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Success and design of local referenda for land conservation


  • H. Spencer Banzhaf

    (Associate Professor, Department of Economics, Andrew Young School of Policy Studies; Faculty Research Fellow, National Bureau of Economic Research, Cambridge, MA; and Senior Research Fellow, Property and Environment Research Center, Bozeman, MT)

  • Wallace E. Oates

    (Professor, Department of Economics, University of Maryland, and University Fellow, Resources for the Future, Washington, D.C.)

  • James N. Sanchirico

    (Professor, Department of Environmental Science and Policy, University of California at Davis, and Nonresident Fellow, Resources for the Future, Washington, D.C.)


From 1998 to 2006, over three-quarters of the more than 1,550 U.S. referenda targeting open space passed. We analyze the success of the conservation movement at holding referenda in areas with greater ecological value and greater likelihood of supporting conservation. To do so, we first analyze the patterns in where referenda are held and in which finance mechanisms they employ. Controlling for these two selection patterns, we then investigate the factors determining the success of the referenda. Our findings suggest that conservation groups are pursuing a successful strategy, targeting communities with above-average probabilities of passing referenda and higher ecological value. Nevertheless, our results suggest that overlooked opportunities exist in minority and middle-class neighborhoods, in suburban fringe areas, and in the Southeast. © 2010 by the Association for Public Policy Analysis and Management.

Suggested Citation

  • H. Spencer Banzhaf & Wallace E. Oates & James N. Sanchirico, 2010. "Success and design of local referenda for land conservation," Journal of Policy Analysis and Management, John Wiley & Sons, Ltd., vol. 29(4), pages 769-798.
  • Handle: RePEc:wly:jpamgt:v:29:y:2010:i:4:p:769-798 DOI: 10.1002/pam.20531

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    References listed on IDEAS

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    2. Jason Bell & Joel Huber & W. Kip Viscusi, 2009. "Voter-weighted environmental preferences," Journal of Policy Analysis and Management, John Wiley & Sons, Ltd., vol. 28(4), pages 655-671.
    3. Deacon, Robert T & Shapiro, Perry, 1975. "Private Preference for Collective Goods Revealed Through Voting on Referenda," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 65(5), pages 943-955, December.
    4. Vossler, Christian A. & Kerkvliet, Joe, 2003. "A criterion validity test of the contingent valuation method: comparing hypothetical and actual voting behavior for a public referendum," Journal of Environmental Economics and Management, Elsevier, vol. 45(3), pages 631-649, May.
    5. Nelson, Erik & Uwasu, Michinori & Polasky, Stephen, 2007. "Voting on open space: What explains the appearance and support of municipal-level open space conservation referenda in the United States?," Ecological Economics, Elsevier, vol. 62(3-4), pages 580-593, May.
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    Cited by:

    1. Edmund M. Balsdon, 2012. "Property Value Capitalization and Municipal Open Space Referenda," Land Economics, University of Wisconsin Press, vol. 88(2), pages 201-232.
    2. Walsh, Patrick J. & Bird, Stephen & Heintzelman, Martin D., 2015. "Understanding Local Regulation of Fracking: A Spatial Econometric Approach," Agricultural and Resource Economics Review, Cambridge University Press, vol. 44(02), pages 138-163, August.
    3. Kahn, Matthew E. & Walsh, Randall, 2015. "Cities and the Environment," Handbook of Regional and Urban Economics, Elsevier.
    4. Heintzelman, Martin D. & Walsh, Patrick J. & Grzeskowiak, Dustin J., 2013. "Explaining the appearance and success of open space referenda," Ecological Economics, Elsevier, vol. 95(C), pages 108-117.
    5. Boyd, James & Epanchin-Niell, Rebecca & Siikamaki, Juha, 2012. "Conservation Return on Investment Analysis: A Review of Results, Methods, and New Directions," Discussion Papers dp-12-01, Resources For the Future.
    6. Gabriel Ahlfeldt & Wolfgang Maennig & Malte Steenbeck, 2016. "Après Nous le Déluge? Direct Democracy and Intergenerational Conflicts in Ageing Societies," CESifo Working Paper Series 5779, CESifo Group Munich.

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