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Darian Woods and Stacey Vanek Smith, "Saving Birds with Economics" an episode of The Indicator from Planet Money (July 22, 2021)
"Saving Birds with Economics" describes an innovative avenue toward sustainability - reverse auctions. Millions of birds fly through California migrating along the Pacific Flyway. Unfortunately, the wetlands on which they depend for rest and food have been disapearing for decades, largely to allow for increased agricultural production. Conservation organizations have traditionally approached protecting and increasing wildlife habitat by purchasing and restoring land, but the price of property in California makes it impossible to buy enough to make a significant difference for migrating birds.
One approach to providing additional habitat without purchasing land is to pay farmers to take actions that provide bird habitat during important times of the year. Dr. Mike Ward, Professor of NRES, leads a study of the impact of incentive-driven changes in agricultural practices. A joint effort of the United States Department of Agriculture and the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, farmers who own fields that don't drain well are identified and offered incentives to leave those areas wet intentionally until the end of April to provide habitat for migrating birds (Larson 2015). In this program, the incentive is set by the program.
How do you know how much to pay farmers, though? This episode of The Indicator tells the story of the answer proposed by Eric Hallstein, Chief Economist for The Nature Conservancy. A reverse auction is one in which the sellers bid, rather than the buyers, and it provides a way for the funds available for incentives can be directed to provide the largest environmental benefit. Land owners "bid" in the auction, naming the price at which they would leave land flooded. The program can then use migration and other ecological data, along with the bids, to determine the areas that will provide the greatest habitat improvement and benefit to migrating birds with the available budget.