Categorized | Paying for Conservation

Something exciting is happening in the Dominican Republic (and it is not the latest Merengue)

It is conserving private lands for biodiversity!

Photo of Judy Boshoven at the workshop in the DR

Judy Boshoven, Manager, Living Lands Program with Mr. Jaime David Fernández Mirabal, Minister of the Environment of the Dominican Republic and Ginny Heinsen of Centro para el Desarrollo Agropecuario y Forestal, Inc at the workshop to discuss private lands conservation in the Dominican Republic.

The Minister of the Environment of the Dominican Republic is keen on the idea – so much so that he invited representatives from organizations involved in private lands conservation in their respective countries, including the Living Lands Program of Defenders, to present at a workshop  to conservation groups, environmental agencies, landowners, journalists and business people in Santo Domingo recently.  All involved in planning the event are hopeful that it is the start of something good.

Conservation of biodiversity on private property has taken off in the US over the past 25 or so years, but in Latin America the concept is relatively new.  However, country by country, governments and non-profit conservation organizations throughout Latin America have been working to put the pieces in place to be able to allow private landowners to voluntarily protect the natural resources on their property. Private lands conservation has taken many forms. In the US, the most common form is the conservation easement, which, very simply put, is a legal agreement between a landowner and a land trust or government agency that permanently limits uses of the land in order to protect its conservation values. This concept is not always easily transferable to Latin America.

For one, in the US there are state enabling statutes, as well as strong tax incentives for landowners to donate an easement on their property. To get the federal tax benefits, the conservation easement must be perpetual.  Agencies and land trusts may also purchase the conservation easement (development rights) from the landowner.  In contrast, most Latin American countries do not yet have the legal framework or the incentive programs in place to protect private land at the scale that we have in the US.

But still there has been a growing impetus for private land conservation in Latin America over the past 20 years. Costa Rica and Mexico are among the countries that have led the way. A number of Latin American countries have passed new laws that recognize the creation of private nature preserves.  Nonprofit organizations have inventively used existing laws to create easement between two landowners, but not for traditional purpose of a right of way, but instead to protect the conservation values of the property.

In the US, paying less tax is an attractive incentive for landowners to put their property under a conservation easement. However, tax rates are generally lower in many Latin American countries. Therefore, tax breaks might not be a strong incentive for landowners in Latin America, and governments may be apprehensive about initiating programs for landowners to pay less. Instead, it may be more feasible to create payment for ecosystem services between, for example, private landowners and a water utility or hydro-electric facility.

Another limiting factor is the lack of clear land tenure in the Dominican Republic and in other Latin American countries. In the US, due diligence for a conservation easement project includes a review of the title and a survey of the boundaries of the property.  In the Dominican Republic, as in many Latin American countries, obtaining this documentation may be an insurmountable challenge.

Aside from Merengue, the Dominican Republic has a lot to be proud of – 104 national protected areas covering 25% of the country. Although it will not be an easy mountain to climb, establishing a program to protect biodiversity of private lands will be critical to connecting these public lands into a biologically diverse network.

This post was written by:

- who has written 7 posts on dotWild.

Judy Boshoven is the Manager of the Living Lands program, an initiative aimed at connecting land trusts to financial and technical resources that will assist them in making strategic decisions about where to work to conserve high priority native species and habitats.

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2 Responses to “Something exciting is happening in the Dominican Republic (and it is not the latest Merengue)”

  1. Susan Boshoven says:

    San Francisco can be a sister city. We love the merengue and land conservation too! Let me know what we can do.
    Boshoven’s United for a better world!
    Susan Boshoven

  2. Why am I the only commentary on this blog?

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dotWild is the blog of scientists and policy experts at Defenders of Wildlife, a national, nonprofit membership organization dedicated to the protection of all native animals and plants in their natural communities.

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