• Working Paper

What Drives Voluntary Preservation? Significant Natural Heritage Areas in North Carolina


Mansfield, C., Pattanayak, S. K., & McDow, W. (2000). What Drives Voluntary Preservation? Significant Natural Heritage Areas in North Carolina.


Rapid conversion of natural ecosystems and consequent biodiversity loss are potentially fraying the very fabric of life. Will individuals, corporations, and quasi-public institutions voluntarily preserve ecologically significant land? The ascendancy of voluntary programs in the policy arsenal of U.S. federal agencies might suggest an answer in the affirmative. Moreover, at least in the U.S. the strength of the current economy, against a backdrop of shrinking government, can create expectations of voluntary preservation of significant natural habitat to stem the tide of biodiversity loss. A reasoned answer, however, would depend on our understanding of what drives preservation by individuals and institutions. Unfortunately, the economic logic behind voluntary corporate environmentalism is still immature, and the scant empirical literature focuses on emissions into the air and water and not on ecological amenities such as ecosystems, species, and habitats. This paper investigates the determinants of voluntary ecological preservation using a unique data set from North Carolina, the state with the second highest rate of land use change in the U.S. between the early 1980s and early 1990s. Using the literature on joint production of forest outputs, land use change, and voluntary environmentalism as a point of departure, we tell a supply side story to conceptualize the problem of ecological preservation. Our empirical models show that a variety of forces influence the decision to enter into management agreements for the protection of ecologically significant natural sites. The ecological rareness of the site positively influences the likelihood of preservation across all models. Distance to highways and cities and the size of the preserved area also influence the preservation choice. Our proxies for socio-economic drivers signal the mixed influence of the opportunity costs and ecological benefits of preservation. We find some evidence of political activity influencing conservation choices. Furthermore, our results demonstrate differences between classes of landowners that influence the probability of protection. We conclude with some methodological and policy lessons.