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Coastal Resiliency Projects Lack Landowner Support In Connecticut

Office of Governor Dannel Malloy
Creative Commons
Photographs taken by the Connecticut National Guard on Tuesday, October 30, 2012, during an aerial assessment of damage caused along the Connecticut shoreline by Hurricane Sandy.

The catastrophic flooding happening in Texas is highlighting the importance of coastal resiliency. Researchers at the University of Connecticut say a lot of climate science currently focuses on biology and ecology, overlooking something else very important: the humans who own the land.

It’s a simple enough idea: if you want to make coastlines like Connecticut’s more resilient to hurricanes like Sandy, you need to win over the people living there.

“We live in a world full of people. And we have to understand the way that people behave, especially the attitudes of landowners, if we’re going to do conservation,” said Chris Elphick, an associate professor at UConn.

Writing in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, he reported on around 1,000 surveys returned from residents in vulnerable areas along Connecticut’s coast. The idea was to gauge how open private landowners are to dealing with conservation groups who want to utilize their land. The answer, he found, is not much.

“A lot of people are skeptical that they will get a fair price for their land,” Elphick said.

Most respondents indicated they were unlikely to enter into any agreements.

Study co-author Christopher Field said their survey results demonstrated something else: that agreements restricting land use in exchange for things like tax credits -- often called conservation easements -- can be a tough sell.

Field said those arrangements, which are currently very popular among conservation groups, are in fact the least preferred option by surveyed landowners.

“It’s one thing to get somebody to agree that sea level rise is happening,” Field said, “but then to take action in response to sea level rise -- that affects their legacy to their family -- it’s a whole other question.”

Because of that, Field said more attention must be paid across America to the ecology -- and social science -- that goes into building communities better able to withstand devastating floods.

Patrick Skahill is a reporter and digital editor at Connecticut Public. Prior to becoming a reporter, he was the founding producer of Connecticut Public Radio's The Colin McEnroe Show, which began in 2009. Patrick's reporting has appeared on NPR's Morning Edition, Here & Now, and All Things Considered. He has also reported for the Marketplace Morning Report. He can be reached by phone at 860-275-7297 or by email: pskahill@ctpublic.org.

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