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Data release for Accounting for Land in the United States: Integrating Physical Land Cover, Land Use, and Monetary Valuation

October 15, 2020

Land plays a critical role in both economic and environmental accounting. As an asset, it occupies a unique position at the intersection of the System of National Accounts (SNA), the System of Environmental-Economic Accounting Central Framework (SEEA-CF), and (as a spatial unit) SEEA Experimental Ecosystem Accounting (SEEA-EEA), making land a natural starting point for developing natural capital accounts more generally. We develop a pilot set of national and sub-national land accounts for the United States that are consistent with the SEEA-CF and SNA principles, quantified in both physical and monetary terms. The physical accounts utilize detailed land use (National Land Use Database) and land cover (National Land Cover Database) datasets, which provide insights into how land cover in the U.S. is changing over time. To provide aggregate estimates of land values, we use a hedonic approach that exploits fine-grain microdata ("big data" from Zillow) that contains detailed information from hundreds of millions of property transactions and their corresponding physical characteristics covering much of the U.S. Methodologically, we show that it is feasible to produce monetary accounts for land that can be directly linked to and integrated with physical land cover/use. Overall, U.S. land cover has shown declines in forests, cropland, and pasture with increases in barren, scrub/shrub, and developed classes, which are particularly concentrated in the U.S. Southeast. Nominal land values in the U.S. fell about 28% from the boom to bust periods in the prior decade, albeit with substantial regional variation, and have subsequently experienced a nearly full recovery in recent years. We estimate private land in the contiguous 48 states to be worth approximately $35.5 trillion in 2016.