The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's State Wildlife Grant (SWG) Program was designed as a proactive species conservation program to aid state fish and wildlife agencies in preventing nonplant species from becoming listed as threatened or endangered (T&E) under the U.S. Endangered Species Act. In this paper, we use four criteria to evaluate whether the SWG Program can be considered successful: 1) value is created (increased) in the short term; 2) value is created (increased) in the long term; 3) the value created is public; and 4) the value created is the value that was intended per the original goals of the program. Our analysis indicates the SWG Program has added US $3 billion in short-term value to local economies and supported the creation of about 18,000 jobs between 2001 until 2015. We use the example of the whooping crane Grus americana to calculate the long-term value of this single T&E species as US $103.5 million annually and argue that the SWG Program helps to maintain this value through supported species-conservation activities. Next, we look at two instances of species receiving proactive SWG Program conservation dollars: the oblong rock snail Leptoxis compacta and several North American bat species (Chiroptera spp.). These species and the conservation actions that benefit them demonstrate how public value is created or maintained through services these species naturally provide that benefit human health and economic well-being. Finally, we evaluate whether the SWG Program is creating the value it was designed to create by showing that T&E spending (expenditure) growth rates decreased after the SWG Program began. We find that the decrease in spending does not correlate with fewer species being removed from consideration as a T&E candidate for listing under the U.S. Endangered Species Act, nor does spending correlate with fewer species being delisted (taken off the list) after being listed as T&E species. Allowing for a 5-y time lag, we are also able to show that the SWG Program has been used in 55% of T&E-listed species that were later delisted under the U.S. Endangered Species Act and 24% of candidate species later removed from consideration for T&E listing as a result of recovery or better information. We argue that these results demonstrate that the SWG Program meets or is potentially meeting all four criteria for an effective public program.
In a recent economic analysis of the International Union for Conservation of Nature's Red List threatened species, researchers found that under current policies, the resources needed to adequately conserve declining species far exceed the levels of public funding currently allocated to these efforts (McCarthy et al. 2012). Current laws and frameworks for species recovery, such as the International Union for Conservation of Nature and the U.S. Endangered Species Act (ESA 1973, as amended), support reactive conservation activities and can be expensive, representing a delay-and-repair approach that provides aid only when a species population reaches a critically low level (Baruch-Mordo et al. 2013). Low population levels can have significant long-term impacts on a species by decreasing its genetic diversity, reducing its reproductive potential and ability to survive (Spielman et al. 2004).
In contrast, proactive conservation requires initiating conservation activities before populations reach critically low levels, and it has been discussed in recent research as a possible alternative to reactive approaches. Proponents of proactive conservation argue that taking action early in a species' decline can be more efficient than bringing a species back from the brink of extinction because it leaves open the possibility of less costly interventions to restore populations (Drechsler et al. 2011). Although anecdotal evidence exists to support these claims, there are few large-scale public programs that follow proactive conservation principles, and little research currently exists that attempts to measure the value of proactive conservation in a systematic way.
Our research evaluates whether an existing national-level proactive conservation program, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's (Service) State Wildlife Grant (SWG) Program, produces public value. The SWG Program's purpose is to provide funds to state fish and wildlife agencies to conserve species that typically are not hunted or fished with the help of state matching funds and other resources (U.S. Department of the Interior and Related Agencies Appropriations Act 2002; USFWS WSFR no date). States are solely responsible for identifying nonforeign animal Species of Greatest Conservation Need (SGCN) within their borders and listing them in their State Wildlife Action Plans. These plans are documents created and maintained by each state with details on each SGCN, and the state's strategies for protecting them. The Service makes SWG Program funds available for planning and conservation activities that benefit any SGCN on those lists. In their selection, states may choose SGCN already listed by the Service under the ESA as threatened (likely to become endangered within the foreseeable future) or endangered (currently in danger of extinction), also known as T&E species. Many states, however, focus on identifying species whose populations are declining and could benefit from proactive conservation activities, as a means to prevent the need for new ESA listings (USFWS WSFR no date). Where states choose to focus on T&E species, they often direct SWG Program funds to help delist (from threatened or endangered to not listed under the ESA at all) or downlist targeted species (from endangered to threatened status under the ESA).
Measuring the Value of a Public Conservation Program: Finding an Objective Standard
The costs of public natural resource programs are easily found in agency budgets, but the value such programs produce is much more difficult to measure. Efforts over the past few decades to account for the value produced by public programs were sparked by Harvard University's Mark H. Moore, who coined the term “public value” in 1995, which he juxtaposed with the “shareholder value” created by corporations. “[M]anagers need an account of the value their organizations produce,” Moore argues. “[O]rganizations' operations consume public resources…these operations produce real consequences for society—intended or not” (Moore 1995:57). This is particularly true for government, which obtains its primary revenue from public taxes and derives its mission from the nation's people.
Of all the government sectors, agencies tasked with the protection of the environment may face the greatest challenge in measuring the value they produce. Species and ecosystem conservation are both inherently long-term endeavors, with value measured over generations. Often the value these agencies produce, such as birds for birdwatchers, oxygen for breathing, and scenery for hikers, is not in the form of a service or good that is easily bought or sold on the open market. Many methods have been created for attempting to quantify this value (we use some of them in this paper), but prior to this research, we are not aware of any framework that allows a systematic measurement of the value produced by a conservation program that could help policy makers determine whether the program consistently produces public value.
In this paper, we attempt to create this systematic framework. We work from Moore's original 1995 definition of public value, which states that “managerial success in the public sector [means] initiating and reshaping public sector enterprises in ways that increase their value to the public in both the short and the long run” (Moore 1995:10). We utilize three criteria for success from this definition: 1) value should be public; 2) value should be created in the short term; and 3) value should be created in the long term. In addition to these criteria, we felt it was important to include a fourth, which Moore touches on as well: the idea that public programs should strive to meet their “collectively defined objectives” or “purpose” (Moore 1995:36). As a result of the nature of democracy in the United States, the country of focus in this paper, public programs are the products of competing interests and negotiations through representative governments. The goals of public programs, then, can often reflect the values of the public. Meeting the program's intended purpose, as opposed to creating value generally, is another form of public value and necessary to evaluate in a programmatic success framework. In the analysis and discussion that follows, we consider each of these criteria in evaluating the success and effectiveness of the SWG Program, a proactive species conservation program active in all 56 U.S. states and territories. We approach each question with a methodology that is appropriate to answering the question, an overview of which is in Table 1.
Some of our methodologies result in a calculated amount of value produced; however, our overall objective is not to calculate the precise value, but to answer—yes or no—whether these four criteria are met. If each question comes back “yes,” then the proactive SWG Program can, by these criteria, be considered effective. If some or all of the criteria come back as “no,” then this framework can help to pinpoint where public value is not being created, which can help to improve public programs. The analysis focuses specifically on the federal SWG Program, but the knowledge, expertise, and matching financial and other contributions of state fish and wildlife agency grantees are essential components in the delivery of SWG Program funds and play a central role in any benefits that may result from the program.
Question 1: Is short-term value created?
The most basic measure of a grant-based program such as the SWG Program is determining the impact of grant dollars on the local economies that received funding. A short-term indicator of success is whether the grant created more value than the original grant expenditure. Grant dollars affect the local economy on three levels: 1) direct effects as state agency grantees hire workers and buy the things needed to implement projects; 2) indirect effects as the suppliers of the products and services needed to complete the project make their own purchases to meet their new grant-related commitments; and 3) induced effects, as local businesses see increases in restaurant sales, grocery purchases, car repairs, and other services that are part of daily life.
To measure this total economic activity, the U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service developed an input–output model called Impact Analysis for Planning (IMPLAN; NRCS no date). A user inputs total program expenditures into the model to produce a measure of total output, or economic impact. The IMPLAN model measures the economic impact using relationships in the economy such as sales dollars, local taxes, and the number of jobs created. The actual output is a number, a multiplier, called a “response coefficient” that captures the size of the effects of a grant's infusion of funds in the economy, in this case, per US $1 million spent. The model has been used in natural resources fields including forestry (He et al. 2016; Daniels et al. 2018), outdoor recreation (Guo et al. 2017; Hjerpe 2018), the economic implications of drought (Ziolkowska 2016), and to estimate the size of the “restoration economy” (BenDor et al. 2015) and is considered a standardized metric used across federal departments (NRCS no date).
Question 1: Methods
The SWG Program is a multimillion dollar program, so even a single year's data on program allocations and specific uses (found in grant proposals and accomplishment reports) is considerable. We chose 2013 as a sample year because we have complete information on the final uses for the funds (not all grants are complete after a single year), and because 2013 was long enough after the 2007–2009 Great Recession (Foster et al. 2016) that it would be representative of non-Recession–era uses. The SWG Program received approximately US $58 million in 2013 in the Consolidated and Further Continuing Appropriations Act of 2013 (Public Law 113-6).
We translated 2013 SWG-funded activities into the standardized economic sectors in the IMPLAN framework. For example, we matched activities involving land management for habitat improvement to the agricultural sector because the activities tap into similar economic markets, such as building new structures, planting new habitat, and raising faunal species. We matched typical state fish and wildlife agencies' activities—such as environmental assessments, fish passages, and water management—to IMPLAN's “Environmental and Other Technical Consulting Services” sectors. We established these matches consistent with past practice (see Laughland et al. 2013:10 [table 1] for a full accounting).
Question 1: Results and discussion
The final output of IMPLAN demonstrated that the SWG Program adds money to local economies by creating short-term value beyond the initial federal funding. For every US $1 million that the SWG Program input into the economy, 15.5 jobs were created, >900 total jobs in 2013. Extrapolating the response coefficient (15.5 jobs/US $1 million) to all years of SWG Program funding, we determined SWG Program funds were associated with 17,949 jobs created between 2001 through 2015 (Table 2). Job creation occurred in service sectors, agriculture, and information management among others. The IMPLAN model also found that for every dollar in grant funds that the SWG Program allocates, an additional US $1.62 in direct, indirect, and induced effects is generated and dispersed throughout the economy, >$3.03 billion total economic activity over the 15-y period.
These figures correspond generally with estimates from other analyses performed by federal agencies for domestic conservation work, including the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's analysis of funding for habitat restoration work (between 17 and 33 jobs/$million [US] created; Edwards et al. 2013), and a report on the impacts of two U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service programs, which found 9.6 to 35.7 jobs/$million created and $0.90 and $1.10 in additional direct, indirect, and induced effects per dollar spent (Laughland et al. 2013). A 2011 U.S. Department of Interior (DOI) report using IMPLAN and Recession-era data estimated that the SWG Program generated an additional US $0.97/dollar spent, and found 18 jobs/$million were created (USDOI 2012).
Our question in this section was whether the SWG Program can be shown to produce value in the short term. This analysis has shown that measurable economic value is created through the SWG Program beyond the initial program spending. We argue this shows that the SWG Program produces short-term value and fulfills the first of Moore's criteria for a successful public program.
Question 2: Is long-term value created?
Short-term economic gains can demonstrate value within the time scales in which many political decisions are made. However, public programs also have a responsibility to think about long-term value. For species conservation programs, this long-term value can be seen in the survival of appreciated species. To quantify the value that the public places on a species that received SWG Program funding, we chose a sample species, the whooping crane Grus americana, and attempted to quantify how much value the public receives from the cranes' existence. The SWG Program is not the only funding mechanism for the whooping crane, and as such, we do not claim that all the public value of the whooping crane can be attributed to the SWG Program. Our objective is only to determine whether the SWG Program has contributed to long-term value, through the programs described below, and thus meets the second criterion of an effective public program.
The whooping crane is the tallest bird native to North America and one of the closest to extinction. The species declined to a low of only 14 birds early in the past century (NatureServe 2017). Seventeen state fish and wildlife agencies list the bird as a SGCN in their Wildlife Action Plans (USGS no date (b)), so they are eligible to apply for SWG Program funding to implement conservation actions to benefit whooping crane. Numerous projects receiving SWG Program funding have, with state match dollars, helped improve and protect whooping crane habitat and translocated cranes to state-owned properties where new populations were established. For example, in Louisiana, state fish and wildlife agency biologists used a SWG Program grant of approximately US $350,000 to evaluate habitat for whooping crane at the White Lake Wetlands Conservation Area located southwest of Lafayette, Louisiana (AFWA 2011). Biologists translocated a population of whooping cranes to White Lake Wetlands Area, and the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries confirms that this population currently is breeding at White Lake (Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries 2016).
We chose the whooping crane for analysis because previous research exists that used a contingent valuation method (described below) to quantify how different people value the whooping crane in monetary terms (Bowker and Stoll 1988). Such an analysis could be performed with any species on which this research has been performed, including any of the thousands of SGCN that have benefited from SWG Program spending. Our research expands this previous research to move from measuring individual value to measuring, in a conservative way, the estimated total value attributed to the crane by a subset of U.S. residents.
Question 2: Methods
In 1988, researchers Bowker and Stoll conducted dichotomous choice (yes or no) surveys to value the whooping crane, and posed a hypothetical scenario to 741 study participants to determine how much they would be willing to pay to protect the whooping crane from extinction. They asked participants to imagine that no more federal funding was available to support populations of whooping cranes and asked whether they would be willing to pay various amounts annually in order to set aside a trust for maintaining the cranes in the wild. Participants included those onsite at the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge (Texas) and Texas residents who did not visit the refuge, including residents from four major metropolitan areas. Participant responses measured what is called their “Willingness To Pay” (WTP) by assigning an objective monetary value to the whooping cranes. Economists and marketers commonly use WTP to understand consumer opinion on the value of products or services (Breidert et al. 2006).
Bowker and Stoll used two characteristics of the participants to separate them into four categories: whether residents had visited the Refuge (yes or no), and whether participants had memberships in a wildlife organization (yes or no). We used these data to assign participant “avidity” levels as follows: 1) “avid” for those with both organization membership and onsite experience, 2) “frequent” for those with organization membership without onsite experience, 3) “average” for those with onsite experience but no organization membership, and 4) “occasional” for those with neither organization membership nor onsite experience. We assigned each category a specific WTP value based on the methodology of Bowker and Stoll and adjusted for inflation, ranging from US $0/y to $128/y. We included two additional categories to ensure a conservative estimate: “sporadic” for those on the extreme low end of the WTP range and “nonparticipants” with a WTP of zero dollars, resulting in the six total categories in Table 3.
Bowker and Stoll calculated WTP for individuals, but we wished to expand this to population-level data for a subset of the U.S. population. We used the Service's 2011 National Survey of Fishing, Hunting and Wildlife-Associated Recreation (FHWAR; USDOI et al. 2011), which reports national numbers for time and money spent by people across the United States in wildlife watching activities. The data were collected in 2010 and the results published in 2011. To ensure a conservative estimate, we narrowed the number of participants from the American public in general to only those who reasonably could be expected to directly benefit from the whooping crane, using the following qualifications:
Respondents who are ≥16 y of age, who are more likely to be thinking of spending their own money, leading to more realistic WTP values;
Respondents who live in one of the counties where the whooping crane is known or is believed to occur, as identified by the Service, because these respondents are more likely to have opportunities to see whooping cranes in their lifetimes (United States Census Bureau 2019; USDOI and USFWS no date);
Respondents who are away-from-home wildlife watchers who reported watching “other water birds” in their FHWAR survey, which explicitly includes cranes, thus excluding wildlife watchers who did not express interest in watching cranes; and
This analysis excludes international travelers from different counties because the SWG Program is intended to provide value to the American public.
In addition, we made several assumptions:
Survey participation rates in the subset of counties where the whooping crane resides are proportional to the state-level participation rates as measured in the 2010 data collected and published in the 2011 FHWAR;
Texas residents, the participants in the Bowker and Stoll research, are representative of all Americans with regard to crane value; and
The WTP avidity levels calculated by Bowker and Stoll (1988) and the percentage of the population that hold these levels is proportional to WTP today, adjusted for inflation.
We recorded the percent of each state's population participating in other water bird observing, photographing, or feeding as determined by the FHWAR as well as a breakdown by avidity level (Table 4).
Question 2: Results and discussion
Using the percentages of wildlife watchers outlined in Table 4, we calculated the final estimates of WTP based on the populations of counties that contain whooping cranes, as determined by the 2015 Census numbers (Table 5). We estimate that the value wildlife watchers attribute to the whooping crane is about US $103.5 million/y. The total amount of value produced over 19 y is approximately US $1.97 billion. Using Service Expenditure Reports—described in more detail in the next section—the total state and federal expenditure for conservation of whooping cranes since 1996 has been approximately $92 million (in 2015 dollars) expended over 19 y (USFWS 2019), or an average annual cost of $4.9 million/y. The total benefit (the value produced minus the costs) over this time period is US $1.87 billion. Although private contributions to whooping crane conservation are not included in this estimate (because they are not reported in the Service Expenditure Reports), we believe they are likely to be substantially less than public-sector investment.
In this section, we demonstrate that public value is attributed to the whooping crane by Americans despite the absence of a traditional marketplace providing a species value in monetary terms. In the case of the whooping crane, the estimated public value given to the persistence of the species far exceeds the public funds that have recently been expended by state and federal government agencies for its protection. We conclude that the SWG Program has created long-term value through contributing to the persistence of the whooping crane, and that similar values could be determined for other SGCN identified in states' Wildlife Action Plan. This fulfills our second criterion for a successful public program.
Question 3: Is the value created public?
We recognize that the whooping crane, an iconic North American bird, is not representative of the hundreds of species that receive conservation benefits from SWG Program funding. High-profile species such as this may even, through tourism revenue and donations, be able to inspire a stable funding source for their own conservation. Other species, such as those that are hunted and fished, have public license and tax programs that create user-pays models of conservation. Fundraising mechanisms that rely on exclusionary tactics (through travel costs, tickets, licenses, etc.) assign a cost to accessing the species, which makes them less available to the general public. It can be argued that because the public must pay a price to access these species, their public value is smaller than it might otherwise be.
In order to show that the SWG Program creates value that is truly public, we looked for instances of value creation in which the benefits created by the species had little to no costs associated with accessing that value. This determination of what makes value public is in line with established theory of public goods, which requires a truly public good be nonexclusive and nonrival (Samuelson 1954). For species with declining populations, such as those targeted by the SWG Program, it is difficult to argue that the species themselves are publicly accessible. Very often these species are located in hard-to-reach locations, or there may be informational barriers to access put in place to protect the population. In addition, many of the species for which SWG Program funding is used are not necessarily popular or charismatic—in other words, people may not have heard of them or may not like them, and so they may not value these species for their own sake.
Individuals of the species may, themselves, not inspire public value; however, they may contribute to ecosystem services that are publicly available. Ecosystem services, according to the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment (2005), involves four types of value creation: 1) provisioning services, such as food and water for people; 2) regulating services, which help control things such as flooding, disease, and water quality; 3) cultural services, which can be artistic, spiritual, recreational, and/or cultural in other ways; and 4) support services, which help to maintain global life through nutrient cycling, carbon cycling, etc. Many of these benefits are accessible to the general public without direct access to individuals of the species.
The SWG Program provides funding that supports ecosystem services through two distinct means: through the protection and enhancement of fish and wildlife habitats, and through direct augmentation of species populations such as translocation or captive-rearing and release of individuals into the wild, which can help to restore or maintain species populations (and the ecosystem services they provide). The intent of this section is not to quantify the total value created through conservation activities to benefit these species, but to demonstrate that it exists, and that it benefits the public.
Question 3: Methods
Presently, one of the most advanced ways of measuring the value of ecosystem services involves outreach to populations affected by the ecosystem service (Mavrommati et al. 2017). In the case of the national-scale SWG Program, such outreach was outside the scope of our analysis. Instead, we relied on state-agency accomplishment reports from SWG Program–funded projects to identify instances in which public value was created through ecosystem services, involving both species and habitat conservation. We aggregated state-agency accomplishment reports stored in the Service's Federal Aid Information Management System (FAIMS) database between 2002 and 2012.
Question 3: Results and discussion
The FAIMS reports showed that by 2012, states reported using SWG Program funds for enhancements and improvements to approximately 2 million acres (809,371 ha) of key habitats. The reports identified an additional 130,000 acres (52,609 ha) of habitats protected through purchase by state agencies or through establishment of conservation easements (WMI 2016, USFWS 2020). Although originally purchased for species conservation, these improved and protected wetlands, forests, prairies, and other habitats provide their own ecosystem services in the form of flood control, carbon sequestration, nutrient cycling, water purification, and cultural or recreational benefits.
The accomplishment reports also show at least eight million animals were raised and released into the wild for restoration purposes using SWG Program funds, along with state matching resources, during this period (WMI 2016, USFWS 2020). Many of these species provide key cultural services, such as maintaining and increasing populations of birds commonly pursued by wildlife watchers (a US $55 billion activity in the United States in 2011) and by indirectly supporting recreational fisheries, a $42 billion industry in the United States (USDOI et al. 2011). However, many others, such as the oblong rocksnail Leptoxis compacta and North American bat species, create value primarily through the regulating ecosystem services they provide, which are publicly available to everyone.
The oblong rocksnail is a freshwater snail that is native to the shoal upstream of the Cahaba River in Shelby County, Alabama. It was thought to be extinct before its rediscovery in 2011 (Whelan et al. 2012) and its population remains low. Research has identified snails as providing multiple regulating services through the role they play in maintaining and monitoring water quality. Robust snail populations can reduce the consequences of eutrophication or nutrient loading (Worm and Lotze 2006) because of their role in breaking down nutrients in aquatic ecosystems (Cubit 1984; Nelson et al. 2008). Mollusks may also be breaking down water contaminants that traditional water-purification systems miss, such as pharmaceuticals (Ismail et al. 2014). These aquatic invertebrates also serve as indicators of water quality because of their rapid response to changes in the ecosystem (Burris et al. 1990). Reduced eutrophication, cleaner water, and faster identification of water contamination all benefit the general public.
The Alabama Aquatic Biodiversity Center, a facility developed and operated by the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources and its partners, including the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, conducts regional research and provides mollusk propagation services (Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources 2014). In 2016, the Biodiversity Center also raised and released >3,700 individual oblong rocksnails, part of the >140,000 mussel individuals raised and released by the facility, including nearly 100,000 individuals of species currently listed by the Service as T&E and 25,000 mussels of 3 additional species that the Service has been petitioned to list as T&E (Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources 2014). A conservative estimate of the amount of water filtered by captive-raised and released invertebrates in Alabama and surrounding states by the Alabama Aquatic Biodiversity Center in 2016 alone is >27 million gallons (Ismail et al. 2014). By 2014, the SWG Program had provided an estimated 35% of the Alabama Aquatic Biodiversity Center's budget.
Another example of species providing ecosystem services are bats. Through their diet of mosquitoes, bats help to control known transmitters of diseases such as the West Nile and Zika viruses (CDC 2016). In addition, bats eat agricultural insect pests; research demonstrates that a single bat colony can consume 1.3 million insects in a single year. The impact of this natural pest-suppression service, a regulating ecosystem service, saves agricultural producers billions of dollars each year in pesticides they do not have to apply and crops that are not lost to pests (Boyles et al. 2011). Today, the fungal disease White Nose Syndrome (WNS) has been causing severe losses to bat colonies across the United States. From its first discovery in New York in 2006, tracking by the U.S. Geological Survey has seen the spread of WNS into 33 states and 7 Canadian provinces (USGS No date (a)). In areas where bat populations have been affected by WNS, an estimated 330–660 metric tons of insects are no longer being consumed (Boyles and Willis 2009).
The proactive nature of the SWG Program allowed it to respond faster than any other long-term conservation programs to WNS (Surridge and Li 2014), which were limited by whether or not a species was on the federal list as a T&E species. Funding for WNS through the SWG Program began 3 y after WNS was first discovered, with the Service granting state fish and wildlife agencies >US$4 million in competitively awarded funds toward research on WNS and related conservation activities for bats by 2015. This funding has contributed to a wide array of applied research, which has slowed the spread of WNS in some states (AFWA 2011), as well as to a wide range of projects that protect bat hibernacula through exclosures that keep humans and predators from disturbing roosting bats or further spreading the fungus. White-nose syndrome continues to plague bat populations; however, SWG Program–funded projects conducted some of the earliest research into WNS, thus providing scientists the means to test methods for slowing the spread of the fungus and its impacts on bats. We hope that the projects funded through the SWG Program can continue to serve the foundations of additional research and activism to stabilize and increase bat populations.
Numeric values of ecosystem services are difficult and expensive to calculate; however, we believe there is little doubt that these services exist, and that the benefit of these services accrue to the public at large. In this section, we sought to identify specific ecosystem services that have been protected or improved with support from the SWG Program. By supporting key research, translocation, propagation and release, and habitat restoration and protection for snails, bats, and other state-identified sensitive species, the SWG Program provides stable, long-term public-value creation supporting essential ecosystem services. We believe this demonstrates that Criterion 3 has been met.
Question 4: Does the created value meet the original goals of why the program was established?
Unlike the previous three sections, which examine the value being created by the SWG Program, this section evaluates whether the SWG Program is meeting what Moore calls its “collectively defined objectives.” As a public program funded by taxpayer dollars, we believe it is critical to determine whether the value identified by the public through their representatives in Congress is the value that they are receiving through the program. This final criterion is essential because without it, a public program could be deemed successful in creating public value even if it has no effect on the problem it was designed to address.
The SWG Program has a clear proactive conservation objective, outlined in a media release from then-Secretary of the Interior Gale Norton. Norton announced that the SWG Program's purpose is to maintain species diversity by preventing species from being listed under the ESA (USFWS 2005). The focus on prevention in the SWG Program's stated objective identifies it as a proactive conservation program, even though T&E species can also be funded through the SWG Program, at the states' discretion (USFWS 2010). We argue that a second, more implicit objective exists: proactive conservation that prevents or removes T&E listings must be more efficient than a more reactive delay-and-regulate approach. This argument is made by proponents of proactive conservation (Drechlser et al. 2011; Baruch-Mordo et al. 2013) as well as Moore himself (Moore 1995:31) and it is described in the context of the SWG Program in publications of the Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies (AFWA 2011). This objective is also inherent in the desire to create a proactive species conservation program decades after passage and implementation of the more reactive ESA.
Showing that the SWG Program is responsible for (caused) faster, more efficient species recovery than traditional delay-and-regulate approaches, however, would require a controlled experiment beyond the resources of any agency or organization. Such a test faces at least three challenges: 1) species restoration activities are funded by many different organizations, both public and private, making it hard to claim a species' maintenance or sustainability is the result of any one program; 2) people and politics play a role in which species are put on and taken off the ESA lists of T&E species in addition to the actual biological needs of species; and, 3) attaining population stability for any species in decline can take decades (depending on the species). Other barriers to a full analysis include data limitations for species that were not listed. We know which species received SWG Program funding by aggregating grant accomplishment reports, and we know how much money was spent on T&E (listed) species, using Service expenditure reports (USFWS 2019—discussed in greater detail in the sections below). However, we do not currently have accurate information about how much money was spent on species, SWG Program–funded or otherwise, which were not listed. As such, we do not attempt to claim causation in this section.
Rather than identifying a causal effect between the SWG Program and more efficient species recovery (i.e., meeting its collectively defined objectives), we asked instead whether there is evidence that the SWG Program may be failing to meet these objectives. A failure would indicate that assumptions about the cost-efficiencies of proactive programs should be re-evaluated. A lack of failure could open new areas of research inquiry. Given our data constraints, we focused our analysis on efficiency (e.g., does the SWG Program achieve greater species conservation results with less money?) and effectiveness (are the intended recipient species receiving SWG Program funding?).
State Wildlife Grant Program Efficiency
Indications of SWG Program failure would be identifiable through evidence that the SWG Program has actually increased (rather than decreased or maintained) the amount of funding goings toward species recovery. Finding an increase was, we believed, the most likely scenario because, by definition, the creation of a new program with new funding, such as the SWG Program, should mean more money is being spent. However, such a finding could also be evidence of SWG Program failure because a proactive program such as this is designed to reduce costs through improving conservation efficiencies. In contrast, if our findings reveal steady or declining expenditures after the SWG Program's implementation, then we could argue that it is unlikely the SWG Program is contributing to increased costs.
Declining expenditures could indicate increased efficiencies, but they could alternatively provide evidence that conservation programs are simply receiving less funding, to the detriment of species populations. Such a decline in species recoveries would indicate that the SWG Program is failing to improve species outcomes. To account for this, we also looked at the rate at which species populations were determined by the Service to be recovered both before and after the SWG Program was implemented.
Question 4: Methods (efficiency question)
The best available information that we have on long-term species-recovery costs is annual expenditure reports on T&E species that have been published each year by the Service since 1996. For these reports, Service employees request information on T&E species funding from the Service itself as well as that of 29 other federal agencies and all the states, territories, commonwealths, and the District of Columbia (USFWS 2019). The reports have been published consistently since 1996; however, the data collection methods have changed as the Service tested new procedures and additional agencies began reporting to the Service. In addition, while the Service issues the data call to states, it is up to individual states to track and report their T&E-related spending and the respondents often differ in how they account for such spending, or may fail to report the requested data. There have been differences in cost accounting methods among the 29 federal reporting agencies as well. Despite these shortcomings, these reports remain the only publicly available data that tracks state and federal natural resources agency spending on federally listed T&E species over time. This inconsistent data collection informed our decision to remain conservative in our conclusions.
We calculated the total expenditure on nonforeign faunal species only and plotted these annual amounts in Figure 1. Flora and foreign species are ineligible for SWG Program funding (U.S. Department of the Interior and Related Agencies Appropriations Act of 2002, Pub L 107-63, and subsequent legislation) and thus would not have been directly affected by SWG Program funding. The graph indicates the year in which the SWG Program began (2001) and includes a 5-y time lag between initial SWG Program disbursement and potential impacts on Service listing decisions. This 5-y period accounts for the lifecycle of a typical financial award, allowing for common performance period extensions. The graph also includes a secondary y-axis on which we have plotted the average annual cost per listed T&E species in order to account for both the overall costs of T&E species (Total Expenditures), as well as to control for the effect of new species being listed as T&E each year (Average Expenditures).
Question 4: Results and discussion (efficiency question)
Figure 1 shows a decreasing slope between the rate of public T&E species–related expenditure growth from 1996 until 2006 (approximately US $70 million/y) and from 2006 until 2015 (approximately US $40 million/y; Fig. 1, blue line). A t-test performed on the pretime and posttime lag data shows that there is a significant difference (P = 0.002) in total expenditure 5 y after the SWG Program began delivering funds to states for SGCN conservation projects. This change is reflected in the average expenditure amount (Fig. 1, red line), which controls for new species being added to the T&E list, and for which a t-test also revealed a significant difference (P = 0.048). Although this time period includes the Great Recession that began in 2008, we do not believe that the recession itself is responsible for the decrease because the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service actually received an increase in funding in these years as a result in part to the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (2009).
However, additional potentially confounding factors had to be addressed, particularly overall U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service appropriations, because the Service typically provides the largest share of T&E species–related spending among entities reporting data used in the Expenditure Reports. We ran a regression analysis to measure this influence, in which we included Service expenditures on T&E species conservation, SWG Program funding, and the Service's appropriated funds budget (not including SWG funding, which we removed) as dependent variables. We found no correlation between the Service's annual appropriation and its annual T&E species–related expenditures (P = 0.909), when controlling for SWG Program funding. The SWG Program funding variable, however, approached statistical significance (P = 0.068), indicating that it would be useful to run the regression again in the future after more years of SWG Program funding to determine whether a significant correlation between SWG Program funding and the Service's expenditure on T&E species conservation exists.
Next, we addressed the question of whether the decreased expenditure rate that we found was linked to defunding of T&E species conservation programs, rather than an increase in efficiencies. Once again we ran t-tests for before and after the SWG Program was implemented including a 5-y time lag. We ran the test using only the species delisted from (taken off of) the Service's T&E species lists (USFWS no date) as a result of species recovery. We again only considered faunal, nonforeign species because they alone are eligible for SWG Program funding. The results of the test showed no significant difference in delisting rates (how many T&E delistings occurred each year) before and after the time lag for T&E species (P = 0.257), indicating that despite the statistically significant decrease in total and average T&E species–related expenditures noted in this section, the rate of T&E species delistings has remained statistically steady.
The results show that total expenditures on T&E species decreased after the SWG Program was implemented (accounting for a 5-y time lag) with no decrease in the number of species that were delisted as T&E as a result of recovery. The data collection limitations described above prevent us from concluding that the SWG Program itself is responsible for the increased efficiencies; however, it does suggest that more research in this area is warranted. Using our failure-focused framework, we can conclude from this analysis that it is unlikely the SWG Program is responsible either for increasing species recovery costs or decreasing the rate at which T&E species recover.
State Wildlife Grant program effectiveness
Our analysis is unable to identify a clear failure in the SWG Program's ability to meet its objectives, so we are able to move from questions of efficiency to questions of effectiveness. Specifically, we want to know what role the SWG Program played in these delistings (e.g., did delisted species receive SWG Program funding?), and whether the SWG Program is being used for non-T&E species and preventing ESA listing. The second part of this question is particularly important because the ability of the SWG Program to prevent species from being listed as T&E goes to the heart of the proactive conservation debate. For this section, we include ESA candidate species in our analysis, which are species that have been identified by the Service as warranted for listing, but which have not yet been designated as T&E (USFWS 2001). Species listed as ESA candidates are not formally threatened nor endangered under the ESA; therefore, taking away their candidate status is considered by the Service to be a removal rather than an ESA delisting.
Question 4: Methods (effectiveness question)
Evidence that the SWG Program is being used with T&E and ESA candidate species can help us determine whether the intended targets of the SWG Program are receiving the funding. We compiled a list of ESA candidate removals and T&E delistings for each year since the SWG Program began and compared this list with report records from projects funded by the SWG Program (downloaded as FAIMS legacy data from the Tracking and Reporting Actions for the Conservation of Species [TRACS] database by D. Wircenske, WSFR, 17 June 2015). We searched the database using only common species names because they were more typically used by states in performance reporting in the now-retired FAIMS database, which comprise the bulk of project accomplishment records. It is possible that this search methodology missed reports that used only scientific names or those reports that had misspellings, but this method allowed us to clearly identify species that received SWG Program funding and the results presented here can be considered the minimum number of funded species.
Through this method, we identified 13 domestic fish and wildlife species delisted by the Service for conservation-related reasons and 58 domestic ESA candidate fish and wildlife species removed or withdrawn from ESA consideration for conservation-related reasons since states began reporting on SWG Program accomplishments in 2002. We then cross-referenced this list with the list of species that received SWG Program funding and created graphs to visualize the results.
Question 4: Results and discussion (effectiveness question)
Of the 13 domestic fish and wildlife species delisted by the Service in the analysis period, SWG Program funding was used for ≥7, or 53.8%, of species (Figure 2). For the 58 species identified as candidates for ESA listing (Figure 3), which were removed or withdrawn for conservation-related reasons, ≥19 species—about 33%—received SWG Program funds. These conservation actions included a wide variety of supported actions, such as habitat improvement and direct species management.
This analysis provides evidence that SWG Program funds are being used in a proactive manner to provide financial support for species before they become listed. We do not suggest that the SWG Program is single-handedly responsible for these T&E delistings and candidate removals, and fully understanding the influence of the SWG Program in this area would require additional research. However, for the purpose Criterion 4, which seeks to determine whether SWG Program funding is applied to the species it was intended to benefit (species for which T&E listing may be precluded), this section suggests the intent of the Program is at least partially met.
Question 4: Discussion
Unlike the previous three sections, we did not find a clear “yes” in this section with regard to the fourth criterion for determining public program success. This is in large part due to data limitations and the difficult nature of the question. However, we also are unable to determine that Criterion 4 is not met. We believe that our results, which show early evidence that funding is being used more efficiently without a measurable change in effectiveness, provides a firm foundation for additional research, which can better describe the links between this increased efficiency and the SWG Program's proactive funding. In the meantime, the second part of this section shows that the SWG Program is being used by states to conserve species that have the potential for T&E delisting or could be prevented from being listed under the ESA as a result of species recovery. These species were the original targets of the SWG Program according to the first SWG Program media release (USFWS 2005). Our research provides preliminary evidence that Criterion 4 could potentially be met in future studies.
In this article, we outline a framework for measuring the value of a public program. Drawing from the theoretical literature on public value, we have used Moore's (1995) definition and discussion to identify four criteria for a successful public program. These criteria are as follows: 1) short-term value is created; 2) long-term value is created; 3) the value created is public; and 4) the value created is the value that was intended per the original goals of the program.
When evaluating the success of national-scale public programs, it is impossible to either perfectly measure value creation or to demonstrate causation–a large-scale randomized experiment is unfeasible and likely unethical because such experiments would require defunding species so they might serve as a control. Nevertheless, it is critical that techniques be developed and used in a systematic way to help policy makers draw comparisons between different policy options. By translating Moore's (1995) insights into four public value criteria to analyze the SWG Program, we apply methods for measuring the creation of public values in a way that other research on this topic has only anecdotally addressed.
We use the State Wildlife Grant Program, a national-scale proactive conservation program in the United States, to test this framework by identifying established techniques that can help to calculate market and nonmarket costs. We first use IMPLAN, an input–output modeling program that allows us to measure the direct, indirect, and induced impacts that accrue from the SWG Program grant dollars. We were able to identify >$3 billion (US) in created value since the SWG Program began, and our analysis demonstrates a clear link between the grant dollars entering local economies and the creation of jobs that help sustain working families in every state, commonwealth, and territory of the United States. The IMPLAN model provides a clear and unambiguous way of showing the short-term economic value of the SWG Program.
We also demonstrate how the SWG Program protects and creates long-term value by measuring how much the public cares about whooping cranes using the Willingness-To-Pay method, long applied by natural resource economists in species valuation (Breidert et al. 2006). Using FHWAR data on conservation spending, we see that the total value Americans are willing to give to maintain and protect the species outstrips current conservation costs by approximately US $1.87 billion. Some of this value is created by the SWG Program through conservation projects such as the experimental population of cranes in Louisiana. This methodology can be replicated for other species that receive SWG Program funding. We expect that future research can give a more complete accounting of the value Americans give to the thousands of species conserved and protected each year by state agencies using SWG Program funds.
We next endeavored to determine whether the value created by the SWG Program goes to the public by providing nonexcludable benefits. We looked at SWG Program reports leading up to 2012 and found that approximately 2 million acres (809,371 ha) have been enhanced or improved by the program, and ≥8 million (3,237,485 ha) aquatic and terrestrial animals have been raised and released for conservation. We then focused on two case studies of species that provide ecosystem services that benefit the public: snail and mussel populations in Alabama, and bat populations across North America. In these instances, we found that important ecosystem services were being protected for the public because of the conservation programs, such as water quality improvement, reductions in disease spread, and agricultural pest control.
Finally, we sought to determine whether the value created is the value that was intended when the public program was designed. We argue that a public program has an obligation to meet the objectives laid out when it was created because these objectives have been determined by representatives of the public to be valuable. In our analysis, we focused on cost-efficiency and effectiveness, and we also ask whether the intended recipients of the funding (species with the potential to be delisted under the ESA or avoid listing under the ESA) are targeted with SWG Program funds. We accomplish this by showing that overall T&E species expenditures have declined during the lifespan of the SWG Program, and that this decline in expenditures is not resulting in fewer delisting of species from the ESA nor in fewer candidate removals. Finally, we show that the SWG Program is a source of funds for species that are eventually delisted as T&E and for species removed as candidates for ESA listings, by showing that states are using these funds for the species intended by the SWG Program's creators. A further investment of resources into evaluating this question is warranted. By analyzing trends before and after the SWG Program's implementation, we show that the SWG Program could potentially be meeting its objectives and, at least, it is not failing these objectives.
As long as public programs exist, there will be a need to determine whether they are generating public value. Government entities that establish and maintain these programs have a finite set of resources with which to meet the competing needs of their constituents. A dollar that goes to one government program cannot go to another. It is necessary, then, to understand whether an established program is providing value. Prior to this paper, researchers have primarily approached this question anecdotally, often looking at a single program using a single criterion. Through this research, we expand on previous work in this area by outlining and testing a framework for rigorously evaluating the value created by a public program using objective metrics underscored by established public value theory. The methods that we use in this paper to evaluate these metrics are well-established in natural resource economics, but they are by no means the only way to measure value. What methods work best for calculating value will vary enormously based on what a particular program is designed to do. Methods can change, but the four public value criteria can be used as a basis for any approach, in whatever form it may take. By outlining these four criteria, we have shown that the success of a public program can be objectively defined, and that human value, typically regarded as subjective, can be objectively calculated and measured to determine programmatic success. In this way, we have attempted to move the calculation of public value from the theoretical or anecdotal, into the defined and measurable.
Please note: The Journal of Fish and Wildlife Management is not responsible for the content or functionality of any supplemental material. Queries should be directed to the corresponding author for the article.
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The authors would like to thank the many people who have contributed to this report, including U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Division of Wildlife and Sport Fish Restoration members Christy Vigfusson, Programs Branch Chief; John Klavitter, Acting Chief of Policy and Programs; Sylvia Cabrera, National Survey Branch Chief; and Kyle James and Steve Klein. We would also like to thank members of other Service divisions who aided in our work, including Karen Anderson, Don Morgan, and Jennifer Neely from the Division of Ecological Services; and James Caudill, Andrew Laughland, and Edward Maillett from the Division of Economics. We would like to thank Mark Humpert from the Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies for reviewing our work, and the Directorate Resource Assistant Fellows Program, which brought us Ronesha Strozier who helped us get this project off the ground and wrote the first draft. Authorship order was determined based on time devoted and intellectual contribution to the work.
We would also like to extend our sincere thanks to our reviewers and editors, who never pulled their punches and asked the tough questions. We would particularly like to thank our Associate Editor whose feedback and insights have made this a dramatically better paper.
Any use of trade, product, website, or firm names in this publication is for descriptive purposes only and does not imply endorsement by the U.S. Government.
Citation: Riley B, Van Ryzin P, Fuller M, Strozier R. 2020. The State Wildlife Grant Program: Measuring the public value of a proactive conservation program. Journal of Fish and Wildlife Management 11(1):353–368; e1944-687X. https://doi.org/10.3996/10.3996/112017-JFWM-092