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US Fish & Wildlife Service FieldNotes

The Economics of Conservation

Region 3, October 12, 2012
Wetland and grasslands of North Dakota.
Wetland and grasslands of North Dakota. - Photo Credit: n/a

William Gascoigne with the U.S. Geological Survey is investigating the economic contribution of conserved habitat lands to the economy in the Prairie Pothole Region (PPR) of the U.S. His research shines a light on the linkages between landscape conditions and conditions within surrounding rural communities; linkages that are not always that apparent. This research context has been relatively understudied in the natural resources field, but has emerged due to the current economic climate and competing land uses in the PPR. The question his research aims to address— how does investing in landscape conservation impact rural economies now and in the future? The study, which received funding from the Plains and Prairie Pothole Landscape Conservation Cooperative in 2011, is breaking ground by illustrating the “socioeconomics” of wildlife conservation, particularly in rural communities heavily dominated by agriculture. It will analyze the dollar value of specific conservation actions by drawing parallels to the value of outdoor recreation, a storied pastime in the dwindling hunting and fishing communities of the PPR, while considering the value of agricultural interests. Hunters and anglers traditionally have been poised to support habitat restoration and species management efforts because of their direct connection to the landscape. With fewer hunters and anglers relative to the growing human population, natural resource managers increasingly look to the agricultural community for collaboration and support to maximize habitat quality and achieve other landscape natural resources objectives, while keeping agricultural values intact. The results of Gascoigne’s research can ultimately be used at the local level by natural resource managers and local agricultural interests to inform on the ground conservation and land use activities to maximize landscape conservation objectives.

“In a national policy of directing land settlement due consideration should be given to the needs, both national and local, for land to be devoted to crops, pasture, and forests…..Another important consideration is the economic value of wild life…[the land’s] value in the natural state as breeding places for fish, birds, and fur-bearing animals should be adequately considered. The recreational value of wild lands, as well as their direct economic value in the wild state, should not be overlooked. Clearly, the interests involved are too great to be left to chance….Nor can such interests be left entirely to the individual States, for it frequently appears to be to the interest of a particular State to attract settlers from other States, with little reference to the bearing of such action on the national needs for the various uses of land or to whether the change is for the better from the standpoint of welfare and efficiency of the settlers.” - Lewis Gray et al., Agricultural Yearbook, 1923

Contact Info: Joanna Gilkeson, 6127135170, Joanna_Gilkeson@fws.gov