Understanding Participation in Wildlife Conservation Programs on Private Lands
Sorice, Michael G.
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One major lesson derived from the implementation of the Endangered Species Act (ESA) over the past 30 years is that direct regulation is not the only nor the optimal way to protect endangered species on working lands because of an undue burden imposed on private landowners. The role of a voluntary conservation program is to rearrange incentives so that society bears the cost rather than the landowner. Employing a survey research methodology, I used theories of reasoned action and random choice to explore landowners? stated preferences for conservation programs. I found landowners? stated interest in compensation programs to be moderate at best. For those willing to consider programs involving endangered species, associating land management requirements for species conservation with direct benefits to the landowner is important, but perhaps not as important as ensuring that the program provides adequate financial incentives, consideration of the term of the program, and a level of certainty regarding the landowner?s future obligations under the ESA. Landowners are not a homogenous group. I identified two classes of landowners according to preferences for program structure. One group was highly sensitive to program structure, aside from financial incentives, while the other was likely to participate if adequately compensated with financial and technical assistance. These differences related to opinions on endangered species protection and dependence on their land for income. Voluntary incentive programs increasingly are a popular tool to maintain and enhance conservation; however, these programs are only successful insofar as landowners choose to enroll. This research demonstrates that improving recovery efforts on private lands requires program administrators to have a more complete understanding of landowners? views on endangered species and conservation programs in general, as well as their motivations for owning and operating their land. By doing so, programs with broader appeal and greater efficacy can be designed and implemented.