Thursday, April 10, 2008

Economics of Ivory-billed Woodpecker Recovery

An old, but still relevant, item posted by Tim Haab (a professor in the Department of Agricultural, Environmental, and Development Economics at Ohio State University) on the Environmental Economics blog questions the economic soundness of spending $27 million on recovery efforts for a species whose continued existence is still in doubt. Also be sure to read the comments.


Blogger Bill Pulliam said...

John, isn't that $27M number kind of a straw man? As I remember, wasn't that some hypothetical, long-term, multiple year (multiple decade?) projected total, not a realistic indication of actual or near-future spending? Seems to me when I looked at other recovery plans for major projects like Whooping Crane and California Condor, those same long-term projected totals were of the order of $150M or $300M or numbers like that. These long-term scary-big projections are required by law, I believe, and the recovery team has to make them in spite of knowing that they are rich fodder for pundits.

Actual USFWS IBWO spending for the last couple of years has been about $1M per year, which is about 1% of total annual ESA spending on all US bird species. This would seem to say that IBWO spending has *NOT* in fact been a substantial drain on the total pie, in spite of many (loud!) protestations to the contrary. It's also pretty reasonable to think that if the recovery effort drags on for much longer without finding any nests or even relocatable individual birds, this funding stream will evaporate long before it reaches $27M regardless of who still does and doesn't "believe." Not much you can do for a bird you can't find, even if it isn't entirely extinct.

If my recollections of these numbers are correct, then the "FEDS SPEND $27 MILLION ON EXTINCT WOODPECKER" headlines are a distortion worthy of Fox News and Rush Limbaugh.

And, of course, there's the more basic strategy for undermining conservation (or any other gov't project you don't like): underfund it, so the people involved will set upon each other in fratricidal funding battles and get themselves out of your way. Divide and conquer, donthca know.

April 10, 2008 5:57 PM  
Blogger John L. Trapp said...


The draft recovery plan projected a budget outlay of $27.8 million over the first five years of recovery efforts (2006-2010), and predicted that delisting would not be initiated until at least 2075.

The Federal government is spending $4.9 million on IBWO recovery activities in FY 2008, which represents 3.3 percent of the entire Federal budget for Endangered and Threatened species.
Note that the FWS alone spent $2.1 million in FY 2007.

As noted elsewhere by Don Hendershot, "The Ivory-billed will be receiving nearly 50 times the money allocated for the recovery of the Red-cockaded Woodpecker or the California Condor or the Spotted Owl....species that people can actually photograph and video and study."

Is this money well spent? Only time will tell, I guess. I predict that the $27 million will be spent in short order, regardless of whether or not there is conclusive proof that the bird actually exists.

April 10, 2008 6:47 PM  
Blogger Bill Pulliam said...

Thanks for the corrected numbers. And what percentage of total federal ESA bird recovery money does that constitute?

Re: Hendershot, to that I just have to say "Whoa, I find that hard to believe!" You are trying to tell me that the Condor only gets $100,000 per year from the federal gov't for recovery? That sounds ludicrous. Um, seems to me I just saw numbers more like $5M/yr. Once again, we are writing the headlines and handing them to the anti-conservation and anti-government lobbies whose goal is to eliminate all ESA funding for all species. How about uniting instead to push for more funding for everything, rather than arranging ourselves in a classic circular firing squad?

April 10, 2008 8:11 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Are you telling me in so many words, that the IBWO search and recovery is still going on?

I thought this issue died years ago.

April 10, 2008 9:05 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yes, with the right words, you can convince yourself of anything.

Is it irresponsible to believe or not believe? Is it irresponsible to not search or to search? Is it irresponsible to spent $27 million or not spent $27 million?

When I was a young man, my superman comics would sometimes feature Bizarro Superman. Anyone still remember that?

In Bizarro world everything was turned upside down. The world wasn't round it was cubed. Superman was bad and stupid.

Ornithology has entered it's Bizarro stage. What was once considered irresponsible is now responsible. Our supermen are all stupid.

I'm eagerly awaiting the next issue. Hoping the world will be round again.

April 12, 2008 2:10 PM  

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