Department of Economics

Cost Effective Conservation Planning: Twenty Lessons from Economics

Department of Economics
University of Delaware
Working Paper #2012-01

Cost Effective Conservation Planning: Twenty Lessons from Economics

Joshua M. Duke, Steven J. Dundas and Kent D. Messer

ABSTRACT

Economists advocate that the billions of public dollars spent on conservation should be allocated to achieve the largest possible social benefit. This is what we term “cost-effective conservation”-- a process that incorporates both benefits and costs that are measured with money. This controversial proposition has been poorly understood and not implemented by conservation planners. Drawing from evidence from the largest conservation programs in the United States, this paper seeks to improve the communication between economists and planners and overcome resistance to cost-effective conservation by addressing the open questions that likely drive skepticism among non-economists and by identifying best practices for project selection. We first delineate project-selection strategies and compare them to optimization. Then we synthesize the body of established research findings from economics into 20 practical lessons. Based on theory, policy considerations, and empirical evidence, these lessons illustrate the potential gains from improving practices related to cost-effective selection and also address how to overcome landowner-incentive challenges that face programs.

JEL Codes: Q18, Q24, Q57, Q58

Keywords: conservation planning, cost-effectiveness, nonmarket valuation, benefit-cost targeting, optimization, prioritization

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