Environmental Management

, Volume 61, Issue 5, pp 732–740 | Cite as

Social Network Analysis Identifies Key Participants in Conservation Development



Understanding patterns of participation in private lands conservation, which is often implemented voluntarily by individual citizens and private organizations, could improve its effectiveness at combating biodiversity loss. We used social network analysis (SNA) to examine participation in conservation development (CD), a private land conservation strategy that clusters houses in a small portion of a property while preserving the remaining land as protected open space. Using data from public records for six counties in Colorado, USA, we compared CD participation patterns among counties and identified actors that most often work with others to implement CDs. We found that social network characteristics differed among counties. The network density, or proportion of connections in the network, varied from fewer than 2 to nearly 15%, and was higher in counties with smaller populations and fewer CDs. Centralization, or the degree to which connections are held disproportionately by a few key actors, was not correlated strongly with any county characteristics. Network characteristics were not correlated with the prevalence of wildlife-friendly design features in CDs. The most highly connected actors were biological and geological consultants, surveyors, and engineers. Our work demonstrates a new application of SNA to land-use planning, in which CD network patterns are examined and key actors are identified. For better conservation outcomes of CD, we recommend using network patterns to guide strategies for outreach and information dissemination, and engaging with highly connected actor types to encourage widespread adoption of best practices for CD design and stewardship.


Biodiversity Conservation subdivisions Private lands conservation Protected area Residential development Social network analysis 



We thank L Bailey and A Seidl for insights that helped shape the study, and J Pittman, D Bennett and two anonymous reviewers for providing constructive input on an early draft of the manuscript. We also thank A Jackson for her assistance in collecting county record data. We are grateful to the county planning offices of Boulder County, Chaffee County, Douglas County, Larimer County, Mesa County, and Routt County for help obtaining public records. Funding for this project was provided by the School of Global Environmental Sustainability, the Warner College of Natural Resources, and the USDA Forest Service.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of Interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Cooper M. Farr
    • 1
  • Sarah E. Reed
    • 1
    • 2
  • Liba Pejchar
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Fish, Wildlife and Conservation Biology, Graduate Degree Program in EcologyColorado State UniversityFort CollinsUSA
  2. 2.Wildlife Conservation Society, Americas ProgramBronxUSA

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