Graduation Year


Document Type




Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)

Degree Granting Department


Major Professor

Pratyusha Basu, Ph.D.

Co-Major Professor

M. Martin Bosman, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Kamal Alsharif, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Jayajit Chakraborty, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Ruiliang Pu, Ph.D.


Agricultural Preservation Restriction, conservation easement, Private land conservation


What motivates agricultural-land owners to use conservation easements? As these legal tools have become a popular strategy for private land conservation in the U.S., a growing body of literature is examining how and why landowners conserve their properties through conservation easements. This research project expands upon environmental, geographical and rural land development literature through a qualitative fieldwork study of 34 private, conservation landowners associated with the Franklin Land Trust, a nonprofit conservation organization in western Massachusetts. The study identifies a broad range of environmental, social, spiritual and financial motivations for agricultural-land owners to conserve their properties, and indicates that for the vast majority of study participants certain motivations were more important than others depending on landowners’ level of reliance on their land to sustain their livelihoods. Using this classification criterion, landowner profiles identified in this study include full-time farmers, supplemental-income farmers, and farmland retreat owners. For most of the landowners within the biggest group—the full-time farmers—the most important motivation to conserve was financial; particularly, to obtain a cash payment to improve the economic viability of their farming operation. Nonetheless, the financial motivation was not the only important one for the 34 landowners, nor was it always the most important.

This study makes two additional contributions to land conservation research. First, it examines agricultural-land conservation through phenomenological approaches to the study of place. In this regard, findings suggest landowners and land trust staff members have different relationships with the conserved land and its surroundings and, therefore, different senses of place. Second, the study frames agricultural-land conservation through conservation easements as a potential aspect of rural sustainability with respect to the economic, social, and environmental benefits of conservation, from the point of view of both agricultural-land owners and a land trust. The findings also indicate that the landowners of this study were generally very satisfied with the outcomes of using conservation easements despite drawbacks. Overall, this study contributes to land conservation studies through an analysis of individual motivations and experiences that shape the decisions of agricultural-land owners to grant conservation easements.