Public Lands

The federal government owns 640 million acres in the United States, totaling more than one-quarter of the nation and nearly half of the American West. From national parks and forests to rangelands and mineral resources, effective public land management is critical for conservation and prosperity. But today’s federal land agencies face a host of challenges, including growing maintenance backlogs, poor environmental stewardship, and excessive “analysis paralysis” that increases costs and delays effective management.

Making matters worse, many of the laws and regulations governing public lands create immense conflict, litigation, and political controversy, which tears at the social fabric of many western communities. Today, public lands are more likely to provoke acrimony than to encourage innovation and cooperation among competing users. Decisions are often made in Washington D.C., or in the courts rather than resolved cooperatively by local people or managers on the ground.

PERC seeks to foster better, more effective management of our nation’s public lands by harnessing the power of entrepreneurship, markets, property rights, and cooperative partnerships — all while retaining federal ownership. Today, PERC’s research explores reforms that could provide public land managers with greater freedom and flexibility to implement creative, locally responsible solutions, whether it’s charter forests, conservation leasing, outcome-based grazing permits, or cooperative management with states and local communities.  

PERC also explores innovative ways to better fund public lands, such as user fees that are retained for maintenance and operational needs or other “pay-to-play” funding mechanisms similar to the model used by hunters and anglers to fund wildlife conservation.