How Rice Farmers And Conservationists Use Auctions To Save Birds : The Indicator from Planet Money The Pacific Flyway, one of the major bird migration routes in North America, has lost over 90% of its original wetland habitat in California. Purchasing and restoring these lands would cost a lot of money. But one economist had an idea: What if we paid rice farmers to flood their fields?

Saving Birds With Economics

Saving Birds With Economics

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California Rice
(California Rice)
California Rice

The Pacific Flyway is one of the major bird migratory routes in the world. The wetland habitats in California are crucial to millions of birds and hundreds of bird species during the annual migration process. But more and more wetlands in California have been converted into farms. Throw increasing droughts into the equation, and it's an increasingly life-or-death situation for many birds.

Eric Hallstein is an economist who works at The Nature Conservancy, a nonprofit environmental organization. The traditional way to conserve wetland is to purchase and restore the land, which can be very expensive.

Eric found a solution to this increasing shortage of wetland for birds: A reverse auction for rice farmers to flood their fields. Farmers calculate their costs to flood the rice fields, and then they submit a bid — how much cash they'd want as payment. The program costs significantly less than buying the land outright.

Since the program started in 2014, they've had huge success at a fraction of the cost. Even this year — during an especially bad drought — farmers came through with reverse bids.

Migratory bird images and sounds supplied by California Rice.

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