Exploring the “Where” and the “Why” of Conservation Easements: The Role of Community-level Factors in the Likelihood of Adoption

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Virginia Tech

Over the past several decades conservation easements have seen immense growth in their popularity. There are now over 40 million acres of easement land in the United States, up from only 1.4 million in 1998. A significant body of research exists on easements, factors that lead to their adoption, their consequences and effectiveness, and problems that arise from their use, among other topics. Our study contributes to this literature by exploring community and system-level effects on easement adoption, using Virginia as a case study, and applying a novel approach that incorporates spatial analysis and the insights of conservation professionals.

The purpose of our research was to explore whether community-level factors affect easement adoption decisions, and what those factors are. Previously established variables were investigated to gauge their relationship to easement occurrence when scaled up to the community level, as well as to test our ability to make predictions about where easements should be most likely to occur. Spatial market segmentation data was also incorporated into this analysis to determine whether it could augment our understanding of community-level factors and predictive ability. Statistical models produced were reasonably predictive. However, we suspect that this was the case for different reasons at our community scale of analysis than at the individual landowner level examined in previous research. We used surveys and interviews with easement professionals to further explore additional variables that might explain adoption patterns. Results indicate the importance of system-level factors including change agents, opinion leaders, and local government and land-use planning.

conservation easements, private land conservation, GIS, adoption motivations, Virginia, socio-spatial, diffusion of innovations, trust, conservation practitioners, spatial aggregation, conservation behavior