As many regular readers will know, I’ve got a few qualifications, publications and a strong interest in zoology. What probably goes under the radar, is that I also have a doctorate in economics.

There is a very good reason why I added economics to my education. The big conservation issues wildlife faces are actually economic problems. They’re the problems of illegal harvest (poaching). They’re the problems of habitat loss. These have economic drivers. Now, if you want to focus on well defined issues- like how to kill a lot of rats on an offshore island- having the biology is essential. And it certainly helps me looking at wildlife parts in Asian markets to work out the item comes from a cow, rather than a tiger. But it’s really difficult to escape the fact that the bigger scale problems, are economic in nature- not biological.

There was I thought, a good illustration of this issue with wildlife reserves. When I did my master’s degree, we did a bit on optimal reserve design. This takes into account trying to get a size and scope to the reserve, that takes in as much crucial habitat- and as much biodiversity as possible. Adding to the theory of reserve design are corridors and patch separation.

The reality however, is that wildlife reserves aren’t established based on ecological design principles. Wildlife reserves usually just end up in places where there’s little competition with forestry or farming. In effect, most reserves are in economic terms, ‘worthless lands’. That’s why NZ has lots of reserves but significant under-representation of wetlands and low-lying forests.

Reserves tend to get added to the conservation estate I’m afraid to say, not on the basis of ecological importance. Often the explanation is nothing more than the coincidence of opportunity and funding.

In other words, if we really understand our reserve system, then the most important factors turn out to be economic, not ecological.

These sorts of issues led me towards looking at economics, and eventually what I’ll call ‘wildlife economics’.