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Assessing the local economic impacts of land protection

Assessing the local economic impacts of land protection

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Peer-reviewed Article

Land protection, whether public or private, is often controversial at the local level because residents worry about lost economic activity. This peer-reviewed article estimates the impacts of public and private land protection based on local area employment and housing permits data from 5 periods spanning 1990-2015 for all major towns and cities in New England. Contrary to narratives that conservation depresses economic growth, land protection was associated with a modest increase in 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 different patterns of positive employment impacts at distances close to and far from cities, indicating the importance of investing in both types of land protection to increase local opportunities. The greatest magnitude of employment impacts were due to protection in more rural areas, where opportunities for both visitation and amenity-related economic growth may be greatest. 

Land protection, whether public or private, is often controversial at the local level because residents worry about lost economic activity. We used panel data and a quasiexperimental impact-evaluation approach to determine how key economic indicators were related to the percentage of land protected. Specifically, we estimated the impacts of public and private land protection based on local area employment and housing permits data from 5 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 percentage of land protected in the prior period, conditional on town fixed effects, metro-region trends, and controls for period and neighboring protection. Contrary to narratives that conservation depresses economic growth, land protection was associated with a modest increase in 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 different patterns of positive employment impacts at distances close to and far from cities, indicating the importance of investing in both types of land protection to increase local opportunities. The greatest magnitude of employment impacts were due to protection in more rural areas, where opportunities for both visitation and amenity-related economic growth may be greatest. Overall, we provide novel evidence that land protection can be compatible with local economic growth and illustrate a method that can be broadly applied to assess the net economic impacts of protection.
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