Sullins, D.S., M. Bogaerts, B.H.F.Verheijen, D.E. Naugle, T. Griffiths, and C.A. Hagen. Increasing durability of voluntary conservation through strategic implementation of the Conservation Reserve Program. Biological Conservation 259:109177.
Working lands are an attractive solution for conservation in the conterminous United States where 76% of area is privately owned. Conservation of private lands often relies on participation in temporary incentive-based programs. As incentives expire landowners make decisions that determine whether environmental benefits continue. In the U.S., the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) contracts for 10–15 years to replant ~90–140.5 thousand km2 of cropland back to grassland. Temporary set-aside programs, such as CRP, are implemented with minimal planning to retain durable investments after payments end. We used known fate models and remotely-sensed cropland layers to estimate durability of CRP after contract expiration and to identify areas of greater predicted durability. The durability of conservation through CRP is the probability of continued provision of grass cover after incentive-based payments have ended. We expected durability would vary among landscapes and regions. Overall, 58% (SE = 0.40) of expired fields remained in grassland. However, durability ranged widely (36–76%) across six U.S. states for 13,231 contracts that expired in 2007. Reversion to cropland increased for CRP grasslands with an inherently high tillage risk, in more northerly regions, and for larger fields including those surrounded by cropland. Temporally, conversion was prevalent within five years of contract expiration, during years with higher corn prices, and in wetter years. Findings provide guidance for allocating CRP contracts in areas where grassland conservation benefits may be maximized and where transition from set-aside programs to working grasslands may promote durability.