Achieving conservation when opportunity costs are high: optimizing reserve design in Alberta's oil sands region

Resource Location: 
Hosted/Published on this site
Schneider, Richard A., Hauer, Grant, Farr Dan, Adamowicz, W. L., and Boutin, Stan
Geographic Keywords:

Recent studies have shown that conservation gains can be achieved when the spatial distributions of biological benefits and economic costs are incorporated in the conservation planning process. Using Alberta, Canada, as a case study we apply these techniques in the context of coarse-filter reserve design. Because targets for ecosystem representation and other coarse-filter design elements are difficult to define objectively we use a trade-off analysis to systematically explore the relationship between conservation targets and economic opportunity costs. We use the Marxan conservation planning software to generate reserve designs at each level of conservation target to ensure that our quantification of conservation and economic outcomes represents the optimal allocation of resources in each case. Opportunity cost is most affected by the ecological representation target and this relationship is nonlinear. Although petroleum resources are present throughout most of Alberta, and include highly valuable oil sands deposits, our analysis indicates that over 30% of public lands could be protected while maintaining access to more than 97% of the value of the region's resources. Our case study demonstrates that optimal resource allocation can be usefully employed to support strategic decision making in the context of land-use planning, even when conservation targets are not well defined.


Schneider, R. R., G. Hauer, D. Farr, W. L. Adamowicz, and S. Boutin. 2011. Achieving conservation when opportunity costs are high: optimizing reserve design in Alberta’s oil sands region. PLoS ONE 6:e23254.