Indiana University SPEA Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy University of Pennsylvania AIR American University

Panel Paper: Networking for Conservation: Understanding the Contributions of Social Capital and Organizational Networks to Private Land Protection

Saturday, November 14, 2015 : 8:50 AM
Gautier (Hyatt Regency Miami)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Tatyana Ruseva, Appalachian State University, Julia L. Carboni, Syracuse University, James Farmer, Indiana University and Charles Chancellor, Clemson University
Land trusts (LTs) are charitable organizations that work to conserve land in the communities, in which they operate. According to the 2010 Land Trust Alliance census there are 1,700 community-based land trusts in the US with varying degrees of organizational and financial capacity, professional staff, and record of protected areas (LTA, 2011). The distribution of protected land between regions (e.g. Northeast vs. Southeast) has traditionally been highly uneven (Yonavjak and Gartner, 2011), and the capacity of LTs to protect land has also varied with state and federal tax policy frameworks. A purported explanation for these trends rests on differences in the level of social capital, an important component in collaborative natural resource policy and management. The purpose of this paper is to understand what forms of social capital facilitate conservation work and the organizational performance of land trusts. Social capital is defined as “the structural and cognitive dimensions of the relationships between people and organizations” (Knight et al., 2010).  The structural dimension entails different types of network relationships, while the less tangible features, including trust and shared norms, represent the cognitive dimension of social capital (Paletto et al., 2012). Studies also show the importance of connections within, between, and beyond communities (Pretty and Smith, 2004). These relationships are known as bonding social capital (connections to other local environmental groups), bridging (connections to local groups with different missions), and linking social capital (relationships, vertically, with state and federal institutions).

Empirically, this study integrates data for 24 land trusts operating in western North Carolina, southwest Virginia, and east Tennessee. The analysis draws on: i) semi-structured interviews with land trust executive directors; ii) survey responses from land trusts’ board members (n=95); and iii) analysis of organizational documents (e.g. IRS Form 990). Structural social capital is measured using two-mode affiliation network data derived from board members’ responses regarding their membership or leadership positions in other nonprofit organizations. We use the National Center for Charitable Statistics NTEE codes to classify board members’ organizational affiliations in our relational data. Quantitative network measures (e.g. density, centrality, diversity) are then computed and analyzed, along with a more qualitative understanding of network content and function (bonding, bridging, or linking social capital). Next, we use principle component factor analysis to elicit different dimensions of cognitive social capital, including interpersonal trust, collective vision, cooperation, communication effectiveness, and organizational culture. Last, bivariate and multivariate (OLS regression) analyses help relate social capital measures to reported levels of organizational performance (mission, conservation goals, and financial goals) and the record of land protection (number of conservation easements, total acreage protected). The analysis controls for organizational resources and state conservation tax policy terms. Preliminary findings show that while linking social capital is critical for land protection, the conservation success of many low-capacity land trusts is largely explained by bonding, bridging, and cognitive social capital. We draw lessons that can support the work of land conservancies in a time of constrained state budgets and commitments to land protection.