Property Rights Are Crucial to Protecting Our Environment

Tulle moose and cattle graze together in the D Ranch pasture in Point Reyes National Seashore, California, in 2015. (Robert Galbraith / Reuters)

Although they have long been recognized as a guarantee of individual freedom, it is time that we recognize the essential role they can play in nature conservation as well.




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N
ature is inherently valuable and its conservation is inherently conservative. We need trees and wetlands to protect ourselves from flooding. We need water to drink. We need fertile soil to grow crops. Conservatives have long understood this and have taken steps to properly treat our priceless natural environment.

From Nixon’s EPA to George H.W. Bush’s Clean air treaty, conservatives have a rich history of environmental management. Despite these victories, there is of course still a long way to go for those who want to protect the environment. And an under-discussed solution to many of our most persistent environmental problems fits perfectly within conservatism: stronger property rights.

Property rights go deeper than just the physical ownership of property; they also refer to the understanding of all involved parties on how to use a good or resource. The weaker the concept of property rights, the less ideal the results will be.

For example, if a rancher and a public ground agency have a weak mutual understanding of what is and is not allowed on a particular parcel of rented public land, a tragedy-of-the-mean effect will re-emerge, promoting the breakdown of the country in question. This is a reality on thousands of acres managed by the Bureau of Land Management, in our national parks and on many other public lands. By better defining what is and what is not allowed on such grounds, we can reduce environmental degradation and costs for taxpayers.

It would pursue the same objectives by making the regulatory system governing federal lands more equitable. From nature conservation to Ted Turner, there is great interest in the United States in private conservation efforts. Private conservation usually takes place on private land. But there are plenty of them private conservationists those land administrators like the BLM want to pay for the right to preserve public land, just as farmers and other businessmen pay the BLM for the right to use those land. And who are conservationists forced to compete with industrial concerns about a very uneven playing field: they should not bid on much of the public land on which companies can bid, despite the opportunity and willingness to pay for it. Some have broken through this by technically farming on the land, but many have failed. Our public country must be open to private conservation efforts as it is open to businesses.

Western water markets are also an example of poorly drawn, outdated property rights rules. Water in the west of America is different from water in the east. For starters, there is much less available. On the other hand, many of the rules and regulations surrounding it have already been developed in the West and urgently need updating. A good example of this is the ‘use it or lose it’ rule. Instead of stimulating water conservation, “use it or lose it“Encourages the opposite: it encourages farmers and landowners to divert as much water from rivers and streams as possible, because they lose the right to so much water that they don’t divert the following year. The result is that the water is unevenly distributed, much wasted and exacerbating the water scarcity challenges facing states such as California and Colorado If abolishing “use it or lose it” would promote water conservation without disrupting anyone’s access to water. traded and sold through market systems and water rights would be much better defined.

Property rights are part of the foundation on which the nation is based, and they have stood the test of time. But while they have long been recognized as a guarantee of individual freedom, it is time we recognized the vital role they can play in protecting the environment that we all share. They are a typical conservative for a typical conservative purpose.

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