Economic Benefits of Conserving Land: Mount Agamenticus Area by Defenders of Wildlife

The Mt. Agamenticus area is a 60 square-mile area in southern coastal Maine that has been identified as a conservation focus area in the state’s Comprehensive Wildlife Conservation Strategy. The region is also the subject of one of five case studies analyzed by Defenders of Wildlife’s Conservation Economics program, which sought to develop estimates of the economic value of natural systems that support multiple human uses and activities.

Defenders’ analysis develops non-comprehensive quantitative estimates of the economic value associated with recreation and timber harvests in the Mt. Agamenticus area. It also estimates the value of carbon sequestration and water provisioning services provided by the ecosystems in the area, and the value of the open space premiums that accrue to residential properties located in the vicinity of undeveloped open spaces. Due to a lack of the required data, the researchers were unable to quantify the value of other uses supported by the Mt. Agamenticus area, such as small-scale agricultural production, research and education and ecosystem services other than carbon sequestration and water supply. In addition, our value estimates generally are rather conservative because available data on some uses are very incomplete. 

Despite these limitations in our study, our results show that the Mt. Agamenticus area generates substantial economic value. The total estimated annual value of the land uses included in our analysis ranged from $5.3 million to $6.4 million.

Water provision by the ecosystems in the area generates the single largest value, followed by open space residential property value premiums. Carbon sequestration generates substantial economic value as well, although the current uncertainties surrounding access and credit prices on emerging carbon markets make this estimate somewhat less reliable than those for the other uses of the study area.    

The area provides a number of additional uses, such as mostly small-scale agricultural production, support for educational and research activities and habitat provision for rare species. The researchers did not quantify the value of these uses in our analysis for lack of the required data. In addition, our value estimates generally are rather conservative because available data on some uses are very incomplete. 

Land use planning and conservation policy making should consider the economic value generated by the conservation of undeveloped lands and the increasing relative scarcity and rising value of the goods and services provided by those lands in order to achieve economically sensible results. With a large share of both ecologically and economically valuable undeveloped lands in private ownership, not just in the Mt. Agamenticus study area but also at state and national levels, existing financial incentive systems that encourage land conservation on private lands will need to be improved and in many cases additional ones will need to be created in order to better align privately and socially desirable outcomes. This is a challenging task whose urgency is increasing in lockstep with the continuing loss and degradation of natural lands.

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