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Pay for Performance for Western States

Photo by Jeremy R. Roberts, Conservation Media


  • North America



The Challenge

Several western states are actively investing taxpayer dollars to conserve greater sage-grouse habitat and ensure populations remain healthy and sustainable under state control. Traditional conservation funding models provide upfront funding for implementation, but do not link payment to desired conservation outcomes or provide opportunities for private capital participation. The risk of project failure or over-spending lies primarily on the project funder rather than those best positioned to manage it; the party designing and implementing the project.

Over the past several years, innovations in the social sector have shifted the focus from paying for actions to paying for outcomes. For instance, instead of paying for trees to be planted, funders pay for measurable forest habitat created as a result of planting trees. These performance-based approaches, such as pay for performance contracting, create opportunities for private entities to partner with public agencies to finance and implement projects. Unfortunately, these approaches have not achieved widespread adoption in the conservation sector, resulting in less than optimal conservation outcomes per dollar spent.

The Solution

Through a USDA Conservation Innovation Grant, Environmental Incentives is working with Partners for Western Conservation, Environmental Defense Fund and state agency partners from Nevada, Idaho and Utah to develop and test pay for performance contracts. These contracts incentivize landowners and conservation professionals to cost-effectively enhance and maintain high quality habitat, while reducing the risk of spending public funding on projects that do not produce desired results. Through the project, we are developing a toolkit that provides a roadmap to establish pay for performance contracts that increase the return on investment of conservation projects. The toolkit will provide agencies and other conservation buyers with strategies and essential resources, such as customizable contract templates with step-by-step guidance, needed to implement pay for performance contracts.

The Outcome

This project will increase the pace and scale of adoption of pay for performance in the conservation sector. We will provide capacity support, technical training, and tested legal instruments to help program managers and implementers leverage the benefits of pay for performance. Additionally, the project will increase demand and participation in emerging conservation incentive systems, such as the Nevada Conservation Credit System. By enabling state agencies in multiple western states to become buyers of conservation outcomes, we can influence the way public and private funds are spent and thereby increase the benefits of conservation investments.

Pay for Performance Toolkit

The Pay for Performance Toolkit was developed to help conservation, water quality, and community sustainability programs achieve better outcomes. The Toolkit provides a central hub of resources for organizations funding environmental improvement projects, mitigation buyers, environmental program managers, private landowners, and other environmental professionals. Get support developing a pay for performance strategy, with customizable contract templates, step-by-step guidance, and lessons learned from existing programs using pay for performance.

I did not think of my agency as a conservation buyer before attending Environmental Incentives’ pay for performance workshop. It would be beneficial to think more about conservation returns from our investments and to use performance contracting.

Kevin Prior, Chief Administrative Officer at the California Tahoe Conservancy

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We help our partners improve the performance of conservation and development programs.

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