High-resolution land value maps reveal underestimation of conservation costs in the United States

Christoph Nolte
2020 Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America  
The justification and targeting of conservation policy rests on reliable measures of public and private benefits from competing land uses. Advances in Earth system observation and modeling permit the mapping of public ecosystem services at unprecedented scales and resolutions, prompting new proposals for land protection policies and priorities. Data on private benefits from land use are not available at similar scales and resolutions, resulting in a data mismatch with unknown consequences. Here
more » ... I show that private benefits from land can be quantified at large scales and high resolutions, and that doing so can have important implications for conservation policy models. I developed high-resolution estimates of fair market value of private lands in the contiguous United States by training tree-based ensemble models on 6 million land sales. The resulting estimates predict conservation cost with up to 8.5 times greater accuracy than earlier proxies. Studies using coarser cost proxies underestimate conservation costs, especially at the expensive tail of the distribution. This has led to underestimations of policy budgets by factors of up to 37.5 in recent work. More accurate cost accounting will help policy makers acknowledge the full magnitude of contemporary conservation challenges and can help improve the targeting of public ecosystem service investments.
doi:10.1073/pnas.2012865117 pmid:33168741 fatcat:kqahenm33rc77lvebr4j23fa4q