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Harvard Forest Symposium Abstract 2019

  • Title: Assessing the Local Economic Impacts of Land Protection
  • Primary Author: Jonathan Thompson (Harvard Forest)
  • Abstract:

    Land protection, whether public or private, is often controversial at the local level because residents worry about lost economic activity. We investigated this concern using panel data and a quasi-experimental impact evaluation approach to understand how key economic indicators were related to the percent of land protected. Specifically, we estimated the impacts of public and private land protection using data from five periods spanning 1990-2015 for all major towns and cities in New England. To generate rigorous impact estimates, we modeled economic outcomes as a function of the percent of land protected in the prior period, conditional on town fixed-effects, metro-region trends, and controls for time period and neighboring protection. Contrary to narratives that conservation depresses economic growth, we found that land protection modestly increased the number of people employed and in the labor force, and did not affect new housing permits, population or median income. Public and private protection led to complementary employment opportunities close to and far from cities, suggesting the importance of investing in both types of land protection to increase local opportunities. We found the greatest magnitude of employment impacts due to protection in more rural areas, which may be best positioned to benefit from both visitation and amenity-related economic growth. Overall, our research provides novel evidence that additional land protection can be compatible with local economic growth and illustrates a method that can be broadly applied to assess the net economic impacts of protection.

  • Research Category: Conservation and Management