The True Cost of Protected Areas

What would it cost to make conservation work in developing countries? That is a hard question, so let’s make it simpler. What would it cost to make Protected Areas (PAs) work in developing countries? We don’t really know. We don’t know how much is being spent annually on management of PAs, we don’t know what the shortfalls are, we don’t know what the opportunity costs of PAs are, and we don’t the rates of change of these amounts.

There are some estimates. Aaron Bruner, Raymond E. Gullison, and Andrew Balmford estimated in their paper, Financial Costs and Shortfalls of Managing and Expanding Protected-Area Systems in Developing Countries (BioScience, December 2004) that current management spending is $0.8 billion per year, with a shortfall of $1.3 billion.

Alexander James, Kevon J. Gaston and Andrew Balmford (in their paper, Can We Afford to Conserve Biodiversity? BioScience, January 2001) estimated annual opportunity costs at $4.9 billion (1996 dollars).

Mike Norton Griffith and Clive Southey estimated that in Kenya net loss from foregone agricultural output was 2.2% of GDP, equivalent to almost 30% of net investment and to 70% of all external (aid) grants to Kenya in 1989/90.

The foregone income from PAs areas is large, and opportunity costs are increasing as land become more valuable with population growth. Most of the land in PAs in developing countries has been confiscated without compensation from people who are now conservation refugees.

Wildlife experiences and existences values are mostly of value to people in rich countries.

There will be more pressure on PAs in the future. If developing countries become more democratic, the pressure will increase. PAs will not be sustainable unless there are strong constituencies in developing countries who benefit from their existence.

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