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Harnessing visitors' enthusiasm for national parks to fund cooperative large‐landscape conservation

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Spillover impacts pose challenges for the management of protected areas (PAs). The issue of external threats encroaching on PAs has long been recognized, but a corollary—that PA conservation can increase costs borne by neighboring governments or landowners—is less well appreciated. In some contexts, basic principles of fairness and cooperation suggest that PA users should help pay these costs. Several countries have developed mechanisms for distributing the costs of spillover impacts to PA users, but not the United States. Here, we investigate whether and how US park visitors could help address one type of spillover, the need for wildlife conservation efforts beyond park boundaries, using a case study of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem (GYE). We examine a “conservation fee” recently proposed in the Wyoming legislature, along with tax-based alternatives. After exploring some costs of wildlife conservation in GYE, we estimate that a fee of up to $10 per vehicle could generate up to $13 million annually, and tax-based approaches considerably more. We consider legal, political, and governance challenges, and ways to mitigate them. The GYE could serve as a demonstration site for visitor funding of cooperative, large-landscape conservation, for potential future expansion in the US and beyond.

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