Land use change is perhaps the greatest challenge facing the global environment today. Rural residential housing is the fastest growing land use in the United States and poses challenges to land owners, planners, and conservationist who wish to preserve the environment. In this dissertation I address theoretical, methodological, and policy questions concerning how to manage rural growth. Theoretically, the dissertation addresses the optimal arrangement of landscapes between production and reserves using analytical models. We find that which land use strategy optimally provides for biodiversity and economic production is heavily reliant on the response of biodiversity to disturbance and that no one model of land management is likely to be effective among heterogeneous responses. In the real world, the effectiveness of policies (specifically zoning and land acquisition) to manage rural residential growth is unclear. Past studies have struggled to estimate the causal impacts of land use policy, due mainly to statistical problems stemming from the endogenous nature of land use policy. I address this problem by combining econometric analysis, landscape simulations, and dynamic programming to test for the causal impacts of zoning and land acquisition on land use in two Wisconsin Counties. I couple results from models of land use with models of indicators of ecological function in order to calculate the ecological impacts of zoning and land acquisition. The results of the coupled models mirror my theoretical results; policies which aim to stem rural growth have mixed results on both land use and indicators of ecosystem function. These results combined suggest that for land use policy to be effective it must be contextualized to its specific setting.