Press Release

Return on Investment of Voluntary Conservation under the ESA

Mar 7, 2017

WASHINGTON—The US Endangered Species Act (ESA) protects imperiled species by prohibiting harm to listed species and their habitat. Over the last 20 years, the US Fish and Wildlife Service and National Marine Fisheries Service have developed programs under the ESA that encourage voluntary private sector conservation actions—conservation actions above and beyond what is required to comply with ESA compliance requirements.

Why would private landowners and firms voluntarily engage in proactive conservation efforts? A paper posted today addresses this question by exploring the incentives created by ESA programs by using a return on investment (ROI) framework to identify the costs and benefits of participation. The new paper is, “Private Sector Conservation Investments Under the Endangered Species Act: A Guide to Return on Investment Analysis.” The co-authors are Resources for the Future (RFF) Senior Fellow James Boyd and Fellow Rebecca Epanchin-Niell. Their goals are to:

  1. Show how an ROI framework may be used by the private sector conservation managers to clarify their judgments about whether conservation investments are in the interest of the firm, and;
  2. Provide guidance on the kinds of quantifiable analysis and information needed to give such analysis more certainty.

The authors note: “Beyond altruistic or marketing advantages, the main potential benefit to firms of voluntary program participation comes from reduced compliance costs. Such reductions are by no means guaranteed. But … compliance cost advantages are indeed possible and thus worthy of evaluation.”

They add: “The public interest may be served by proactive conservation actions by the private sector. Thus, it is also in the interest of the Fish and Wildlife Service and other conservation advocates to understand incentives created by these voluntary programs.”

Read the full paper here: “Private Sector Conservation Investments Under the Endangered Species Act: A Guide to Return on Investment Analysis.”

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Resources for the Future (RFF) is an independent, nonpartisan organization based in Washington, DC, that conducts rigorous economic research and analysis to improve environmental and natural resource policy.