Date of Award

8-2011

Level of Access

Campus-Only Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Science (MS)

Department

Resource Economics and Policy

Advisor

Kathleen P. Bell

Second Committee Member

Mark Anderson

Third Committee Member

Robert Lilieholm

Abstract

This thesis investigates how economic theory applies to decision-making about land use change and land conservation. The first chapter responds to literature that identifies information gaps related to land use management decisions. This research integrates an economic model of residential development with the output of a stakeholder-driven process to identify conservation objectives. It connects insights from an academic literature focused on improving the modeling of land use change with the efforts of the Trust for Public Land (TPL), a non-government organization focused on gauging community assessments of priority conservation areas. We use empirical modeling to improve understanding of the interactions between residential development and land conservation. We combine discrete regression modeling, simulation, and outputs from TPL's Penobscot Valley Community Greenprint to produce a risk assessment tool. We examine what factors are driving residential growth in a selection of Penobscot Valley municipalities (Bangor, Hampden, and Hermon, Maine) using an empirical model of residential development. We then employ the results of our model in a simulation framework to make predictions about the future landscape. We find variables related to the net expected returns from development are important in determining residential conversion. Our results suggest that TPL priority lands are at risk from housing growth in the future and that the extent of this risk varies with the assumed policies. We conclude that we can improve the planning process by including discussions related to potential development threats to conservation. The second chapter looks at the response of public and private agents engaging in land conservation. We focus on conservation provided by land trusts and contribute to the emerging literature on land trusts by assessing patterns in local private conservation. We employ applied economics and qualitative research techniques to explain the spatial variation in acreage conserved by land trusts across Maine communities. Our results confirm our expectations about the role scarcity in explaining the variation in land trust acreage across Maine communities. This work improves the understanding about conservation land in Maine by describing the spatial distribution and investigating relationships between local land trust acreage, factors related to the community, resource, institutional characteristics, and conservation acreage by other groups. The two papers together shed additional light on land use policy in Maine. Both papers use economic theory and empirical approaches to inform land management issues. Land conservation is of concern to economists because it is underprovided in the market relative to the social optimum. However, if government and nonprofit organizations will provide conservation, looking at these lands through an economic lens can help improve the efficiency of decision-making about them. Local governments, land conservationists, and regional planners must consider the benefits and costs of conservation, as well as the likelihood of development.

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