Who Benefits Most from Land Conservation Efforts?

A new study estimates that recent land conservation generated $9.8 billion in wealth nationally through the housing market and that wealthier and White households benefited disproportionately.

2 minute read

June 6, 2023, 8:00 AM PDT

By clementkhlau

A growing number of leaders at all levels of government in the U.S. and abroad have made commitments to achieve “30×30,” the goal of conserving 30 percent of lands and coastal waters by the year 2030 to fight climate change, advance conservation, and protect biodiversity. While there has been much emphasis on determining which lands should be conserved, there has been little discussion or analysis about who benefits most from the protection of additional natural lands. Land conservation efforts across America sustain ecological and other benefits while generating wealth in the housing market through the capitalization of amenities. In this paper, researchers Corey Lang, Jarron VanCeylon, and Amy W. Ando estimate the benefits of conservation that are capitalized into proximate home values and quantifies how those benefits are distributed across demographic groups.

Using detailed property and household-level data from Massachusetts, this study estimates that new land conservation led to $62 million in new housing wealth equity.  However, homes owned by low-income or Black or Hispanic households are less likely to be located near protected natural areas, and therefore, these populations are less likely to benefit financially.  Direct study of the distribution of this new wealth from capitalized conservation is highly unequal, with the richest quartile of households receiving 43 percent, White households receiving 91 percent, and the richest White households receiving 40 percent, which is almost 140 percent more than would be expected under equal distribution. The authors extend their analysis using census data for the entire U.S. and observe parallel patterns.  They estimate that recent land conservation generated $9.8 billion in wealth through the housing market and that wealthier and White households benefited disproportionately. These findings suggest regressive and racially disparate incidence of the wealth benefits of land conservation policy.

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