Garcia, Alberto, Robert Heilmayr. “Conservation impact evaluation using remotely sensed data” [Link to working paper][Replication code]
The application of quasiexperimental impact evaluation to remotely sensed measures of deforestation has yielded important evidence detailing the effectiveness of conservation policies. However, researchers have paid insufficient attention to the binary and irreversible structure of most deforestation datasets. Using analytical proofs and simulations, we demonstrate that many commonly employed panel econometric models are biased when applied to binary and irreversible outcomes. The significance, magnitude and even direction of estimated effects from many studies are likely incorrect, threatening to undermine the evidence base that underpins conservation policy adoption and design. To address these concerns, we provide guidance and new strategies for the design of panel econometric models that yield less biased and more efficient estimates of the impacts of forest conservation policies.
Garcia, Alberto. “Targeting in payments for native forest restoration: evidence from Chile's Native Forest Law” [Link]
In order to address the intertwined challenges posed by climate change, biodiversity loss, and rural poverty, policymakers throughout the world have begun to adopt policies that pay private landowners to protect or restore forests. However, relatively little evidence exists documenting the impacts these payments have had, and how incentives can be best structured to achieve multiple objectives. We evaluate the land cover impacts of a forest restoration subsidy included in Chile’s Native Forest Law, which prioritized the participation of rural smallholders and indigenous communities. We find that 68.12% of landowners who had applied for the subsidy did not comply with their stated forest management commitments. However, verification protocols included as part of the conditional cash transfer program prevented nearly $30 million USD in unconditional transfers to these non-compliant landowners. Compliant landowners who were paid for forest restoration did expand native forests on their properties relative to a robust counterfactual. We find that the program has expanded Chile’s native forests and paid the average landowner an estimated $36.78 USD per ton CO2 stored in aboveground biomass. In contrast to many studies on avoided deforestation, complying smallholders in regions of high poverty generated the greatest tree cover gains per enrolled hectare. These findings illustrate that, in contrast to payments for avoided deforestation, targeting for social development may enhance the environmental effectiveness of payments for restoration.