As part of a multi-pronged strategy to improve ecological integrity on 300 million
high priority acres in the West by 2035, the Hewlett Foundation seeks to target and
increase public funding for private land conservation. The Hewlett Foundation has
funded the Trust for Public Land and The Nature Conservancy for several years to raise
public funding for conservation through ballot and legislative initiatives. This study
examines the extent to which private lands protected through public funding have improved
ecological integrity in the West. It also considers which combinations of funding
mechanisms and government levels have yielded the highest returns for ecological integrity,
in terms of acres protected. The purpose of this evaluation is to provide a
set of lessons learned about past conservation finance activities to inform the Hewlett
Foundation’s new five-year strategic plan for its Western Conservation Program in
Methodology and Principal Findings
Private lands protected using public funding were examined using GIS and the Conservation
Almanac dataset to determine the degree to which protected lands overlap with the
Hewlett Foundation’s internal priority areas. The results of ballot measures were
also analyzed using the LandVote Database for the 12 Western states to examine how
public conservation funding has changed by year and across states during 1988-2012.
This study found that 2,521,311 acres of land were protected for ecological integrity
in the West during 1998-2011. Of all funding mechanisms and jurisdiction combinations,
federal appropriations protected the highest number of aggregate acres for ecological
integrity. Among lands located in overlapping priority areas, appropriations and
donations contributed the highest acreage for protecting ecologically important lands,
whereas lottery funding tended to be used for protecting land of lower ecological
value. Bonds at the state level have generated roughly 40 percent of all new conservation
funding in the West since 1988.
1. Prioritize the re-authorization of funding with a near-term expiration date to
maximize the generation of public funding for private land conservation.
2. Continue to use feasibility studies to ascertain the optimal funding mechanism
type for ballot initiatives, with knowledge that bonds have been the most successful
mechanism to date.
3. Collaborate with The Nature Conservancy’s Conservation Lands Program to jointly
identify mutual targets for ecosystem-level conservation in the West.
4. Continue to fund data collection and standardization initiatives, such as the LandVote
and Conservation Almanac databases maintained by the Trust for Public Land.
5. Use a model on a finer scale than the current Focal Areas layer to assess ecological
and political threats to lands in the West.
6. Expand the messaging platform of conservation finance to target forest restoration
as a means of preventing catastrophic wildfire and protecting public drinking water