The Economic Return of Conservation Easements

Colorado State University (CSU) has come out with a new study that focuses on the economic return of conservation easements funded by the Easement Tax Credit Program and Great Outdoors Colorado (both state-based conservation easement incentive programs).

The study concluded that for every dollar invested in conservation easements, there was a $4-$12 return to the public through conservation of fish and wildlife habitat, clean water, working landscapes, eco-tourism, outdoor recreation and education, and scenic vistas.

Conservation on Cross Mountain Ranch
Cross Mountain Ranch Has a 16,000 Acre Conservation Easement with Colorado Cattlemen’s Agricultural Land Trust

Since 1995, more than 2.1 million acres have been protected by easements funded by these two programs. This includes: 1.5 million acres of wildlife habitat, 300,000 acres of agricultural land, and 270,000 acres of elk severe winter range. The state has invested $280 million in GOCO funding and $772 million in tax credits into conservation easements across the state since the beginning of the program, with a return of $5.5 -$13.7 billion in economic benefits like wildlife habitat restoration, water filtration programs, and soil retention.

Conservation on Singing Elk Ranch
Singing Elk Ranch is Subject to a Conservation Easement Held by Yampa Valley Land Trust

The new study conducted by CSU used data from Colorado Ownership, Management and Protection (CoMap) which outlines all of Colorado’s public lands in one database. Students looked at 2.1 million acres with conservation easement across 11 different ecosystems across the state and derived a “real Return on Investment, net present value, and benefit cost ratios” (Investing in Colorado).

The results concluded that there was a return of “$4 – $12 of public benefits provided by conserved land for each $1 invested by the State and a benefit per acre of about $2,700-$6,500 again an investment of about $500 in real 2017 dollars” (Investing in Colorado).

Overall, easements present an added stimulus to the state’s economy and an comprehensive benefit to the public. Easement are binding and preserve Colorado’s landscapes in perpetuity. As a result, the economic benefit to our public outdoor spaces, fish and wildlife habitats, working landscapes, and overall cultural heritage of the West will only increase with future generations.

Check out the full study here.


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