Optimal conservation resource allocation under variable economic and ecological time discounting rates in boreal forest

Resource allocation to multiple alternative conservation actions is a complex task. A common trade-off occurs between protection of smaller, expensive, high-quality areas versus larger, cheaper, partially degraded areas. We investigate optimal allocation into three actions in boreal forest: current standard forest management rules, setting aside of mature stands, or setting aside of clear-cuts.We first estimated how habitat availability for focal indicator species and economic returns from timber harvesting develop through time as a function of forest type and action chosen. We then developed an optimal resource allocation by accounting for budget size and habitat availability of indicator species in different forest types. We also accounted for the perspective adopted towards sustainability, modeled via temporal preference and economic and ecological time discounting. Controversially, we found that in boreal forest set-aside followed by protection of clear-cuts can become a winning cost-effective strategy when accounting for habitat requirements of multiple species, long planning horizon, and limited budget. It is particularly effective when adopting a long-term sustainability perspective, and accounting for present revenues from timber harvesting. The present analysis assesses the cost-effective conditions to allocate resources into an inexpensive conservation strategy that nevertheless has potential to produce high ecological values in the future.