Strategies to conserve the koala: cost-effectiveness considerations
Tisdell, CA, Preece, HJ, Abdullah, S & Beyer, HL 2017, Australasian Journal of Environmental Management, vol. 24, no. 3, pp. 302-318.
The long-term and continuing decline of koala populations in the northern extent of the species’ range indicates that current conservation initiatives are not effective and, consequently, are not cost-effective. In this review, the authors critically evaluate koala management policies and programs in Queensland in terms of their cost-effectiveness.
In Queensland, koala populations have declined by approximately 43 per cent in the past 20 years. The major factors contributing to this decline are habitat loss and fragmentation, vehicle strikes, dog attacks and disease. An emerging threat is climate change, which is predicted to force koalas eastward where the extent of urbanisation and land use intensity are greatest. These problems require environmental planning solutions that are not only strategic, but also cost-effective. Cost-effectiveness in this context refers to the benefit to koala survival per unit cost, and should be applied when evaluating conservation policies and programs to ensure that scarce resources are allocated wisely.
Despite the benefits they may provide, extending existing or creating new protected areas for koala habitat is an expensive exercise in terms of both acquisition and opportunity cost of urban or agricultural development. As an alternative, conservation may take place on private land via regulatory interventions, market-based incentives or voluntary programs. Regulatory interventions such as clearing restrictions and mandatory revegetation are currently enforced to some extent, though monitoring compliance to ensure their success is expensive. Incentive-based programs are less costly but cannot guarantee conservation outcomes as participation rates vary. The most significant factor affecting participation is the opportunity cost of the conservation action, which is likely to be high as the land types that are most suitable for koala conservation are also in high demand for development. Governments must also consider this trade-off between protecting koala habitat and catering to the needs of growing human populations in urban areas. With priority typically given to the latter cause, policies to offset the impacts of development are attractive to governments. As offset programs typically deliver little overall benefit, however, such strategies are not considered cost-effective. Interest is growing in the treatment of sick and injured koalas, as well as vaccination of koalas against chlamydial infection, as tools for conserving the species. The authors suggest that such initiatives are not cost-effective because treatment and vaccination costs are not only high but ongoing, and the benefits delivered are unlikely to have any net effect in the context of other threats contributing to high koala mortality rates.
The authors suggest some actions to improve the cost-effectiveness of koala conservation initiatives. The design and selection of habitat protection or restoration programs should maximise the ratio of koalas protected per unit cost of land secured and minimise the associated opportunity costs foregone by governments or landholders. To achieve this, a better understanding of minimum viable population sizes for koalas and the habitat required to support those will be required. The effects of climate change on koala distribution and habitat quality must also be investigated to ensure that conservation initiatives are cost-effective in the long-term.
Summarised by Joanna Horsfall
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