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 Environmental Policy in the Anthropocene.

2018 Workshops

Distributional Effects of Environmental Market Design

Directed by Christopher Costello

Perhaps more than at any point in history, conservation groups and government agencies are harnessing property rights and markets to manage common property resources such as fish, water, groundwater, biodiversity, and climate. When these “markets” are regulatory constructs, the allocation of the rights or permits and the design of the trading structure become paramount to adoption and long-run success. In particular, the distributional consequences of different trading structures can significantly impact the likelihood of adoption, enforcement success, long-term viability of the market, public perception of the market, and even efficiency of outcomes. For example, if too many groups are disadvantaged or excluded from the rights-allocation process, or if all of the economic benefits of improved management are taxed or auctioned away at the outset, then an otherwise successful market approach could die a political death.

The primary objective of this workshop is to better understand the role market design plays in the distributional consequences of the transition to market-based environmental protection, and will provide insights about how markets can be designed in the future to achieve efficiency while still attending to distributional concerns.

Paradise Valley, Montana Photo courtesy of U.S. Department of the Interior. Photo by: Jen Epstein

Shifting Environmental Demands: Old West versus New West

Directed by Shawn Regan

Rather than enriching communities of the West, the region’s natural resources often divide them. From the decades-long “water wars” between agricultural and environmental interests, to altercations over livestock grazing on public lands, to the seemingly endless litigation over endangered species, natural resource conflicts seem more numerous and acrimonious than ever before.

An important source of this tension is the shifting demands placed on the region’s natural resources. The extraction and marketing of commodities like timber, grass, and minerals have in recent decades been overshadowed by “New West” values that prioritize the enjoyment of environmental amenities, primarily outdoor recreation and so-called existence values. Demographic and landownership patterns are also changing, with population decline and land consolidation in rural communities mirrored by population growth and residential development in the urban areas. The political process, by its very nature, tends to pit competing resource demands against one another in a “zero-sum” manner: One side wins only if the other side loses. Consequently, expenditures on lobbying and litigation over natural resources are at all-time highs, while public investment in the stewardship of these resources is flat or declining.

This workshop will explore how the chasm between traditional commodity extraction and non-traditional amenity enjoyment is made wider by many of the institutions that govern resource management. It will also identify institutional reforms that more amicably balance the competition between Old West and New West resource demands. By reforming the institutions that govern the use and enjoyment of natural resources, we can supplant political conflict with voluntary cooperation.

Rethinking the North American Model of Wildlife Conservation

Directed by Brian Yablonski

The North American Model of Wildlife Conservation (NAMWC) is a pair of principles that guides wildlife management and conservation decisions in the United States and Canada: Fish and wildlife are for the non-commercial use of citizens, and they should be managed such that they are available at optimum populations levels forever. Today, however, this model faces at least three major challenges.

Managing for abundance is the first challenge. The NAMWC was established during a period of wildlife scarcity, but in the 21st century the challenge has become how to deal with wildlife abundance. Some species have proliferated to such an extent that they are spreading disease to livestock, damaging property, and endangering humans (e.g. car collisions). With many species at such abundant levels, the reality is that wildlife can pose a liability or nuisance to people instead of being considered a resource worth preserving.

A second obstacle is that while wildlife is owned under the NAMWC, most wildlife habitat is privately owned. As conservationist Aldo Leopold once wrote, “Conservation will ultimately boil down to rewarding the private landowner who conserves the public interest.” How can wildlife management institutions best encourage private landowners to preserve publicly owned wildlife?

Third, the NAMWC is dependent upon hunters, yet each year fewer and fewer Americans are hunting. This creates significant challenges for wildlife management. State and local funding for conservation, for instance, is often dependent upon revenues earned from hunting activities. How can wildlife management evolve to either encourage more hunter-conservationists or to address new demands?

This conference will explore these challenges and their implications for wildlife management today. It will also examine various proposals to reform wildlife management to address these realities and offer several new ideas to enhance wildlife management in the 21st century.