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UW Report: Conservation Easements Yield Broad Economic Benefits

August 14, 2018
photo of open land with river running through
Conservation easements provide broad public benefits for Wyoming communities, according to a new report from the Wyoming Open Space Initiative at UW. (Shutterstock Photo)

New research from the Wyoming Open Spaces Initiative at the University of Wyoming shows that public investment in private lands conservation yields broad economic benefits for Wyoming communities.

The report, “Wyoming Conservation Easements: Lands, Services, and Economic Benefits,” finds that the values derived from conservation easements on private lands flow across property boundaries to generate a host of public benefits. Easements also offer greater protection of wildlife habitat, fisheries and water quality than would be expected by land cover alone.

Conservation easements are widely recognized for protecting the open spaces provided by working farms and ranches throughout the West, but they can require substantial public investment. To determine how public investment in conservation easements contributes to conservation statewide, researchers from the Wyoming Stock Growers Land Trust, The Nature Conservancy in Wyoming, and the Department of Agricultural and Applied Economics and Ruckelshaus Institute of Environment and Natural Resources at UW collaborated on the project.

The team first mapped conservation easements in Wyoming and the types of lands and services they protect, including open spaces that support wildlife populations, recreational fishing, drinking water sources and other economically important services in Wyoming.

They found that, although easements comprise just a small fraction of the state’s total land base, they contribute significantly to conservation in Wyoming while also yielding broader economic benefits for the public. For example:

-- Despite occupying just 1 percent of the state’s total land area, conservation easements protect 11 percent of the state’s blue-ribbon trout fisheries, as well as several sensitive drinking water sources. Anglers spend an average of $126 per day on trip-related expenses.

-- Conservation easements also overlap with large areas of vital wildlife habitat, such as big-game crucial winter range and migration corridors, and help preserve economically important species such as moose, elk and mule deer. Hunters spend an average of $92 per day on their trip-related expenses.

“Conservation easements provide connectivity between private and public lands to create large expanses of undeveloped open space that support Wyoming’s tourism economy,” says Agricultural and Applied Economics Department Head Ben Rashford, one of the report’s authors. “Tourism is an integral part of our state’s economy, drawing millions of visitors each year who spend billions of dollars in local Wyoming communities. Our analysis shows that, in addition to keeping ranchers ranching and farmers farming, conservation easements support a range of natural resources that contribute to Wyoming’s growing recreation and tourism industries, and add to the economic diversity of the state.”

Even in a state with abundant public land resources, conservation easements contribute substantially to conservation by protecting cultural and environmental resources that are somewhat different from and complementary to public lands.

The Wyoming Open Spaces Initiative is a collaborative effort of the Ruckelshaus Institute of Environment and Natural Resources, the Wyoming Geographic Information Science Center, the UW Department of Agricultural and Applied Economics, the UW Department of Geography, UW Extension and the Wyoming Natural Diversity Database.

The initiative supports Wyoming citizens’ conservation of open spaces through research, information, education and decision-making assistance. The research group considers agricultural sustainability, community planning and development, wildlife and other related cultural, economic and environmental issues of importance in Wyoming.

View a video about the report and download the publication at To request a hard copy, email or call (307) 766-5146.

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