Perpetual conservation easements have become one the primary tools used for long-term land protection and are credited with helping protect endangered species, preventing habitat fragmentation, maintaining ecosystem functions and conserving working rural landscapes. However, there has been scant research evaluating their sociological, ecological, or economic effectiveness. My research seeks to address this knowledge gap by focusing on the sociological consequences of conservation easement conveyance. Specifically, I used a mail survey, targeting landowners (n=518) throughout Texas owning property with conservation easements to evaluate: 1) landowners' private property rights orientations, 2) knowledge and understanding of their easement restrictions, 3) their overall satisfaction with their easement and the relationship with their easement holder, and 4) which types of natural resource management activities they conduct on their land. In addition, attitudes concerning private property rights and responsibilities were compared with data from a previous study (2002) of rural Texas landowners. The mail survey was followed with telephone interviews (n=34) to further examine issues identified during the mail survey data analysis and contributing to landowner dissatisfaction with their conservation easement.
Examination of easement landowners' private property rights orientations revealed that while they express strong attitudes concerning private property rights, these attitudes were not as strong as those identified in a previous study of other rural Texas landowners. Analysis of easement landowners' self-assessed knowledge concerning restrictions prescribed in their conservation easement failed to find any variables that significantly influenced their knowledge and understanding of their conservation easement. Overall, landowners were satisfied both with their conservation easement and with the relationship with their easement holder with two exceptions. Both successive generation landowners who did not grant the original easement and landowners with conservation easements held by a federal agency were significantly less satisfied with their conservation easements and with their easement holding organization. Finally, natural resource management on conservation easement protected properties was influenced by land ownership motivations and by the easement holders' programmatic goals. The results of this study highlight the need for strengthening relationships between landowners and easement holders, incorporating more adaptive management flexibility into easement restrictions and developing strategies that provide additional incentives to successive generation conservation easement landowners.
- Gan, Jianbang Professor