US Geological Survey


Date of this Version



Post van der Burg M, Chartier N, Drum R. 2018. Implications of spatially variable costs and habitat conversion risk in landscape-scale conservation planning. Journal of Fish and Wildlife Management 9(2):402–414; e1944-687X. doi:10.3996/102016-JFWM-080


‘‘Strategic habitat conservation’’ refers to a process used by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to develop cost-efficient strategies for conserving wildlife populations and their habitats. Strategic habitat conservation focuses on resolving uncertainties surrounding habitat conservation to meet specific wildlife population objectives (i.e., targets) and developing tools to guide where conservation actions should be focused on the landscape. Although there are examples of using optimization models to highlight where conservation should be delivered, such methods often do not explicitly account for spatial variation in the costs of conservation actions. Furthermore, many planning approaches assume that habitat protection is a preferred option, but they do not assess its value relative to other actions, such as restoration. We developed a case study to assess the implications of accounting for and ignoring spatial variation in conservation costs in optimizing conservation targets. We included assumptions about habitat loss to determine the extent to which protection or restoration would be necessary to meet an established population target. Our case study focused on optimal placement of grassland protection or restoration actions to influence bobolink Dolichonyx oryzivorus populations in the tallgrass prairie ecoregion of the north central United States. Our results show that not accounting for spatially variable costs doubled or tripled the cost of meeting the population target. Furthermore, our results suggest that one should not assume that protecting existing habitat is always a preferred option. Rather, our results show that the balance between protection and restoration can be influenced by a combination of desired targets, assumptions about habitat loss, and the relative cost of the two actions. Our analysis also points out how difficult it may be to reach targets, given the expense to meet them. We suggest that a full accounting of expected costs and benefits will help to guide development of viable management actions and meaningful conservation plans.