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The Conservation Contributions of Conservation Easements: Analysis of the San Francisco Bay Area Protected Lands Spatial Database

Adena R Rissman, University of California at Berkeley
Adina M Merenlender, University of California at Berkeley

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Abstract

Conservation easements have emerged as an important tool for land trusts and government agencies aiming to conserve private land in the United States. Despite the increase in public investment in conservation easement acquisitions, little is known about their conservation outcomes, particularly at a landscape scale. The nine-county San Francisco Bay Area exemplifies a complex conservation context: 190 organizations hold 24% of the land base in some type of protection status. Using a detailed protected lands database, we compared the contributions of conservation easements and fee-simple protected areas to ecological, agricultural, and public recreation benefits. We found that conservation easements were more likely to conserve grasslands, oak woodlands, and agricultural land, whereas fee-simple properties were more likely to conserve chaparral and scrub, redwoods, and urban areas. Conservation easements contributed to open space connectivity but were unlikely to be integrated into local land-use plans or provide public recreation. In particular, properties held by land trusts were less likely to allow for public recreation than were public lands. Conservation easements held by land trusts and special districts complemented fee-simple lands and provided greater conservation of some ecological communities and agricultural lands than fee-simple properties. Spatial databases of protected areas that include conservation easements are necessary for conservation planning and assessment.

Key words

conservation easements; land trusts; private land conservation; protected areas; protected area databases; open space; institutions; San Francisco Bay Area; working landscapes; recreation
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Ecology and Society. ISSN: 1708-3087