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Species at Risk: Using Economic Incentives to Shelter Endangered Species on Private Lands. Jason F. Shogren, ed. University of Texas Press, Austin, 2005. 283 pp. $21.95 (ISBN 0292705972 paper).

Many biodiversity conservation efforts can be described by the proverb, “If all you have is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail.”While we conservationists have developed a vast array of different tools, we have not been very good about developing the instruction manuals that help our practitioners figure out the conditions under which to use or not use any specific one. Species at Risk: Using Economic Incentives to Shelter Endangered Species on Private Lands attempts to meet this need by providing a guide to using one family of conservation tools—the various incentives for conservation of endangered species on private lands, particularly in relation to the US Endangered Species Act (ESA).

The introduction to the book, by editor Jason Shogren, quotes Jim Berger, the former president of the Wyoming Stock Growers Association, as saying that “the best wildlife management we can have is a local game warden, a rancher, and a cup of coffee.” Shogren goes on to point out, however, that “many others might add that a fat checkbook would be helpful too. This book addresses whether this ESA checkbook makes sense from several vantage points” (pp. 18–19). In effect, the problem is how to keep the owners of habitat that could be used by an endangered species from destroying that habitat to avoid the legal and economic consequences of having the species on their property. One egregious example cited in the book is that “ten days before the Fish and Wildlife Service listed the golden-cheeked warbler, a firm owned by Ross Perot hired migrant workers with chain saws to destroy hundreds of acres of oak and juniper warbler habitat.”

The book is an edited volume with two introductory chapters, several chapters exploring specific topics in more detail, and then a summary chapter. There is an old joke that says, “There are three kinds of economists in the world — those who can count and those who can't.” As a member of the latter group, I am pleased to report that Species at Risk describes some challenging economic concepts in simple and accessible language.

After Shogren's general introduction to the topic, the second introductory chapter, by Debra Donahue, provides a succinct overview of the ESA and the major tools providing incentives for conservation on private property: the habitat conservation planning process, the no-surprises policy, and the safe harbor and candidate conservation agreement programs. One of the greatest challenges in writing this type of overview is what I think of as the “cat” problem in the dictionary: Most people reading a dictionary probably know what the word means and how to spell it, and yet to be comprehensive, the editor needs to include it alongside the more difficult entries. Overall, Donahue does a good job both of introducing the basics of the ESA and its key tools and of providing a detailed critique of them.

Gregory Parkhurst and Shogren then provide a detailed review of eight different incentive mechanisms for promoting conservation of endangered species on private lands. The tools that they review are zoning, impact fees, subsidies, tradable development rights, conservation banking, fee simple acquisition, and conservation easements in the form of purchased development rights or donations for tax relief. For each mechanism, the authors provide a basic description and then discuss its pros and cons. Overall, they provide a helpful summary of each tool and some simple examples. As a novice in this field, I did not always understand the relationship between the incentive tools introduced in Donahue's chapter and those outlined in this one. It's also not immediately clear under which conditions one might employ each tool, although the authors do return to this topic in the final chapter. Finally, it may be an obvious point, but it also would be helpful if the authors were to emphasize that none of these tools are necessarily sufficient to ensure conservation by themselves—for example, if you purchase a tract of land, you still need to manage it to ensure that it is not overrun by invasive species or illegal hunting efforts.

Subsequent chapters go deeper into different topics related to the ESA. I found these to be something of a mixed bag. They include a historical–philosophical exploration of the ethics of different approaches to land conservation; a very nuts-and-bolts description of how to write a report to appraise the conservation value of a piece of land; a theoretical assessment of the markets for habitat conservation, complete with an appendix full of equations accessible only to economists who can count; and a more qualitative discussion of how inequalities in information held by different parties potentially distort the market for species conservation. I suspect that some of these chapters will appeal to readers with specific interests, but most readers will skip over them.

The last chapter gets back to the main subject at hand, looking critically at the different incentive tools presented earlier by Parkhurst and Shogren. I particularly liked the table that provides, in a concise format, the author's assessment of the utility of each tool against a range of different evaluation criteria. This table is the key to helping practitioners determine the right tool for their particular needs.

Two groups of readers might benefit from this book include (1) students and other individuals who are interested in learning more about the ESA and (2) conservation practitioners in the United States who want to find out about potential tools for promoting conservation of species on private lands. Since the subject matter, discussion, and examples in this book are tied very closely to US laws and policies, Species at Risk will be useful mostly in the United States; it is not really applicable to other countries, except perhaps to help policy-oriented conservationists consider what lessons they might apply to the policy debates in their homelands.

This book should also be provided as a model to all aspiring editors of academic volumes that emerge from a conference or workshop. The editors here have dodged many of the pitfalls that plague this genre; they have selected a narrow and useful topic, included introductory chapters that provide historical background and a survey of the current state of the field, made use of brief examples interspersed with the text (instead of long and dreary case studies), and provided a good summary chapter that brings the various chapters together and makes recommendations that practitioners will find useful. The one trap they fall into is to include a few chapters on topics that are only marginally related to the topic at hand, presumably so as to give all the original conference speakers a platform in the final product.

In sum, this is a useful instruction manual for those interested in incentive-based tools for conservation on private lands. Hopefully, in the near future we can collectively develop similar instruction manuals for other conservation tools.

Published: 1 June 2006
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