Copeland, H.E., A. Pocewicz, D.E. Naugle, T. Griffiths, D. Keinath, J.S. Evans, and J. Platt. 2013. Measuring the effectiveness of conservation: a novel framework to quantify the benefits of sage–grouse conservation policy and easements in Wyoming. PLoS One 8:e67261.
Increasing energy and housing demands are impacting wildlife populations throughout western North America. Greater sage-grouse (Centrocercus urophasianus), a species known for its sensitivity to landscape-scale disturbance, inhabits the same low elevation sage-steppe in which much of this development is occurring. Wyoming has committed to maintain sage-grouse populations through conservation easements and policy changes that conserves high bird abundance “core” habitat and encourages development in less sensitive landscapes. In this study, we built new predictive models of oil and gas, wind, and residential development and applied build-out scenarios to simulate future development and measure the efficacy of conservation actions for maintaining sage-grouse populations. Our approach predicts sage-grouse population losses averted through conservation action and quantifies return on investment for different conservation strategies. We estimate that without conservation, sage-grouse populations in Wyoming will decrease under our long-term scenario by 14–29% (95% CI: 4–46%). However, a conservation strategy that includes the “core area” policy and $250 million in targeted easements could reduce these losses to 9–15% (95% CI: 3–32%), cutting anticipated losses by roughly half statewide and nearly two-thirds within sage-grouse core breeding areas. Core area policy is the single most important component, and targeted easements are complementary to the overall strategy. There is considerable uncertainty around the magnitude of our estimates; however, the relative benefit of different conservation scenarios remains comparable because potential biases and assumptions are consistently applied regardless of the strategy. There is early evidence based on a 40% reduction in leased hectares inside core areas that Wyoming policy is reducing potential for future fragmentation inside core areas. Our framework using build-out scenarios to anticipate species declines provides estimates that could be used by decision makers to determine if expected population losses warrant ESA listing.