Trust for Public Land study reveals $3.51 billion of economic benefit from conservation easements

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From the Denver Business Journal (Cathy Proctor):

The study [A Return On Investment: Colorado’s Conservation Easement Tax Credit (pdf)] was done by Jessica Sargent-Michaud, a staff economist for the land conservation organization. It looked at the investments and returns in Colorado’s conservation easements since 1995. Over that time, the state invested an estimated $511 million in conservation easements, including $373 million through tax credits and another $138 million through the lottery-funded Great Colorado Outdoors (GOCO) grants. That’s equal to $595 million in today’s dollars, the study said…

The study separated the easement land by type of ecosystem and looked at the value such ecosystems offer on a per-acre basis. It concluded that Colorado’s land in easements gave $3.51 billion in economic benefits to the state through water-supply protection, waste treatment and flood control; farm and ranch production; and recreation, including hunting, fishing and hiking…

In 2009, conservation easements claimed between $50 million and $55 million in tax credits, said Greg Yankee, the policy director at the Colorado Coalition of Land Trusts.

More coverage from the Associated Press (Judith Kohler) via Business Week. From the article:

Jessica Sargent-Michaud, an economist with the national Trust for Public Land, said she used geographic data to group Colorado’s conservation easements into 16 distinct ecosystems. She then assigned the land a per-acre dollar value based on figures used in about 10 published studies and consultations with state agriculture extension agents. Examples include the premiums people pay to live next to open space, costs of cleaning up polluted water or money spent on recreation and tourism. John Swartout, executive director of the Colorado Coalition of Land Trusts, said leaders in the Glenwood Springs area have determined that protecting open space along the Colorado River for trails leading into the city has been an economic boon for tourism. “Wildlife watching is a huge industry now,” he added…

The land trust’s report is a welcome first attempt to estimate the worth of conserving Colorado’s natural heritage, something that doesn’t fit neatly in the marketplace, said Andrew Seidl, associate professor at Colorado State University’s Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics. “This study makes explicit what all Coloradans know implicitly — what is good for Colorado’s native landscapes is good for Colorado,” Seidl said.

More coverage from The Denver Post (Kate Drazner). From the article:

…every landowner I visited told me that, if it weren’t for the tax credits, they could not have afforded to keep their land. These landowners had agreed to preserve their land for eternity for a small fraction of what they could have been paid for developing it. In some cases, the money from the tax credits mostly just helped them pay off the estate taxes they owed when they inherited the land. The simplest reason to keep the conservation easement tax credit program alive is that private landowners are the best stewards of the land. They will give up the chance to receive millions of dollars to sell off their property in exchange for a few hundred thousand dollars and the promise that their land will be forever protected.

But I soon realized that the conservation easements benefit everyone, even city girls like me. Colorado farms and ranches help preserve the landscapes that make Colorado distinct, as visitors travel around the state. And they provide the locally grown produce and meat that sustains us. Perhaps most important, these farmers and ranchers, through their financial hardships and back-breaking labor, preserve the independent and hardy lifestyle that serves as Colorado’s cultural heritage.

More conservation easement coverage here and here.

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