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  1. Massive wildlife losses over the past 50 y have brought new urgency to identifying both the drivers of population decline and potential solutions. We provide large-scale evidence that air pollution, specifically ozone, is associated with declines in bird abundance in the United States. We show that an air pollution regulation limiting ozone precursors emissions has delivered substantial benefits to bird conservation. Our estimates imply that air quality improvements over the past 4 decades have stemmed the decline in bird populations, averting the loss of 1.5 billion birds, ∼20% of current totals. Our results highlight that in addition to protecting human health, air pollution regulations have previously unrecognized and unquantified conservation cobenefits.

  2. Despite decades of policy that strives to reduce nutrient and sediment export from agricultural fields, surface water quality in intensively managed agricultural landscapes remains highly degraded. Recent analyses show that current conservation efforts are not sufficient to reverse widespread water degradation in Midwestern agricultural systems. Intensifying row crop agriculture and increasing climate pressure require a more integrated approach to water quality management that addresses diverse sources of nutrients and sediment and off-field mitigation actions. We used multiobjective optimization analysis and integrated three biophysical models to evaluate the cost-effectiveness of alternative portfolios of watershed management practices at achieving nitrate and suspended sediment reduction goals in an agricultural basin of the Upper Midwestern United States. Integrating watershed-scale models enabled the inclusion of near-channel management alongside more typical field management and thus directly the comparison of cost-effectiveness across portfolios. The optimization analysis revealed that fluvial wetlands (i.e., wide, slow-flowing, vegetated water bodies within the riverine corridor) are the single-most cost-effective management action to reduce both nitrate and sediment loads and will be essential for meeting moderate to aggressive water quality targets. Although highly cost-effective, wetland construction was costly compared to other practices, and it was not selected in portfolios at low investment levels.more »Wetland performance was sensitive to placement, emphasizing the importance of watershed scale planning to realize potential benefits of wetland restorations. We conclude that extensive interagency cooperation and coordination at a watershed scale is required to achieve substantial, economically viable improvements in water quality under intensive row crop agricultural production.

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  3. US investment to decrease pollution in rivers, lakes, and other surface waters has exceeded $1.9 trillion since 1960, and has also exceeded the cost of most other US environmental initiatives. These investments come both from the 1972 Clean Water Act and the largely voluntary efforts to control pollution from agriculture and urban runoff. This paper reviews the methods and conclusions of about 20 recent evaluations of these policies. Surprisingly, most analyses estimate that these policies’ benefits are much smaller than their costs; the benefit–cost ratio from the median study is 0.37. However, existing evidence is limited and undercounts many types of benefits. We conclude that it is unclear whether many of these regulations truly fail a benefit–cost test or whether existing evidence understates their net benefits; we also describe specific questions that when answered would help eliminate this uncertainty.