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Western State Partners Convene in Pay for Performance Workshop

September 19 – 20, Reno, Nevada. Environmental Incentives and Partners for Western Conservation convened state and federal agency staff, working land owners, and conservation finance professionals from western states for a workshop focused on furthering the use of pay for performance in conservation programs.

Workshop attendees grappled with ways to use outcome-based approaches to increase habitat and water quality, create income opportunities on working lands, and streamline mitigation and conservation processes. Sessions were designed to deepen understanding of how pay for performance works, glean lessons and insights from current applications, and engage participants in identifying potential solutions to common barriers.

During the workshop, we listened to diverse panels discuss outcome-based habitat programs using pay for performance, such as the Nevada Conservation Credit System and California EcoRestore’s tidal marsh restoration, what makes these programs succeed, and how we can expand their impact. Attendees also brainstormed solutions to common pay for performance barriers, working across sectors and states to identify paths forward. Highlights of the workshop include:

  • Shifts in thinking. Kevin Prior, the Chief Administrative Officer at the California Tahoe Conservancy, stated, “I did not think of my agency as a conservation buyer before this workshop. It would be beneficial to think more about conservation returns from our investments and to use performance contracting.” This represents an important paradigm shift in agency thinking – in most cases, agencies want their funds to generate conservation outcomes rather than pay for projects.
  • Longer stewardship terms. For contracts with 30-year opposed to 10-year stewardship terms, conservation buyers expressed willingness to pay 20-40% more and landowners expressed willingness to participate for 40% or greater increase in income.
  • New applications. On the second day of the workshop, most of the roughly 40 attendees shared ideas on potential applications of pay for performance – ranging from fish and land species habitat conservation to fuels reduction and forest thinning to prevent tree die-off.


Workshop attendees participated in a simulation game to explore the different facets of pay for performance contracting.

Workshop attendees participated in a simulation game to explore the different facets of pay for performance contracting.

Learnings from the workshop will directly influence a Pay for Performance Toolkit – coming soon – that will provide conservation buyers with essential base components and strategies, along with customizable contract terms and step-by-step guidance, needed to develop and implement a pay for performance contracts. The toolkit includes a technical brief that outlines various strategies for including pay for performance in conservation programs and the conditions in which one strategy would work versus another.

This workshop builds on insights from a series of focus groups that explored the conditions in which pay for performance would work from the perspectives of working land owners, state program managers, and state procurement staff and attorneys. By leveraging this growing body of pay for performance resources, tools, and lessons learned, we hope to support the implementation of additional outcome-based contracting approaches in various contexts.

The workshop was funded by a USDA Conservation Innovation Grant that also include project partners from Nevada Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, Nevada Division of Environmental Protection, Idaho Governor’s Office of Species Conservation, Utah’s Watershed Restoration Initiative, and Environmental Defense Fund.


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