Coupled Social and Ecological Consequences of Conservation Easements

A private land conservation tool, conservation easements, have become widely used in the United States over the past thirty years, and their popularity may correspond to tax laws creating incentives for private land conservation in the public interest. This research project will examine how shifting dynamics between conservation easement holders, easement donors/sellers, regional land use pressures, and connections to conserved lands are affecting the spatial pattern, public benefit and ecological integrity of conservation easements in different regions of the United States. These dynamics will be examined at the fine scale; national and regional policy structures will be linked at the land parcel-level. How public input during the conservation easement process affects the spatial use of easements, as well as the neighborhood effects of easements on adjacent and county-level land costs, will be analyzed. Results from this research will be useful to land use planners, both public and private, who will benefit from a better understanding of the conveyance process and the environmental outcomes. Students will be trained in database creation and assessment, strengthening the nation's scientific workforce. 

Employing multivariate, spatial overlay, and time-series analyses, the relationship between political and legal factors and conservation easement propagation will be examined. Regional spatial datasets will be combined with the results from county-level easement donor surveys and both fine and coarse filter ecological integrity approaches to assess whether conservation easements whose purpose is to maintain biological integrity have a higher likelihood of contributing to reserve networks in their spatial arrangement than do other conservation easements. Whether this is more likely to occur in areas with public oversight in the easement placement process will be determined. How the environmental outcomes affect the easement decision process will be addressed. Theory will be advanced by examining the geographic effect of the easement tool, and how social factors may influence its use, in a single spatial and quantitative framework. Broader impacts will include better understanding of the complete conservation easement process for planners and land owners and the training of undergraduate and graduate students.

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