In conservation planning, cost data may reflect any variety of socioeconomic factors, which if minimized, might help the conservation plan be implemented more effectively and reduce conflicts with other uses. Following are some examples of different definitions of “cost”.


Many conservation practitioners have defined cost as the area of the planning unit to identify sites that meet conservation targets within the smallest possible area of land or sea. The assumption here is that by minimizing the overall area, the impacts of conservation areas on people will be reduced. When costs are flat (every planning unit has the same cost value), the priorities identified may be used a baseline scenario to explore how alternate costs, that vary in space across the planning region, affect priorities.


Costs associated with conservation actions include acquisition costs (e.g., cost of buying or leasing land), management costs (e.g., enforcement and monitoring costs of protected areas), and transaction costs (e.g., costs associated with negotiating protection, such as the time and staff involved in stakeholder negotiations).


It is often difficult to estimate socio-economic costs due to data limitations, accessibility, and uncertainty. When relevant, high quality spatially explicit cost data are not available, sensible surrogates can be used to represent socioeconomic impacts. For example, coastal population density may be a proxy for resource dependencies. The distance from ports or roads may be used as an estimate of accessibility (e.g. farther travel means higher costs).


“Opportunity costs” are the estimates of foregone revenues or economic livelihoods from putting an area into conservation (for example, the lost revenue incurred to a fisherman or fishing fleet if they can no longer fish).

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