Carving out Some Space - A Guide to Land Preservation Strategies

Carving out Some Space - A Guide to Land Preservation Strategies

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Boyd, J. K. Caballero, and R. D. Simpson "Carving out Some Space: A Guide to Land Preservation Strategies The legal instruments we use to conserve habitat are still evolving. Continuing experimentation is needed, if we are to save more land at less cost. Meanwhile, the many conservation easements that have sprung up nationwide let us see how well some instruments are working. In the years ahead, demographic and economic changes should fuel pressure for more land development in this country. In turn, the growing scarcity of natural habitats will increase the social value of preservation. Thus the need is growing for policies and institutions that can balance the requirements of economic development with the benefits of species, habitat, and open-space conservation. If the challenge is balance, regulation does not look promising for the purpose. Many interested parties view the law as an “extreme” option that does a relatively poor job of weighing competing interests. Under the current version of the Endangered Species Act, for example, animal and plant species threatened by changes in land use are designated public trust resources, but most of the land on which they live is not. It is rather as if Solomon went ahead and cut the baby in two: neither wildlife conservationists nor private developers are satisfied with the result. Alternatively, “market-based” incentives to motivate conservation are gaining favor. These incentives include full- and partial-interest land purchases, tax based incentives, and tradable or bankable development rights. The key to their attraction lies in compensating private owners for putting restrictions on the use of their land for public benefit. The Costs of Habitat Conservation We can divide the costs of implementing any conservation policy between transaction and opportunity costs. The transaction cost is the amount of time, money, and effort needed to establish, monitor, and enforce such a policy. The opportunity cost is the difference between the value of land in its “highest and best” private use and its value when employed in ways compatible with conservation. No policy can avoid the cost of foregone development. What may appear to be striking differences in the costs of alternative policies are actually differences in who bears the cost of conservation. While who deserves to pay will always be a subject of political debate, the cost itself cannot be avoided. Any policy that appears to provide for conservation without full compensation for the land’s lost use for other gainful purposes is one whose costs are hidden, or one that will not be effective. The fact that the opportunity cost of foregone development cannot be avoided does not mean that all conservation policies are equivalent, of course. From an implementation standpoint, and in terms of likely effectiveness, there are important differences. One way to organize an analysis of these differences is to focus on the institutions and actions necessary to implement the policies in the real world. Such an
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