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Conservation Incentives from an Ecosystem Service: How Much Farmland Might Be Devoted to Native Pollinators?

Simpson, R. David
Environmental and resource economics 2019 v.73 no.2 pp. 661-678
agricultural land, almonds, crops, ecosystem services, farmers, habitat conservation, habitats, honey bees, leasing, opportunity costs, pollination, pollinators, California
Some conservation advocates hope the ecosystem services that areas of natural habitat provide will generate sufficient incentives to offset the opportunity costs of habitat preservation. In this paper I consider a service that has received considerable attention: pollination. While many crops are pollinated by rented honeybees, wild organisms might also pollinate crops if habitats were maintained to sustain them. I develop conditions under which a farmer might choose to maintain such habitats rather than to pay to rent bees. For pollination, as with many other ecosystem services, there may be a “paradox of efficiency”. If areas of habitat provide services efficiently, they might prove to be quite valuable. Under the same circumstances, however, appeals to ecosystem services values might motivate only modest conservation. I illustrate these ideas using the example of California almond farming. Even if almond farmers could profitably rely on wild pollinators, they might devote only a small fraction of their holdings to habitat for such pollinators. It may be important in light of these findings to ask what the objectives of conservation really are, and whether they can be best achieved by instrumental arguments as opposed to appeals to the less tangible benefits of conservation.