NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


February 16, 2005

Conservation of natural resources is better left to the private sector, according to a report published by the Reason Foundation.

Michael DeAlessi, Director of Natural Resources Policy, argues that federal oversight of environmental protection is ineffective for many reasons:

  • Federal regulations are more process-oriented than results-oriented; for example, the Endangered Species Act has recovered only 10 of 1,300 species over its 30-year life span.
  • Public ownership of land, such as National Parks, provides little incentive for individuals to care for it; indeed, one-third of American land is owned by the federal government, but much of it is deteriorating.
  • Special interest groups influence the policy-making process in order to create gains for themselves, often at the expense of other groups.

However, private initiatives make all groups better off. When property rights are well-defined, individuals are more likely to care for resources for a future return on their investment. For example:

  • Ducks Unlimited, a private organization founded by California sportsmen in 1937, works to restore and improve wetlands to ensure continued populations of waterfowl for future hunting.
  • The Louisiana chapter of the Audubon Society earned almost one million dollars in the early 1980s by allowing oil and gas development on Rainey Sanctuary, a 26,000 acre nature preserve owned by society.

Private initiatives show that economic development and habitat preservation can peacefully co-exist, says DeAlessi.

Source: Michael DeAlessi, "Conservation Through Private Initiative: Harnessing American Ingenuity to Preserve our Nation's Resources," Policy Study 328, Reason Foundation, January 2005.


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