Sunday, December 31, 2017

Using The Market (ala Airbnb) To Help Migrating Birds

See Using the Airbnb Model to Protect the Environment by Seema Jayachandran in The NY Times. Seema Jayachandran is an economics professor at Northwestern University. Excerpts:
"There is a surge in demand for protected land when migratory birds are passing through an area or a threatened species is breeding."

"the nonprofit Nature Conservancy has been a pioneer in bringing the “sharing economy” business model to conservation. It has been temporarily expanding wetlands for migratory birds in California’s Sacramento Valley since 2014."

"the Nature Conservancy, which pays rice farmers to flood their fields for the few crucial weeks each fall and spring. Rice growers routinely flood their fields for irrigation and to decompose crop residue after harvest; through the conservation program, named BirdReturns, they do so during periods when the fields would have been dry."

"A team of ecologists and economists figured out how much to compensate the farmers for this change. They ran “reverse auctions” in which landowners specified the lowest payment that would entice them to flood their fields for a given four- to eight-week period.

This auction system adjusts payments to farmers’ costs. For example, flooding during the end of the spring migration season is trickier to fit into an annual rice-growing schedule, so bids — and payments — are higher then. The auction model is also flexible when the weather fluctuates. The early years of the program occurred during California’s prolonged drought, but abundant rainfall in 2017 meant that BirdReturns could dial back the amount of pop-up wetland it procured this year."

"The team predicts the birds’ migratory paths using crowdsourced data from amateur bird-watchers and combines that data with satellite images of surface water, enabling the establishment of temporary wetlands at the right times and places."

"My research looked at a conservation group’s program in Uganda that made annual payments to farmers if they refrained from chopping down forestland that they owned. The approach turned out to be a remarkably inexpensive way both to protect forests and to reduce carbon emissions."

"Buying up the forest outright and turning it into traditional reserves not only would have cost more money, but it would have displaced thousands of people from their homes."

"In the Ugandan setting, a ban would deprive poor people of much-needed income generated by selling timber or using newly cleared land for agriculture.

Moreover, a market-based approach can balance conservation goals with critical needs like growing food. If a certain landowner is outstanding at farming — producing a lot of food for the community — it could very well make sense for her to continue to farm her land, even if doing so means clearing some forest.

Ideally, less productive farmers will participate in the program because food production — and profit — sacrificed by keeping their forest intact is small.

That’s why proper pricing is important. If you offer an appropriate payment for conservation, the best farmers will decline it because they can earn more by expanding their farms, while the mediocre ones will sign up. Markets can help us find those opportunities."

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