Abstract: The loss and fragmentation of native habitats caused by agricultural development and conversion of agricultural lands into urban sprawl are widely recognized as the most serious modern threats to the conservation of biodiversity. Regulatory mechanisms have been heavily relied upon but largely ineffective at preventing the loss of wildlife habitat and the decline of endangered species, particularly on private lands. Land acquisition and permanent conservation easements may be more reliable conservation tools, but they are often incompatible with the desires of private landowners and rural communities. We describe resource conservation agreements ( RCAs), an incentive‐based alternative that provides private landowners compensation for the agricultural and nonagricultural development potential of their land in exchange for conserving and managing wildlife habitat. We evaluated the public costs of managing 356,038 ha of existing public lands in southwest Florida critical to the survival of the Florida panther ( Puma concolor coryi). We also reviewed the costs of public ownership, permanent conservation easements, and RCAs for approximately 200,000 ha of priority panther habitat under public ownership in southwest Florida. Assuming a 3.65% nominal interest rate and an infinite life of public ownership, we estimated current annualized expenditures for public ownership as U.S. $69/ha/year. In comparison, estimated costs to purchase and manage ($174–297/ha/year) or enter into permanent conservation easements ($116–208/ha/year) on privately owned, priority panther habitat were much greater. The disparity between the costs of public ownership for existing public lands and those estimated for privately owned lands was due to greater agricultural and residential development potential on the privately owned lands. The mean purchase price for the public lands reviewed was $1291/ha, whereas the estimated average value of privately owned priority panther habitat was $4744–7401/ha. The estimated cost of RCA on private lands was $74–82/ha/year. The estimated cost of RCA was roughly equivalent to current expenditures for the public lands we reviewed, 200–400% less expensive than the estimated cost of purchasing privately owned lands and 200–300% less expensive than the estimated cost of permanent conservation easements to conserve privately owned priority panther habitat in southwest Florida.
Conservation Biology – Wiley
Published: Dec 1, 1999
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