Abstract

This paper offers a principal-agent model of feasible private contracting in mitigation and conservation banking aimed at the protection of natural habitat and bio-diversity of US wetlands and uplands. It is shown that while it is straightforward to design an incentive contract, such a contract may not achieve the federally mandated objective of no net loss of habitat. This is because the minimum payment required as an economic incentive to private agents may be greater than what they should receive for the habitat values that they actually created in the field. This possible problem is shown to derive from nonconvexity in the production possibility set between the biological value of land as natural habitat and in non-habitat uses such as in urban development. The paper concludes with a consideration of several institutional devises that may promote the convergence of private contracting and the attainment of no net loss. These include the payment of subsidies, greater accuracy in the identification of actual quality by the principal, and the use of several incentive alignment devises.

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