September 01, 2015

What Price Conservation? A New Model for Acquiring Conservation Easements

Kris William Larson and Susan D. Steinwall

The Avon Hills, an area of glacial hills and hardwood forests, is only a short two-hour drive from the Twin Cities, Minnesota, metropolitan area. Despite its proximity to urban sprawl, both from Minneapolis/Saint Paul to the south and mid-sized cities to the north, about 70 percent of the Avon Hills remains undeveloped and contains about 11,000 acres of Sites of Biological Significance, as determined by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. Saint John’s Abbey and University in Collegeville, Minnesota, can also be found in the heart of the Avon Hills, accounting for 2,500 acres of its lakes and forest. To protect this unique biodiversity and the university’s rural setting, the university and its chief forester pondered how best to preserve the Avon Hills, knowing that private parties own about 90 percent of the area and that 125,000 people live within ten miles of the area. Development seemed inevitable.

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