Protected area acquisition costs show economies of scale with area

Taeyoung Kim, Seong Hoon Cho, Eric R. Larson, Paul R. Armsworth

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Protected areas are a center-piece of strategies for conserving biodiversity and providing ecosystem service benefits to enhance human well-being. One of the most striking characteristics of protected areas is how much they vary in size. We examine the consequences of this size variation for the cost of acquiring protected areas. We use recent land acquisitions (2000-2009) in central and southern Appalachian forest ecosystems of the United States. Acquisition costs for these protected areas show pronounced economies of scale; specifically ten times the area can be purchased for seven times the cost of a smaller site. We examine how these economies of scale differ by contract type and motivations. For example, we find that easements do not show economies of scale despite costing less than fee simple acquisitions overall. Also, we find that economies of scale are stronger for protected areas that were specifically created to protect occurrences of rare or imperiled species but where development pressure was not identified as an explicit threat to the site. Conservation organizations may better account for acquisition costs in protected area creation by recognizing such economies of scale and their context dependency with respect to land acquisition contract type and conservation motivations.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)122-132
Number of pages11
JournalEcological Economics
StatePublished - Nov 2014
Externally publishedYes


  • Acquisition costs
  • Conservation planning
  • Cost effectiveness
  • Economies of scale
  • Nature reserve
  • Protected area size
  • Single large or several small

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Environmental Science(all)
  • Economics and Econometrics


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