The Trust for Public Lands tracks ballot measures financing land protection and publishes the data through its LandVote database. A new study examines factors influencing the likelihood of these conservation referendums. (Image: TPL)

A year ago we shared an update on local and state conservation ballot measures results from the 2018 elections when over $3.2 billion in funding was approved by voters around the nation. Now comes a new study exploring factors that influence the likelihood of these conservation referendums in cities. 

The study, “Ballot Measures for Open Space Conservation: Economic and Institutional Processes in Cities” published in Urban Affairs Review, examines fifteen years of ballot measure data from the Trust for Public Lands’s LandVote database. 

Author Agustín León-Moreta notes that government referendums are being used by cities across the nation to seek voter approval of conservation funding. He notes: “Cities are confronting the challenge of delivering public goods to growing populations while containing their footprint on ecological resources. Through conservation, cities foster livability, public health, and a self-contained footprint of urbanization. Open space is crucial for quality of life, yet deep differences are prevalent in the use of conservation referendums across cities.” León-Moreta attempts to answer the question “what explains differences in the use of conservation referendums among cities?” 

Based on detailed analysis and modeling using data associated with 6,517 US cities, the study reports the following main findings: 

  • As educational attainment in a city increases, the likelihood of referendums increases. The demand for public goods generally rises as the socioeconomic level of cities increases, as residents have more time and resources for recreation. Higher education has been found to stimulate higher citizen engagement and participation, a contributor to the likelihood of referendums. 
  • As economic development within cities increases, the likelihood of referendums also increases. Demand for conservation rises as the economies of cities grow. Further, the resources for implementing conservation plans is enabled by economic development. As manufacturing activity increases, the likelihood of referendums decreases. Cities depending on manufacturing may perceive conservation as a conflicting land use and a threat to their economic base. 
  • As utilization of conservation easements increases, the likelihood of referendums
  • decreases. Conservation easements “broaden the choice of market instruments for supply of ecological goods in cities,” lessening demand for conservation referendums. In some of the models employed the author also found significant correlations between certain types of land cover and the likelihood of referendums. For example, the presence of parks and of wetland habitats both seem to increase the occurrence of referendums. 

The author suggests these findings mean it would be wise to evaluate the economic and institutional contexts of cities when considering conservation strategies and referendums. It would be interesting to also explore whether these findings apply outside the context of metropolitan areas. 

Send an email if you would like a copy of the study. Understanding the intricacies of conservation financing is vital to protecting land and to sustaining existing–and pursuing new– sources of funding. For that reason, sharing conservation finance information is a priority for the Chesapeake Conservation Partnership. Our recent publication of Marking Milestones presents trends in state and federal land protection funding. The Partnership’s 2019 Annual Meeting explored financing linked to carbon sequestration. And in December we are co sponsoring an intensive conservation finance workshop.

Lightning Update is a regular communication of the Chesapeake Conservation Partnership. Any opinions expressed are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect positions of the Partnership or member organizations.
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