A contract-theoretic model of conservation agreements

With Heidi Gjertsen, Theodore Groves, Eduard Niesten, Dale Squires, and Joel Watson

Abstract: We examine the structure and performance of conservation agreements, which are used across the world to protect natural resources. Key elements of these agreements are: (1) they are ongoing arrangements between a local community and an outside party, typically a non-governmental organization (NGO); (2) they feature payments in exchange for conservation services; (3) the prospects for success depend on the NGO engaging in costly monitoring to detect whether the community is foregoing short-term gains to protect the resource; (4) lacking a strong external enforcement system, they rely on self-enforcement; and (5) the parties have the opportunity to renegotiate at any time. We provide a novel model that contains these ingredients and we apply the model to assess the workings of real conservation agreements, using three case studies as representative examples. We characterize equilibrium play (including how punishments and rewards are structured) and we show how the parties' relative bargaining powers affect their ability to sustain cooperation over time. The model captures important features of real conservation agreements and identifies some of the features required for successful agreements.

Working paper 4/21/2016