Economic Analysis Shows Benefits Of Easements

Every $1 spent in Colorado protecting family farms and ranches by limiting development generates $6 in economic benefits for the state, according to a report released today by a group of conservation organizations.

The study was done by Jessica Sargent-Michaud, a staff economist with The Trust for Public Land (TPL), a national land conservation organization. She analyzed the return generated by Colorado’s investment in easements since 1995.

“For years, we have talked about the intangible benefits of easements, but until now we have never had an economic analysis which put a dollar value on the benefits of those easements,” said Tim Wohlgenant, TPL Colorado director.

Sargent-Michaud’s study, available here, showed “impressive results,” said John Swartout from the Colorado Coalition of Land Trusts. “From 1995 through 2008, Colorado invested $511 million in conservation easements, including $373 million through the state conservation easement tax credit program, and another $138 million through the lottery-funded Great Colorado Outdoors (GOCO) grants. That $511 million investment has a value of $595 million in today’s dollars, and TPL’s analysis shows it has returned $3.51 billion in benefits to the state. That means $6 in value returned for every dollar invested.”

The report analyzes a variety of ecosystem benefits such as water supply protection, waste treatment and flood control; farm and ranch production; and recreation, including hunting, fishing and hiking.

Economists have previously estimated the monetary value of the benefits supplied by various ecosystems, Ms. Sargent-Michaud noted. By categorizing easements by types of ecosystem they contain, it is possible to calculate the dollar value of the public benefits provided by those protected lands.

“In a period of economic challenges, no public expenditure goes without scrutiny,” said Andrew F. “Andy” Seidl, Associate Professor, Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics at Colorado State University. “The TPL study provides a welcome first estimate of the public value of state conservation easement programs. Many public benefits of programs that encourage the stewardship of Colorado’s unique natural heritage do not enter neatly into the marketplace; despite their perceived public value, they have a market price of zero. This study makes explicit what all Coloradoans know implicitly; what is good for Colorado’s native landscapes is good for Colorado.”

TPL is a national non-profit organization which conserves land for people to enjoy as parks, gardens and natural areas, ensuring livable communities for generations to come. Since its founding in 1972, TPL has helped protect more than 2.8 million acres across the nation. TPL depends on the support of individuals, foundations, and corporation to achieve its land for people mission.