Incentives for biological conservation: Costa Rica's Private Wildlife Refuge Program
The alarming pace of tropical biodiversity loss requires development of innovative approaches for in situ biodiversity conservation. Incentive-based approaches have emerged as one possible option. We interviewed 68 private nature reserve owners to learn more about one of Costa Rica's incentive programs. The interview group included all reserve owners participating in the government's Private Wildlife Refuge Program (n = 22) and a control group of nonparticipating owners (n = 46). Quantitative and qualitative data led to seven main conclusions on the use of incentive programs: (1) a developing country can expand and enhance its formal park system through conservation incentives; (2) insufficient promotion, and resulting information gaps, can prevent an incentive program from realizing its full potential; (3) landowners enter a program not only in response to the intended incentive package, but also for several powerful and hidden incentives such as publicity and marketing purposes; (4) underutilization of official incentives by participants, in part due to sporadic delivery of incentives by the government, can undermine program effectiveness; (5) biodiversity protection goals can be accomplished by means of a wide range of incentives; (6) programs that require only a short-term commitment by landowners can still lead to long-term biodiversity protection; and (7) a program can produce unanticipated negative consequences at the national level, including putting conservation at odds with social justice. These and other lessons on the use of incentives should be of interest wherever biodiversity is threatened, wherever new conservation partners are being sought, and wherever incentive-based approaches are being considered.