Lessons Learned

Today this blog is one month old. Let’s look back at some lessons learned and at some known unknowns.

There is a urgent need for evidence-based conservation. We should learn from the medical profession, and use randomized, controlled trials to validate interventions. Why not get experts in clinical trials involved in the design of conservation studies? Once we have a number of solid studies, we can carry out systematic reviews.

You can’t understand the pressures on protected areas, and the pro or contra-conservation activities outside protected areas, if you don’t calculate the cost and benefits to the people who live in the area. Such a calculation necessarily involves calculating land rents and opportunity costs.

In poor countries, benefits may largely accrue to foreign hotel and tour operators, or to the central government, leaving local people with scant incentive to conserve nature. What is the mechanism that maintains this system? Public choice theory is an analytic framework that could be useful in understanding the choices of governments and NGOs.

Protected areas work, but the Galapagos Effect is real. A low human population density is good for conservation. An attractive protected area might attract so many visitors, as well as people earning their living from visitors, that the protected area suffers (there is a second Galapagos Effect in biology; it refers to rapid evolutionary change in small isolated populations under strong selection pressure).

Direct payments for conservation is a very promising innovation. You get what you pay for, and if you don’t pay for conservation, you shouldn’t be surprised if you don’t get it. Projects with multiple objectives and indirect payments are wasteful, but can be understood in terms of the incentive structures of NGO and government bureaucracies. Direct payments became common in disaster relief during the 1990s. Why not in conservation?

Conservationists and local people do not have common preferences, but cooperative bargaining can provide acceptable solutions to both parties.

ITQs, individual transferable quotas, have worked in fisheries, water supply, and pollution control. Can their use be extended? Are there cases where we can show that they can’t work?

Land trusts have grown very fast in the U.S.A. over the past half century. Can they be replicated outside the U.S.?


One thought on “Lessons Learned

  1. Interestingly, there is a Federal program called Safe Harbors in the US that rewards those who manage their land for the benefit of endangered species with loser restrictions on what they can do outside of that habitat. This means that bog turtles, for example, produce a direct benefit for farmers who maintain the fens they prefer instead of converting them to heavily stocked wet pasture. It is a small step from this program to a direct subsidy that would compensate in real dollars those whose land sustains “rare species” much as we compensate sugar beet growers and dairy produces for those farm products.

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