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New Models and Methods for Efficient Land Conservation


This dissertation presents a series of essays that illustrate opportunities for improving the

economic efficiency of conservation easement purchases and land conservation in general.

Each essay provides concrete methods to address a current issue in conservation easement

purchasing or valuation.

The first essay explores the relationship between the degree to which landowners identify as

ranchers and their preferences between a lump sum and a perpetuity form of compensation.

Using original survey data from 231 California landowners in Sonoma and Marin Counties, we

elicit measures of rancher identity and preferences among three compensation packages for the

sale of a conservation easement. We find that the majority of participating landowners prefer

a perpetuity over a lump sum, suggesting that conservation groups could more efficiently

conserve land by offering a perpetuity payment option. By randomly perturbing the identity

salience of some landowners, we attempt to determine the causal impact of identity on

preferences. Although our results lack statistical power, they provide suggestive evidence in

support of the hypothesis that preference for a perpetuity over a lump sum is a function of

identity as a rancher.

The second essay addresses one of the key challenges in calculating return on investment

(ROI) for a conservation easement purchase. From the perspective of a land conservation

group, the three components of ROI for a conservation easement are the value of ecosystems

services (ES) that the conserved property provides, easement price, and probability of

development under a counterfactual scenario in which the easement had not been enacted.

In this essay we assess the relative importance of uncertainly in ecosystem service values

compared to uncertainty in land development projections. To do so we estimate the value

of the ecosystems services provided by 19 conservation easements held by a California land

trust, based on ES values from 9 stated preference studies. For each property we then

consider 3 plausible counterfactual development scenarios, resulting in a total of 27 different

valuations (3 counterfactuals x 9 ES values). Pairwise analysis suggests that, while the impact

of both choices is large, the choice of counterfactual has a substantially larger impact on ES

value than the choice of ES value transfer study. In our study area, choosing an alternative

counterfactual scenario changes the valuation by an average of 648% relative to the base case,

while choosing an alternative value transfer study changes the valuation by an average of 132%.

The third essay assesses whether the easement price information in property appraisals

contains any information, aside from easement price, that impacts conservation group ROI.

Before a conservation easement is sold an appraisal is usually commissioned in order to

determine the value of the conserved property before and after the easement is put into

place. The difference between these two values is the appraised value of the easement, which

represents the value of the easement to the landowner. However, since landowners and

conservation groups have very different objective functions, the value of the easement to

the landowner is not necessarily equal to the value of the easement to a conservation group.

Using a dataset of 36 appraisals for conserved California rangeland, we test the hypothesis

that ecosystems service value is correlated with appraised value. We also test the hypothesis

that counterfactual conservation easement value, which is the value of the easement to a

conservation group, is captured in appraised value. We find that ecosystems service value is

highly uncorrelated with appraised value, and that counterfactual easement value is slightly

positively correlated with, though non-linearly related to, appraised value.

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