Paying to stop degrading

28 07 2017

green baby bathwaterWe conservationists don’t get a lot of good news these days, and even when we do, I am reminded of the (slightly modified) expression: one step forward, but ten steps backward. It’s enough to lead to depression.

Still, we soldier on, and now there are more and more philosophically positive events and venues for ‘optimistic’ conservation stories. Indeed, some of them have even appeared here on (mainly from Claire Wordley‘s excellent string of posts from Conservation Evidence — see here, here, here, here), as well as the much-publicised Conservation Optimism Summit and its American version, Earth Optimism.

A decade or so ago, payment for ecosystem services was all the rage. The idea was simple — pay people to conserve forests and other intact habitats instead of cutting them down for timber or to grow food. However, as the years passed, these types of programmes — which were often funded (or intended to be funded) through carbon-sequestration schemes) — showed little capacity to prevent deforestation at a landscape scale. Many people have therefore binned the entire idea as a result.

However, a new paper has just come out extolling the virtues of a payment for ecosystem services programme in Ecuador that has, in fact, had conservation benefits. Instead of just looking at the wider landscape, the authors determined that the Ecuadorian Socio Bosque programme (English version here) in fact reduced forest degradation, at least by a little bit.

Since 2008, Socio Bosque has prevented 9% of enrolled forest area in Ecuador’s Amazon Basin from being deforested, and inventory data suggest that forests within enrolment areas had less evidence of degradation (although the effects were week). On average, these forests had 1-2 more tree species per hectare than non-enrolled forests, and these additional tree species were twice as likely to be of commercial timber value and at greater threat of extinction.

What was particularly interesting about the paper itself was the extensive amounts of data they consulted, from broad-scale assessments to landholder surveys. If they had been even a little less thorough, they might have missed the effect.

So, while it’s only a little good news, it certainly suggests we shouldn’t yet be throwing the payment for ecosystem services baby out with the bathwater.

CJA Bradshaw




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