Natural Resources, School of


First Advisor

Mark E. Burbach, PhD

Date of this Version

Summer 7-28-2021

Document Type



Martens, K. (2021). Right side up: Payment for ecosystem services in Nebraska's privately owned grasslands (Unpublished master's thesis). University of Nebraska, Lincoln.


A THESIS Presented to the Faculty of The Graduate College at the University of Nebraska In Partial Fulfillment of Requirements For the Degree of Master of Science, Major: Natural Resource Sciences, Under the Supervision of Professor Mark E. Burbach. Lincoln, Nebraska: July 2021

Copyright © 2021 Kyle R. Martens


Grasslands are an important ecological and economic resource in the United States. As part of a natural system, these landscapes can provide income for ranching operations and employment in rural communities; habitat for grassland plants, animals, and migratory species; and offer other services not always readily observed such as improved soil health, clean water, and carbon sequestration. Despite the overarching benefits, the conversion of grasslands to other uses remains widespread throughout much of the remaining Great Plains ecosystem.

Shifting from livestock ranching to another land use often reflects a tipping point. This occurs when the alternative land use is perceived to outweigh the risks and losses stemming from grassland conversion. Large areas of grasslands are privately owned in the US, but many of the benefits that are provided are nontraditional public goods. The conversion of naturally functioning landscapes can be ecologically disruptive and come at a detriment to both private and public interests. Alternative marketing opportunities and revitalized conservation efforts may be necessary to create linkages between private land management and the supply of services from healthy grassland ecosystems.

Using Nebraska’s statewide wildlife management plan as a guide, we developed a hypothetical grassland ecosystem services market and tested the programmatic preferences of ranchers who would sell the services produced from their lands. In testing attributes related to management, contract length, and payment level, we found that ranchers indicated strong preferences for the types of management actions that were incentivized and not the accompanying contract length or payment. This research contributes to conservation literature in the areas of conjoint choice experiments and incomplete confounded factorial experimental design. It may also have utility in the form of market research for the future piloting of ecosystem services programs.

Advisor: Mark E. Burbach