CSF sustains natural ecosystems and human communities through strategies powered by conservation economics. Our trainings, analyses and timely expertise make development smarter, quantify the benefits of nature, and create enduring incentives for conservation.
How it started
One morning in 1997, John Reid stood in a rain forest in Bahia, Brazil, within earshot of the Atlantic Ocean. The forest was anything but ordinary. First, it was home to a greater diversity of trees than almost any other patch of woods on earth. Even more remarkable, however, was that John and his colleagues knew almost everything about the economics of conserving it. They knew the profitability of clearing it for ranching, of managing the timber, of extracting piaçava palm fibers, of making it a tourist attraction or growing cacao. That novel economic x‐ray would inform the planning of a subsequent decade and a half of successful local conservation efforts. It mapped large tracts across the region where the opportunity cost of conservation was low, so conservation-friendly uses such as piaçava, tourism and creation of private, tax-favored nature reserves would be feasible. Diminishing logging profits showed a window of opportunity for shutting the industry down, which was done with minimal income loss. And tourism data showed a demand for forest-based attractions, one of which was launched, while making clear that this business could only drive conservation on a limited scale.
This approach seemed to John like utter common sense; conserving without knowing the economic forces would be like trying to move silently through a dark room full of furniture. But despite the solid results for forest protection in Bahia, most conservationists he knew remained ambivalent – if not hostile – to economics. A few months later, CSF’s founding epiphany hit John while he was cycling home from work in Washington, D.C. Colleagues across the conservationist spectrum needed to be shown and convinced that economics was indispensable for them to craft cost-effective conservation proposals, critique and change big development projects and propose community-scale development that was financially viable. John left his job and, in 1998, created Conservation Strategy Fund (CSF) to do exactly that.
The group’s original program entailed an intensive training program on the key principles of economics related to conservation ‐ market theory, ecosystem service valuation, timber and fisheries economics, project and policy analysis, and negotiation techniques. After the training, CSF partnered with participants whose ideas for applying economics in the field held the greatest potential for conservation impact. Over the ensuing years, that essential design has been expanded and improved upon with many successes around the globe.
Today CSF is the leading organization advancing conservation solutions powered by economics. CSF analysts have proven the value of protected areas, shown how to build infrastructure at lower cost and with less damage, and nurtured local sustainable businesses. Over $20 billion in development investments have been impacted, resulting in improved conservation of over 20 million acres. Our programs have reached over 2,000 professionals in over 650 organizations, based in 90+ countries. Trainings now include custom courses for marine ecosystems, climate change, protected areas, enterprise and infrastructure, among other themes. Formats are now specially tailored for emerging economists, government officials and conservation leaders, as well as general conservation audiences. All this has helped bring about a sea of change in conservation: wide acceptance of the strategic importance of economics for success.
CSF has offices in the US, Bolivia, Peru and Brazil and additional staff in Costa Rica, Colombia and Uganda. Our training faculty includes instructors from Harvard, Duke, University of Brasilia, University of the Andes (Colombia), University of Concepción (Chile), Oregon State University, University of Cape Town and Makerere University (Uganda), among others. Project partners have ranged from local activists and indigenous tribes, to big international NGOs and development banks.