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Conserving working landscapes and open space: a socio-spatial analysis of private parcels suitable for conservation easements in Calaveras County, California
Privately held resource lands provide ecosystem services including water quality and wildlife habitat across the United States. These lands hold significant conservation values, but their contiguity is threatened by the pressure of subdivision from residential and commercial development. Conservation easements are one land conservation tool available to landowners to keep their holdings intact. This thesis explored existing and potential use of conservation easements for the case of Calaveras County, California. The research questions addressed were: Why did landowners in Calaveras County, California enter into conservation easement contracts and where were suitable parcels (Conservation Priority Areas) for conservation easements? Methods included qualitative, open-ended interviews with landowners who have recorded conservation easements and a GIS socio-spatial analysis that used interview results and the literature to develop a framework for identifying Conservation Priority Areas that would be suitable for conservation easements. Conservation Priority Areas based on their zoning classification, relationship to roads, development, rivers, lakes, existing easements and public lands were mapped. Results from interviews revealed that the decision to enter easement contracts is primarily based on landowners place attachment, whether their family homesteaded the property and lived there for generations, and their desire to prevent the property from being developed. Results of the GIS analysis revealed that Conservation Priority Areas are 31.05% of the county’s land. The results also showed that a majority of the Conservation Priority Areas have a high risk of being developed based on their proximity to roads, commercial and residential development.