Press Release

To Avoid Harm, Land Trusts Must Consider Market Forces

Mar 15, 2006

To Avoid Doing More Harm Than Good, Land Trusts Must Consider Market Forces

FOR RELEASE: March 15, 2006

WASHINGTON, D.C.,  -- A new study shows that land trusts focused on biodiversity conservation should consider the impact of real estate market forces and make use of reliable species inventories. Without good data and an understanding of the laws of supply and demand, land trusts risk doing more harm than good for biodiversity.

The harm arises because land trust activity can elevate land prices and displace development onto lands where conservation is needed. This means every conservation acquisition must be sure to select lands with high biodiversity value, as opposed to simple open-space value. A good example of the displacement effect is the Ring Mountain Open Space Preserve in Tiburon, California that was purchased by The Nature Conservancy back in the early 1980s and donated to the Marin County Open Space district in 1995. Mistakes in terms of protecting lands lacking biodiversity will not only be a waste of money, they will undermine future opportunities by increasing development pressure on the unprotected lands.

Paul Armsworth of Sheffield University and colleagues from Stanford University, The Nature Conservancy and Resources for the Future conducted an economic analysis of land buying practices under a variety of assumptions about where biodiversity resides. They find that market feedbacks can be especially worrisome if lands outside of nature reserves have considerable ecological value, and if there are developers keen to capitalize on "conservation amenities".


Link to PNAS article page (external link)
Land market feedbacks can undermine biodiversity conservation
Paul R. Armsworth, Gretchen C. Daily, Peter Kareiva, and James N. Sanchirico
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences

These analyses raise several practical issues of concern to conservation land trusts. First, it is clear that open-space referenda and land trusts with different objectives can be in competition and create market feedbacks that hinder conservation. Second, much is to be gained by melding economics into conservation planning so that return on investment is part of the analysis, and not simply biodiversity without regard for cost. Lastly, the ecological value of lands outside nature reserves, and the importance of accurate species inventories cannot be overstated if we are to pursue conservation in a responsible manner.

Land trusts have invested billions of dollars on private land conservation over the last decade. With that level of investment it is time for conservationists to heed economic forces with the same vigor they heed biodiversity trends. Armsworth and colleagues provide a compelling demonstration of the need for land trusts to become more economically savvy in their operations.

Ring Mountain Open Space Preserve
Ring Mountain Open Space Preserve in
Tiburon, California

(click to enlarge)


Resources for the Future, an independent and nonpartisan Washington, D.C., think-tank, seeks to improve environmental and natural resource policymaking worldwide through objective social science research of the highest caliber.


Founded in 1952, Resources for the Future is an independent and nonpartisan institution.