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Time discounting and the decision to protect areas that are near and threatened or remote and cheap to acquire

Armsworth, Paul R.
Conservation biology 2018 v.32 no.5 pp. 1063-1073
deforestation, discount rate, economic costs, economic factors, funding, habitats, land use change, landowners, landscapes, models, planning, risk, technological change
Should conservation organizations focus on protecting habitats that are at imminent risk of being converted but are expensive or more remote areas that are less immediately threatened but where a large amount of land can be set aside? Variants of this trade‐off commonly arise in spatial planning. I used models of land‐use change near a deforestation frontier to examine this trade‐off. The optimal choice of where to protect was determined by how decisions taken today accounted for ecological benefits and economic costs of conservation actions that would occur sometime in the future. I used an ecological and economic discount rate to weight these benefits and costs. A large economic discount rate favored protecting more remote areas, whereas a large, positive ecological discount rate favored protecting habitat near the current deforestation frontier. The decision over where to protect was also affected by the influence economic factors had on landowners' decisions, the rate of technological change, and ecological heterogeneity of the landscape. How benefits and costs through time are accounted for warrants careful consideration when specifying conservation objectives. It may provide a niche axis along which conservation organizations differentiate themselves when competing for donor funding or other support.