Privately owned farms, ranches, and forests, collectively known as working lands, are the cornerstones on which our nation was built.
Aldo Leopold, one of the founders of America’s conservation movement, once wrote that “Conservation will ultimately boil down to rewarding the private landowner who conserves the public interest.” With 70 percent of land in the United States privately owned, it’s imperative that property owners have incentives to invest in conservation that benefits them and the wider environmental landscape. Conservation needs to make economic sense to landowners, and property rights, along with functioning markets, are essential tools for getting those conservation incentives right.
Property rights give landowners incentives to balance conservation with resource development and provide opportunities for entrepreneurial solutions to environmental problems. Whether it’s bird hunters renting prairie potholes to provide duck habitat, fishermen leasing instream flows to benefit salmon populations, or environmental groups compensating livestock owners for wolf depredation, markets and property rights can encourage improvements in environmental quality on private lands.
From clean water to wildlife habitat to ecological diversity, the countless conservation benefits generated by private landowners extend far beyond property lines. For instance, stream restoration on private land can provide much-needed cold water and trout for downstream public waters.
The idea that property rights can improve environmental quality originated at PERC nearly four decades ago, and there’s no better example than private land stewardship. Today, we continue to research ways that property rights and markets promote creative conservation and reward private landowners who conserve the public interest.