Award Announcement - RUI: What Happens When Payments Stop? Collective Resource Management Under the Rise and Fall of Payment for Environmental Services

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Payment for Environmental Services (PES), a voluntary transaction in which a resource user receives payment for providing well-defined conservation activities, has emerged as a prominent policy to support the management and provision of critical environmental services (e.g. forest for watershed protection). In recent years, governmental and non-governmental aid and conservation agencies have increasingly supported PES as a tool for sustainable resource management. Despite the widespread use of PES within the US and internationally, we have limited understanding of its ability to support sustained conservation activities. While some studies have shown payments to be effective at attaining conservation gains over the short-term, few studies have examined whether those conservation behaviors are sustained over longer time periods, particularly if payments stop.

This research examines the extent to which the PES model prompts conservation behavior and communal resource management arrangements that endure, even when payments stop. In 2009, the Ecuadorian government implemented an internationally recognized payment for conservation program that paid communities and households to conserve their native ecosystems. In 2016, the program unexpectedly lost funding and payments stopped. In 2012-2015 the Principal Investigators gathered socio-economic, institutional, ecological, and behavioral data from a set of Ecuadorian communities in 10 provinces to test how the Ecuadorian payment program changed household land-use behaviors and influenced the development of communal resource management arrangements (NSF #SES-1156271). The study found that, under the PES program, households reduced resource use and created collective management arrangements. The proposed research uses this baseline data and gathers socio-economic, institutional, ecological, and behavioral data from the same communities to assess how loss of payments has impacted household land-use decisions and communal resource management. Household and leader questionnaires, focus groups, biophysical data, and aerial photos are analyzed using quantitative, qualitative and spatial analysis techniques. The research findings provide evidenced-based policy lessons for governments and donors wishing to use PES and similar payment initiatives as a mechanism for sustainable resource management.