Conservation more effective with private firms

Freedom Newspapers

What can people do to better protect the planet? That was a question being asked across the globe during Thursday’s celebration of Earth Day.
We favor approaches that look to private alternatives rather than heavy-handed government actions that too often limit property rights, fence off the freedoms of citizens and sometimes even harm the environment. A leader in promoting such private-sector conservation is the Property and Environment Research Center in Bozeman, Mont.
“When people are acting privately and with own their resources, they are much more committed to better planning,” said Jane Shaw, a PERC senior associate. “They focus better on what needs to be done. Private conservation is far more effective per hectare than government conservation. Private property provides an incentive to conserve. If you protect it, your property value increases. If you neglect it, the property value decreases. Property rights encourage stewardship.”
As an example of government mishandling of resources in the United States, she pointed to the devastating wildfires last year in California. The problem “stemmed primarily, not entirely, from the inability of the U.S. Forest Service to manage its land properly,” she said. “It’s paralyzed by competing (political and environmental) interests, especially by environmentalists who have a mistaken view of conservation and try to prevent logging. The result is that trees get old, dry and bug infested and are ready for a major fire when it gets started.”
On a positive note, she said there’s a “growth of conservation easements” — a “market-oriented activity to conserve.” As an example, she pointed to tax breaks given to donate an easement on a property to a conservation group, which then takes care of it. These easements, she said, “are not a pure market, but allow private conservation. It’s a private mechanism, but supported by the tax code.”
And she said developers increasingly are building residential neighborhoods that combine beauty with preserved open spaces, although such developments frequently are only for the wealthy.
“If people are willing to pay for conservation, that is better than the government forcing taxpayers to pay for something they have no control over anyway,” she said.
We can only hope that such private actions spread and eventually replace government actions as the predominant approach to how the Earth is conserved.