging healthy soil microbes in order to produce healthier and better yields of grass and/or crops for years to come.  Increasing the soil's water holding capacity may help ease the effects of droughts as the soil acts more like a sponge, holding onto more of the water that falls.  Balanced and healthy microbial activity can increase plant growth and maintain a soil environment which may decrease the opportunity for invasive plants to get established.  Another feature of the pilot program is to find out how much carbon can be sequestered within our local soils.  Ideally, this will develop into a way for farmers and ranchers to get paid for ecosystem services centered on soil health.

The pilot program added compost to three 25' x 50' plots in the early summer of 2016 on an area of land that the land owner chose.  A soil test, water infiltration test and plant height measurements were performed before and after the compost application.  The soil tests include the basics like nutrients, organic matter and pH.  An extra test called the Haney test measures microbial populations.  This project will run for several years, as soil carbon and microbial populations take time to stabilize.  The county is collaborating with scientists and other organizations with similar projects throughout the world on this cutting edge work.

Rare Plants


A PES pilot project (PDF) was completed which surveyed rare plants on private lands in San Miguel County.

Soil Health - PES Project


After years of discussion, preliminary programs, and inspiration from the Quivira Coalition and Courtney White's book, Carbon Ranch, San Miguel County has initiated a Soil Health PES Project to measure soil productivity, water retention and carbon sequestration on various private crop and pasture lands in southwestern Colorado. Contracting with local ranchers and farmers, over time the project will track its test plots when amended with compost or when other soil improvement techniques are used. The intent is to determine what, if any, beneficial impacts from various improvement methods occur, and quantify how much water is stored and carbon locked up in improved and unimproved soils in our high plateau bio-region.

Pollinator Garden


The San Miguel County Parks and Open Space Department, with guidance from the Xerces Society, is planting approximately 7,500 square feet of flower-rich habitat for local butterflies and bees.  This site is located at Down Valley Park in the meadow west of the public restrooms and picnic pavilion. For more information, visit the Pollinator Garden page.
Soil Health Sam
Soil Health group