Identifying the impacts of critical habitat designation on land cover change

Erik J. Nelson, John C. Withey, Derric Pennington, Joshua J. Lawler

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

9 Scopus citations


The US Endangered Species Act (ESA) regulates what landowners, land managers, and industry can do on lands occupied by listed species. The ESA does this in part by requiring the designation of habitat within each listed species’ range considered critical to their recovery. Critics have argued that critical habitat (CH) designation creates significant economic costs while contributing little to species recovery. Here we examine the effects of CH designation on land cover change. We find that the rate of change from 1992 to 2011 in developed (urban and residential) and agricultural land in CH areas was not significantly different compared to similar lands without CH designation, but still subject to ESA regulations. Although CH designation on average does not affect overall rates of land cover change, CH designation did slightly modify the impact of land cover change drivers. Generally, variation in land prices played a larger role in land cover decisions within CH areas than in similar areas without CH designation. These trends suggest that developers may require a greater than typical expected return to development in CH areas to compensate for the higher risk of regulatory scrutiny. Ultimately, our results bring into question the very rationale for the CH regulation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)89-125
Number of pages37
JournalResource and Energy Economics
StatePublished - Feb 1 2017

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2016 Elsevier B.V.


  • Critical habitat
  • Endangered Species Act
  • Land cover change
  • Matching analysis
  • Opportunity cost


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