This paper is a critique of a range-wide conservation plan (RWP) for the lesser-prairie chicken (LPC). The Inter-State Working Group (IWG) intended to rid the need to list the LCP under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) and further conserve it for future generations without interfering with economic activity in the areas where programs are put into place (Van Pelt et al. 2013). Its conservation strategy is focused on coordinating implementation of incentive-based landowner programs and the implementation of a mitigation framework which reduces threats and provides resources for off-site conservation (Van Pelt et al. 2013). However, the RWP’s major shortcoming is its inherent reliance on voluntary landowner participation. From there, alternative solutions drive the conversation to consider the most effective path for the future.
With the exception of New Mexico, over 95% of the current LPC range is on private lands (Van Pelt et al. 2013). One way the RWP could enhance landowner cooperation would be to outline protocol that involves directly informing property owners about the incentives. Landowners may not be prompted or know where to look for the information without being directly provided with the resources. As the RWP revealed, there is a chaotic collection of LPC conservation initiatives already in existence (Van Pelt et al. 2013). That said, it may be difficult for a given landowner to decipher which ones are still effectively operating and relevant to a specific situation. Also, after having consultations, landowners would be able to communicate the variety of local options amongst each other by word of mouth. As a result, there may be more who are willing to cooperate. That said, along with prioritizing conservation efforts with the CHAT spacial model based upon condition of the habitat, the RWP needs to create landowner subgroups based upon how they perceive their land should be used (Sourice et al. 2011). Doing so would bring more attention to the human dimensions of wildlife conservation that are would be useful to understand in order to save the LPC (Dayer Human Dimensions Lab n.d.).
Alternative Solutions to Landowner Engagement
However, since landowner participation in the RWP is voluntary (Van Pelt et al. 2013), there is still no guarantee cooperation is going to occur, even with personalized consultations. Not all incentives serve every landowner due to the differences between type of holdings and landowner value orientations. Some may feel as though their private property loses economic value due to being limited in their future use and development of the property (Czech and Krausman 2001). Others simply hold a distrust for government-led programming. Additionally, through surveying ranchers in the southwest, Lien et al. (2019) found that while they are interested in wildlife conservation, their dominant concern was increased government involvement in their operations stemming from ESA regulations. Despite being offered incentives, the ranchers expressed reluctance to take any action that would increase the chances of an endangered species coming onto their land out of concerns that the federal government will intrude on their management (Lien et al. 2019). Even with clearly communicated incentives, landowners may hesitate to participate in the conservation programs.
That said, I would recommend the purchase-protect-resale (PPR) program to protect private land (Hardy et al. 2018). It would fit well into the conservation plan because PPR approaches can be financially self-sustaining (Hardy et al. 2018). There is opportunity to identify property types that meet conservation objectives and recover costs within a reasonable time frame. Crucially, the solution is focused upon drawing insights from economics to assist in decision making (Hardy et al. 2018). It functions by using a revolving fund to purchase private land with conservation value and then resell it to owners with a permanent conservation agreement attached to the property title (Hardy et al. 2018). Fund capital is replenished primarily by reselling purchased properties, ideally at prices that recover all purchase, transaction and ongoing costs, with replacement capital raised if needed (Hardy et al. 2018). The replenished capital is then used to purchase additional properties (Hardy et al. 2018).
A general benefit of PPR is that it can be used to conserve land with high conservation value (Hardy et al. 2018). Additionally, the program was stated as having particular benefit where voluntary protection or acquisition approaches were unlikely to be feasible, for example, where landowners had been unwilling to participate or where acquisition without resale was too expensive (Hardy et al. 2018). That said, a crucial benefit is its shifting of land ownership to conservation-minded owners (Hardy et al. 2018). PPR programs can minimize resale challenges by focusing on properties attractive to conservation-minded buyers and designing agreements that allow for some residential and recreational use while simultaneously protecting ecological value (Hardy et al. 2018). Another idea is to rely on short-term contracts. A survey of North Carolina Farm Bureau county advisory board members in 93 of 100 North Carolina counties was conducted to determine how market-mechanism design influences interest in endangered species habitat conservation. Respondents preferred contracts with a duration of ten years (Rodrigues et al. 2011). Term contracts are critical for endangered species, such as the LPC, that require high levels of landowner support and spatial flexibility within short time-frames.
The LPC RWP shows comprehensive collaborative adaptive management does not necessarily guarantee a program’s effectiveness. Just as policy specialism emphasizes the need for attention to focus on the policy subjects, which are the LPC, it is also imperative that conservationists thoroughly consider the group of human subjects they wish to be in control of the wildlife management and design programs accordingly. The purpose of this paper is to communicate the need to transfer over property rights to science-driven ownership in the case of a pressing endangered species problem. In the midst of climate change, the stakes are too high to rely on landowner cooperation. The likelihood of the landowner and conservation campaign winning is too low to strive for. Instead, conservationists must transition to taking matters into their own hands.
Czech, Brian and Paul R. Krausman. 2001. The Endangered Species Act: History, Conservation, Biology, and Public Policy. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.
Dayer Human Dimensions Lab, n.d. “What is HD?” Department of Fish and Wildlife Conservation. Virginia Tech. Accessed October 11th, 2019.
Hardy, Mathew J, James A Fitzsimons, Sarah A Bekessy and Ascelin Gordon. 2018. “Purchase, protect, resell, repeat: an effective process for conserving biodiversity on private land?”. Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment. 16(6): 336-344.
Lien, Aaron M., Colleen Ulibarri, Wendy Vanasco, George B. Ruyle, Scott Bonar, and Laura Lopez-Hoffman. 2019. “Opportunities and Barriers for Endangered Species Conservation Using Payments for Ecosystem Services.” Biological Conservation 232, (April): 74-82.
Rodriguez, Shari, M. Nils Peterson, Frederick W. Cubbage, Erin O. Sills and Howard D. Bondell. 2011. “Private Landowner Interest in Market-Based Incentive Programs for Endangered Species Habitat Conservation”. Wildlife Society Bulletin. 36(3): 469-476. Sorice, Michael G., Wolfgang Haider, J. Richard Conner, and Robert B. Ditton. 2011 “Incentive Structure of and Private Landowner Participation in an Endangered Species Conservation Program.” Conservation Biology25, no. 3 (June): 587-596.
Van Pelt, William E, Sean Kyle, Jim Pitman, David Klute, Grant Beuaprez, Doug Shoeling, Allan Janus and Jonathan B. Haufler. 2013. “The Lesser Prairie-Chicken Range-wide Conservation Plan.” Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies. Cheyenne, Wyoming, pp. 1-367.