Nav: Home

Conservation's hidden costs take bite out of benefits

December 19, 2019

Returning croplands to forests is a sustainability gold standard to mitigate climate change impacts and promote conservation. That is, new research shows, unless you're a poor farmer.

"Those sweeping conservation efforts in returning cropland to vegetated land might have done so with an until-now hidden consequence: it increased the wildlife damage to remaining cropland and thus caused unintended cost that whittled away at the program's compensation for farmers," said Hongbo Yang, lead author in a recent paper in the Ecological Economics journal.

Yang, who recently earned a PhD at from Michigan State University (MSU) and is currently a research associate at the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute and his colleagues analyzed the reforestation achieved via programs that encourage, and compensate, farmers to convert their cropland to forests via China's enormous Grain-to-Green Program (GTGP).

The research found that even as newly regrown forests are sucking up greenhouse gases, they're also sheltering critters bent on destroying crops. And while farmers were compensated, they ultimately took a financial beating. Not only did they find that converting a portion of their fields brought wildlife that much closer to their remaining crops, but they were also now farming smaller areas and thus recognizing lower yields.

Bottom line: The costs of conservation were being borne by poor people and those impacts have been slow to be revealed.

"Conservation policies only can endure, and be declared successful, when both nature and humans thrive," said Jianguo "Jack" Liu, senior author and Rachel Carson Chair in Sustainability at MSU'S Center for Systems Integration and Sustainability. "Many of these trade-offs and inequities are difficult to spot unless you take a very broad, deep look at the situation, yet these balances are crucial to success."

As a first attempt to quantify this previously hidden cost, the authors estimated the impact of converting cropland to forest under the GTGP, which is one of the world's largest conservation programs, on crop raiding in a demonstration site.

They found that GTGP afforestation was responsible for 64% of the crop damage by wildlife on remaining cropland, and that cost was worth 27% of GTGP's total payment to local farmers. That loss was not anticipated as the policy was designed and was in addition to the known loss of income from farming smaller plots, Yang said.

"The ignorance of this hidden cost might leave local communities under-compensated under the program and exacerbate poverty," Yang said. "Such problems may ultimately compromise the sustainability of conservation. As losses due to human-wildlife conflicts increase, farmers may increasingly resent conservation efforts."
-end-
In addition to Yang and Liu, "Hidden cost of conservation: A demonstration using losses from human-wildlife conflicts under a payments for ecosystem services program" was written by Frank Lupi and Jindong Zhang, both members of MSU-CSIS.

The research was funded by the National Science Foundation, Michigan AgBioResearch, Michigan State University, the National Natural Science Foundation of China and the Key Laboratory of Southwest China Wildlife Resources Conservation, China West Normal University.

Michigan State University

Related Conservation Articles:

Conservation research on lynx
Scientists at the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research (Leibniz-IZW) and the Leibniz Institute for Molecular Pharmacology (Leibniz-FMP) discovered that selected anti-oxidative enzymes, especially the enzyme superoxide dismutase (SOD2), may play an important role to maintain the unusual longevity of the corpus luteum in lynxes.
New 'umbrella' species would massively improve conservation
The protection of Australia's threatened species could be improved by a factor of seven, if more efficient 'umbrella' species were prioritised for protection, according to University of Queensland research.
Conservation's hidden costs take bite out of benefits
Scientists show that even popular conservation programs can harbor hidden costs, often for vulnerable populations.
Trashed farmland could be a conservation treasure
Low-productivity agricultural land could be transformed into millions of hectares of conservation reserve across the world, according to University of Queensland-led research.
Bats in attics might be necessary for conservation
Researchers investigate and describe the conservation importance of buildings relative to natural, alternative roosts for little brown bats in Yellowstone National Park.
Applying biodiversity conservation research in practice
One million species are threatened with extinction, many of them already in the coming decades.
Making conservation 'contagious'
New research reveals conservation initiatives often spread like disease, a fact which can help scientists and policymakers design programs more likely to be taken up.
Helping conservation initiatives turn contagious
New research shows that conservation initiatives go viral, which helps scientists and policymakers better design successful programs more likely to be adopted.
Overturning the truth on conservation tillage
Conservation tillage does not lower yield in modern cropping systems.
Talking to each other -- how forest conservation can succeed
Forest conservation can be a source of tension between competing priorities and interests from forestry, science, administration and nature conservation organizations.
More Conservation News and Conservation Current Events

Trending Science News

Current Coronavirus (COVID-19) News

Top Science Podcasts

We have hand picked the top science podcasts of 2020.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Climate Mindset
In the past few months, human beings have come together to fight a global threat. This hour, TED speakers explore how our response can be the catalyst to fight another global crisis: climate change. Guests include political strategist Tom Rivett-Carnac, diplomat Christiana Figueres, climate justice activist Xiye Bastida, and writer, illustrator, and artist Oliver Jeffers.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#562 Superbug to Bedside
By now we're all good and scared about antibiotic resistance, one of the many things coming to get us all. But there's good news, sort of. News antibiotics are coming out! How do they get tested? What does that kind of a trial look like and how does it happen? Host Bethany Brookeshire talks with Matt McCarthy, author of "Superbugs: The Race to Stop an Epidemic", about the ins and outs of testing a new antibiotic in the hospital.
Now Playing: Radiolab

Speedy Beet
There are few musical moments more well-worn than the first four notes of Beethoven's Fifth Symphony. But in this short, we find out that Beethoven might have made a last-ditch effort to keep his music from ever feeling familiar, to keep pushing his listeners to a kind of psychological limit. Big thanks to our Brooklyn Philharmonic musicians: Deborah Buck and Suzy Perelman on violin, Arash Amini on cello, and Ah Ling Neu on viola. And check out The First Four Notes, Matthew Guerrieri's book on Beethoven's Fifth. Support Radiolab today at Radiolab.org/donate.