PERC holds workshops throughout the year to bring together scholars, conservationists, and policymakers to advance the ideas of free market environmentalism. Through research, lecture, discussion, and field visits, workshop participants explore challenges to conservation and help develop innovative solutions.

Many PERC workshops result in a series of publications that summarize the research presented at a workshop. Examples include Back to the Future of America’s National Parks and Distributional Effects of Environmental Markets.

2022 Workshops

The Future of the Endangered Species Act: The Next 50 Years

Depending on who you ask, the Endangered Species Act is either one of America’s greatest conservation successes or one of its most dismal failures. Its supporters point out that only 1 percent of listed species have gone extinct, while critics counter that less than 2 percent of species have recovered and been delisted. Regardless, no one would dispute the law’s potential to have significant economic consequences—and to bring about legal or political conflict.

The act’s vast regulatory powers can affect land-use decisions across the country, often on behalf of lesser-known, less charismatic species. And because most endangered species rely in part on private lands for habitat, these restrictions can be especially burdensome for private landowners. Along the way, the law can make enemies out of the very people who are most critical to the recovery of imperiled species.

Under the longstanding approach to endangered species, landowners who provide habitat for listed species receive no benefit. Instead, they are often penalized through costly regulatory burdens such as restrictions on land use, reduced property values, and costly permitting requirements. Those realities present a huge challenge for recovery prospects given that about half of all endangered species rely on private lands for approximately 80 percent of their habitat. As we reach the 1973 Act’s 50th anniversary, issues of improving the act are once again frequently in the public policy debate. This workshop will build on our past expertise in the area and develop new approaches to prevent extinction and recover imperiled species.

The Future of Private Land Conservation

Issues surrounding the development or conservation of land arouse pessimism and optimism. The pessimist can point to alarming statistics of deforestation, eroding topsoil, and paved-over farmland. The optimist can point to mounting global efforts to conserve undeveloped lands, especially through voluntary and market approaches.

This workshop will identify obstacles and opportunities for private land conservation, focusing primarily on policy issues related to land trusts and conservation easements in the United States. The idea of using easements as a conservation tool originated in the United States, but the practice is expanding internationally and has become a leading example of decentralized conservation.

As the use of conservation easements has grown, however, critics have begun to raise legitimate questions about their on-the-ground effectiveness. Do easements actually provide additional conservation, or do they simply displace development and reward landowners for actions they would take regardless of whether the land were under easement? Are tax policies towards easements working, and is there a better possible institutional structure? Are new conservation tools needed? This workshop will identify timely policy obstacles and opportunities for private land conservation.

Priming the Pump for Groundwater Markets

Drought throughout the West threatens fish and wildlife, recreational angling and boating opportunities, and the health and beauty of riparian ecosystems. As populations continue to grow, the lack of surface water has put increasing pressure on groundwater. Unsustainable pumping of aquifers has caused substantial land subsidence, degraded groundwater quality, and raised equity concerns, leading to calls for greater state regulation of groundwater quality and quantity.

One promising solution is the development of groundwater markets and other innovative use of water markets. For decades, PERC has been a leading proponent of using water markets to resolve water disputes—and the approach is working. Federal and state agencies and conservation groups dedicated to restoring stream flows are increasingly turning to surface water markets to connect willing buyers and sellers of water rights. Throughout much of the West, water rights can now be bought, leased, or donated for environmental purposes, thanks in part to PERC’s pioneering work in this area.

Yet markets are just now starting to be explored for groundwater. As with any new market, groundwater markets present technical, equitable, regulatory, and property-rights challenges. This workshop will explore new ways to resolve conflicts and improve efficiency of groundwater water management.