CORVALLIS - Getting more bang for the conservation buck can be achieved by establishing biological preserves on low-cost lands, according to research paper just published in Science, the weekly journal of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.
The research project analyzed how to achieve the preservation of endangered species in the most efficient and cost-effective way possible.
In the study, researchers found that a large number of species can be represented in a conservation reserve for low cost.
"By carefully considering land costs, it is possible to cover 50 percent of endangered species (about 453 species) in conservation reserves at 2 percent of the cost of covering all endangered species in reserves," said Stephen Polasky, an economist in the Oregon State University Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics.
The goal of the project was to identify cost-optimal sites for the establishment of biological preserves by examining county-level information on the distribution of endangered species throughout the United States, Polasky explained.
A common tool for species conservation is establishment of biological preserves on land where development activity is prohibited or closely regulated. This land is usually set aside by government authority or purchased outright by conservation organizations.
"The costs of protecting all 911 endangered species in land preserves would be high because of the great amount of land needed for complete coverage," Polasky said. "But the point of this research is to show that through careful selection of sites, a great amount of conservation work can be accomplished at a reasonable cost."
The research was conducted by a team of scientists including Polasky; Amy Ando, an economist with Resources for the Future, a conservation organization based in Washington D.C.; Jeffrey Camm, a statistician from the University of Cincinnati; and Andrew Solow, an oceanographer with Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts.
The project expanded on the findings of another study on the feasibility of preserving endangered species that appeared in Science last year.
That study found that a large number of endangered species are covered by a relatively small number of counties in the United States. The study concluded that "if conservation efforts and funds can be expanded in these few key areas, it should be possible to conserve endangered species with great efficiency."
The problem was that the few counties identified in the study included San Diego, Los Angeles and San Francisco counties in California, and Hawaii, Honolulu and Maui counties in Hawaii - unquestionably, some of the most valuable land in all of the United States.
"Establishing biological preserves in those counties would be extremely expensive and very controversial because of the high potential of the land for commercial development," Polasky said.
The latest study shows that choosing lower value sites away from centers of intensive land development activity makes the preservation of species more affordable and achievable, he explained.
"The cost-optimal approach to selecting preservation sites may become especially useful when conservation budgets are limited and not every species can be adequately protected," he said.