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Funding the 'favourites' helps save others from extinction

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New research led by Australian and New Zealand scientists suggests that privately sponsoring the conservation of charismatic 'flagship' species can also help save other species from extinction, putting into question the notion that this approach to conservation is biased and inefficient. The researchers looked at the conservation actions for 700 of the most threatened species in New Zealand and argue that while other species' conservation also improve from funding 'flagship' species, it could be boosted further if these funds were "optimally allocated among all threatened species".

Journal/conference: Proceedings of the Royal Society B

Organisation/s: The University of Queensland, Department of Conservation

Media Release

Biodiversity gains from efficient use of private sponsorship for flagship species conservation

Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences

To address the global extinction crisis, both efficient use of existing conservation funding and new sources of funding are vital. Private sponsorship of charismatic 'flagship' species conservation represents an important source of new funding, but has been criticized as being biased and inefficient. In this study, we clearly show that private funding for flagships can often result in additional species saved from extinction, via conservation actions that are shared among species. By integrating sponsorship for flagships into more objective approaches that maximize shared benefits, and by using flagships to generate additional resources, more species can be saved from extinction.

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Expert Reaction

These comments have been collated by the Science Media Centre to provide a variety of expert perspectives on this issue. Feel free to use these quotes in your stories. Views expressed are the personal opinions of the experts named. They do not represent the views of the SMC or any other organisation unless specifically stated.

Dr Wayne Linklater, Director of the Centre for Biodiversity and Restoration Ecology, Victoria University Wellington

Private conservation funding in New Zealand is growing, and growing rapidly. Thank goodness for it, because we need it.  Public funding for conservation is not enough to halt further species declines and extinctions, let alone recover those species already in trouble.

Policy diversity begets biodiversity - the more tools we can apply the greater variety of good outcomes that are possible.  Private funding of iconic species is a new and increasingly used tool in New Zealand and through it outcomes will be achieved that would not otherwise be possible.

The 10 species in the article which  benefited from private-public partnerships are just a few, perhaps only a quarter to a third, of NZ species that might attract private funding. The potential is for rapid economic growth in privately funded conservation.

Consider also that many of the programs to conserve NZ’s iconic species are inefficient. They are expensive and success is unlikely. Indeed, those iconic species will probably be reliant on a high-cost conservation investment for a very long time to come. Where, however, their iconic status can also attract private funding, they can at least improve investment and outcomes for other species.

Although the authors do not consider it, we shouldn’t also discount the potential for private funding of habitat, landscapes, and ecosystem functions. Some with cash to spare will be attracted to the idea of supporting many species at once – communities of plants and animals, landscape vistas, or particular services that the ecosystem provides, like animal pollination or drinking water quality. We know that conservation at such larger scales, when it is possible, is more efficient at conserving biodiversity. I expect private funding for those things would result in even larger gains in plant and animal conservation than those described by the authors who focussed only on privately funding of individual species.

"But we shouldn’t make the mistake of believing that any one policy will do the job on its own. Private funding for conservation is just one tool in our toolbox and we need to learn how to use it well and when it is best used. This is our next challenge.

For many however, private funding will distort what would be regard as sensible conservation priorities. The debate about what is important and what is not will continue. And it should. The debate is important. The author’s however, go some way to demonstrating that private funding is a help, not a hindrance. Nevertheless, not all private funding is the same. In time, conservationists will also be challenged to structure funding and  discriminate amongst private funders to ensure that conservation is not prejudiced by a few elites.

In particular, when considering private funding for conservation we should not forget the enormous amount of conservation in New Zealand done by individuals and communities that is not quantified in money terms but is nonetheless, also privately funded conservation. It is New Zealanders conserving by ‘doing’ rather than just by ‘donating’ and I expect that if we quantified it and its outcomes, they too could be large. Fortunately, we now have a Dept. of Conservation that is focussed on supporting community conservation to benefit from that grass-roots doing and giving.

Last updated: 03 Nov 2016 7:46pm
Dr James Russell, Senior Lecturer, Biodiversity, Biosecurity and Conservation, University of Auckland

This new analysis shows that in the fight to save New Zealand’s species from extinction, private funding plays a major role supporting existing conservation projects. In particular, private funding for flagship species, such as our native birds, can be used strategically to create additional benefits for other species. With conservation philanthropy on the increase, it is important we determine the most efficient ways to spend additional funds supporting the Department of Conservation’s core work.

The New Zealand Department of Conservation recently went through its largest re-structure since its inception in 1988, which created whole new ways in which the Department receives and spends funding. In particular we have seen a democratisation of conservation, where private individuals and companies must also shoulder some of the responsibility for conserving New Zealand’s fauna and flora. It is no longer just the responsibility of the Department of Conservation to do conservation. This has been matched with a willingness from New Zealand philanthropy and donations to make a demonstrated difference.

The overall message from the research is that as well as donating money for specific species projects, there is a growing important role for general donations to conservation, which agencies like the Department of Conservation can then choose how to spend most optimally. But importantly, we mustn’t forget that even though economic optimisations such as these are important, conservation is more than just using an equation to determine the best management decisions. Money is important, but understanding which species New Zealanders value and donors also value is equally important.

Last updated: 03 Nov 2016 3:54pm

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