Public access to spatial data on private-land conservation

Adena R. Rissman, Jessica Owley, Andrew W. L'roe, Amy Wilson Morris, Chloe B. Wardropper

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Information is critical for environmental governance. The rise of digital mapping has the potential to advance privateland conservation by assisting with conservation planning, monitoring, evaluation, and accountability. However, privacy concerns from private landowners and the capacity of conservation entities can influence efforts to track spatial data. We examine public access to geospatial data on conserved private lands and the reasons data are available or unavailable. We conduct a qualitative comparative case study based on analysis of maps, documents, and interviews. We compare four conservation programs involving different conservation tools: conservation easements (the growing but incomplete National Conservation Easement Database), regulatory mitigation (gaps in tracking U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s endangered species habitat mitigation), contract payments (lack of spatial data on U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Conservation Reserve Program due to Farm Bill restrictions), and property-tax incentives (online mapping of Wisconsin’s managed forest tax program). These cases illuminate the capacity and privacy reasons for current incomplete or inaccessible spatial data and the politics of mapping private land. If geospatial data are to contribute fully to planning, evaluation, and accountability, we recommend improving information system capacity, enhancing learning networks, and reducing legal and administrative barriers to information access, while balancing the right to information and the right to privacy.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number24
JournalEcology and Society
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jun 2017
Externally publishedYes


  • Conservation easements
  • Cost share
  • Environmental governance
  • Geographic information systems
  • Land trusts
  • Privacy
  • Privateland conservation
  • Tax incentive
  • Transparency

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology


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