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Biodiversity, Ecosystem Services, and Land Use: Comparing Three Federal Policies


  • Walls, Margaret

    () (Resources for the Future)

  • Riddle, Anne

    () (Resources for the Future)


Natural ecosystems provide a variety of benefits to society, known as “ecosystem services.” Fundamental to the provision of ecosystem services in a region is its underlying biodiversity, i.e., the wealth and variety of plants, animals, and microorganisms. Because the benefits from ecosystem services and biodiversity are not valued in market exchanges, private landowners tend to undersupply them. We compare and contrast the different approaches taken to providing ecosystem services on private land in three federal programs—the Endangered Species Act, the Conservation Reserve Program, and Section 404 of the Clean Water Act. The Endangered Species Act (ESA) places restrictions on land uses for private landowners if endangered species, or critical habitats for endangered species, are found on their properties. The Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) compensates farmers for removing valuable property from agricultural production to preserve wildlife habitat, water and soil quality, and other ecosystem values. Section 404 of the Clean Water Act prohibits destruction or damage to wetlands, unless individuals buy credits for equivalent wetlands created by third parties—so-called “wetlands mitigation banks.” These three policies run the gamut from a command-and-control regulatory approach to a “payment for ecosystem services” option. We summarize the economics literature on key findings from these programs.

Suggested Citation

  • Walls, Margaret & Riddle, Anne, 2012. "Biodiversity, Ecosystem Services, and Land Use: Comparing Three Federal Policies," Discussion Papers dp-12-08, Resources For the Future.
  • Handle: RePEc:rff:dpaper:dp-12-08

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Robert Innes & Stephen Polasky & John Tschirhart, 1998. "Takings, Compensation and Endangered Species Protection on Private Lands," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 12(3), pages 35-52, Summer.
    2. Wanhong Yang & Madhu Khanna & Richard Farnsworth, 2005. "Effectiveness of Conservation Programs in Illinois and Gains from Targeting," American Journal of Agricultural Economics, Agricultural and Applied Economics Association, vol. 87(5), pages 1248-1255.
    3. Eichner, Thomas & Pethig, Rudiger, 2006. "Economic land use, ecosystem services and microfounded species dynamics," Journal of Environmental Economics and Management, Elsevier, vol. 52(3), pages 707-720, November.
    4. Scarlett, Lynn & Boyd, James W., 2011. "Ecosystem Services: Quantification, Policy Applications, and Current Federal Capabilities," Discussion Papers dp-11-13, Resources For the Future.
    5. John A. List & Michael Margolis & Daniel E. Osgood, 2006. "Is the Endangered Species Act Endangering Species?," NBER Working Papers 12777, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    6. Lueck, Dean & Michael, Jeffrey A, 2003. "Preemptive Habitat Destruction under the Endangered Species Act," Journal of Law and Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 46(1), pages 27-60, April.
    7. Michael J. Roberts & Ruben N. Lubowski, 2007. "Enduring Impacts of Land Retirement Policies: Evidence from the Conservation Reserve Program," Land Economics, University of Wisconsin Press, vol. 83(4), pages 516-538.
    8. Woodward, Richard T. & Wui, Yong-Suhk, 2001. "The economic value of wetland services: a meta-analysis," Ecological Economics, Elsevier, vol. 37(2), pages 257-270, May.
    9. Ruben N. Lubowski & Michael J. Roberts, 2005. "How Cost-Effective Are Land Retirement Auctions? Estimating the Difference between Payments and Willingness to Accept in the Conservation Reserve Program," American Journal of Agricultural Economics, Agricultural and Applied Economics Association, vol. 87(5), pages 1239-1247.
    10. Lewis, David J. & Plantinga, Andrew J. & Nelson, Erik & Polasky, Stephen, 2011. "The efficiency of voluntary incentive policies for preventing biodiversity loss," Resource and Energy Economics, Elsevier, vol. 33(1), pages 192-211, January.
    11. Finnoff, David & Tschirhart, John, 2008. "Linking dynamic economic and ecological general equilibrium models," Resource and Energy Economics, Elsevier, vol. 30(2), pages 91-114, May.
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    More about this item


    biodiversity; critical habitat; conservation; green infrastructure; payment for ecosystem services; public goods; wetlands mitigation;

    JEL classification:

    • Q57 - Agricultural and Natural Resource Economics; Environmental and Ecological Economics - - Environmental Economics - - - Ecological Economics
    • Q15 - Agricultural and Natural Resource Economics; Environmental and Ecological Economics - - Agriculture - - - Land Ownership and Tenure; Land Reform; Land Use; Irrigation; Agriculture and Environment
    • Q25 - Agricultural and Natural Resource Economics; Environmental and Ecological Economics - - Renewable Resources and Conservation - - - Water
    • Q28 - Agricultural and Natural Resource Economics; Environmental and Ecological Economics - - Renewable Resources and Conservation - - - Government Policy

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