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Targeting can take many forms and have several dimensions. Targeting can seek to optimize environmental benefits, optimize costs, and/or seek to concentrate conservation activities in a certain location. Two important approaches are geographic targeting and benefit-cost targeting.

Geographic targeting involves establishing environmental or natural resource priorities and then committing funds to regions or watersheds exhibiting those priorities. For example, geographic targeting could prioritize areas that:

  • experience the greatest environmental and natural resource impairments,

  • exhibit pristine conditions worth preserving, or

  • could offer the greatest change in environmental or natural resource conditions.

Benefit-cost targeting involves identifying and treating the individual farms or acres that can produce the most environmental benefits per dollar spent (i.e., those that are the most cost effective).

Ideally, geographic and benefit-cost targeting are combined to identify high priority land for implementing conservation, and within those areas, selecting specific practices and acres that are the most cost effective.

Visualizing Business-As-Usual versus Targeting

The primary approach to federal conservation programs works by solving individual water quality problems on individual farms. Below are some examples:


Click on image for larger view.

Figure 1. Voluntary conservation solves individual water quality problems on individual fields.: The “before” picture shows gully erosion and nutrient runoff caused by cows straying from their access road and tearing up the field. The “after” picture shows the same area after the access road was restored and a grassed waterway was installed. WRI refers to this approach as “business as usual” and recognizes its success on a field-by-field basis.

To solve landscape-scale environmental problems, such as an impaired stream (depicted by the single fish symbol and red stream coloring in the left panel), WRI encourages a targeting approach to conservation spending. The business-as-usual approach (left panel) solves individual water quality problems on individual farm fields. In contrast, a targeting approach (right panel) concentrates the most cost-effective conservation practices upstream from the impaired water body to achieve measurable improvements in its water quality.


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Figure 2. Targeting watershed conservation projects solve landscape-scale water quality problems: The targeting approach involves many farmers volunteering to make a landscape-scale difference and doing so in partnership with conservation and watershed planners, water quality monitoring or modeling experts, and many other relevant stakeholders to implement the targeted watershed project.

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