September 13, 1999
Conservation programs based on rewards rather than punishments have been widely tested and shown to work.
In 1991, England established a Countryside Stewardship Scheme to conserve the landscape and to protect and extend wildlife habitats. Under the scheme, farmers apply to receive payments from the government in exchange for protecting sections of their land. The scheme has proven very popular with farmers, who have signed over 8,000 agreements covering more than 143,000 hectares. Under England’s Environmentally Sensitive Areas Scheme, another 9,000 farmers receive compensation for forgone income, and additional incentives to manage their lands to enhance the landscape and its wildlife.
The money for conservation doesn’t have to come from governments. It can come from individuals and organizations concerned about protecting wildlife and habitats.
In the U.S., Defenders of Wildlife works to neutralize ranchers’ opposition to wolves by reimbursing them for livestock injured or killed by wolves. Since 1987, the group has paid out more than $84,000 (all figures in U.S. dollars) in compensation. Eighty-nine ranchers have received payments ranging from $50 for the loss of one lamb to $5,000 for the loss of four cattle.
The Defenders group is determined to shift the economic burden of wolf recovery from ranchers to wolf lovers. “Our goal is to achieve wolf recovery, not to make ranchers pay for it,” explains Rodger Schlickeisen, Defenders president. “We are committed to ensuring the return of this critically endangered species to its natural habitat, but at the same time, we’re willing to put our money where our mouth is.” Defenders’ Northern Rockies representative Hank Fisher elaborates: “Our goal is to have wolf supporters take responsibility for problems caused by wolves.”
Environmental groups in the U.S. don’t target only private landholders. In some cases, they compensate state agencies for losses associated with conservation. Thanks to the Northwest Ecosystem Alliance, Washington State will forgo logging on 25,000 acres of the Loomis Forest, instead placing the lands, which provide habitat for lynx, grizzly bears, wolverines and fishers, in a Natural Resource Conservation Area. But the schools that would have benefited from the income earned from logging the land won’t lose out to wildlife protection: The Alliance has raised more than $13-million to compensate the state for its lost timber revenues.
The Alliance marvels at the commitment of 5,000 donors who made the transaction possible, calling it “an extraordinary display of generosity, concern and responsibility” in which “citizens took the reins of conservation.” Campaign co-ordinator Fred Munson is blunter: “People showed how much they care about the Loomis with their pockets, their wallets.”
Other options favoured by environmental groups determined to protect critical habitat include the acquisition of conservation easements and the outright purchase of land. The 11,000-member Nature Conservancy of Canada boasts, “We do more than talk about Canada’s disappearing natural habitats: We buy them.” In addition to purchasing land, which it calls “the most practical, positive, and permanent way” to protect natural habitats and the endangered species that depend upon them, the organization acquires easements on land it does not own, committing current and future owners to specified conservation practices. The Conservancy has secured more than 800 properties since its founding in 1962, protecting 1.6 million acres.
David Anderson, the Environment Minister, is reportedly not opposed to providing cash incentives for those who voluntarily protect endangered species. But he doesn’t understand that if participating in an incentive program later exposes the land owner to risk of criminal prosecution, the program is doomed to fail. As the Species at Risk Working Group notes, “Central to incentives is the removal of disincentives.”
Mr. Anderson’s endangered species legislation should encourage voluntary arrangements, funded by governments or private agencies, that reward land owners for good stewardship. The Canadian Property Rights Research Institute offers a menu of voluntary measures the government could use: It could swap, rent or purchase land, purchase conservation easements and development rights or, through compensation or tax incentives, pay land owners to create habitat or delay harvests. As the Institute explains, “The key is to work with private land owners — instead of against them.”