Cooperative Conservation:

Determinants of Landowner Engagement in Saving Endangered Species

November 29, 2018

Project Summary

Since it was passed in 1973, the Endangered Species Act (ESA) has enabled federal agencies to protect species listed as endangered or threatened by enforcing strict prohibitions against any harm to the species. Although the condition of many listed species has stabilized or improved, very few have recovered fully, signaling the need for a more effective approach to conserving species.

Because most endangered species rely on private land for their habitat, the cooperation of private landowners is crucial to the successful recovery of endangered species. The current approach of the ESA, however, often fails to effectively engage landowners in conservation. Under the current regulatory approach, private landowners who discover endangered species on their land face restrictions that limit their ability to manage their own property. The authors discuss how this punitive approach creates financial risk for landowners and leads to unintended outcomes that can harm the very species the ESA is meant to protect.

This policy paper analyzes surveys of private landowners to better understand factors that deter them from engaging in conservation efforts and to identify policy changes that could increase engagement. Key questions explored in this research include:

  • Are landowners supportive of species preservation?
  • How do landowners respond when a species is listed?
  • What factors deter landowners from participating in species conservation?
  • Which incentive programs are most inviting to landowners?
  • Which conservation groups are landowners most willing to partner with?

The authors find that landowners want to be involved in conservation and to be known as good stewards of their land. The current approach to conserving endangered species, however, often discourages landowners from getting involved in conservation. The results also suggest that landowners are more motivated to help endangered species when conservation efforts are less punitive, more cooperative, and led by non-regulatory local agencies.

Project Authors

Megan E. Hansen

Rebekah Yeagley

CGO Undergraduate Research Fellow

Sarah Bennett

CGO Undergraduate Research Fellow

Jennifer Morales

CGO Research Summer Intern

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