The Volokh Conspiracy

Mostly law professors | Sometimes contrarian | Often libertarian | Always independent

Volokh Conspiracy

Property In Ecology


Are property rights compatible with environmental protection? Might they actually be essential for effective conservation?

As Garrett Hardin observed in his seminal essay on the "Tragedy of the Commons," those ecological resources incorporated into property institutions tend to be managed better than those resources left in the open-access commons. Yet as Hardin also noted, it is one thing to establish property in land, particularly for purposes like agriculture, and quite something else to establish property rights in other resources.

Whereas most conventional environmental policy presumes the solution to environmental problems lies in government regulation, some researchers focus on ways to utilize property rights and property-based institutions to enhance environmental protection and encourage greater conservation.

In conjunction with the Property and Environment Research Center in Bozeman, Montana, we hosted a interdisciplinary colloquium on "Property In Ecology" at the Case Western Reserve University School of Law. The papers from this colloquium have just been published in the Natural Resources Journal. 

As I discuss in my introduction, the papers from the colloquium explore the potential for property-based institutions to preserve environmental values and enhance environmental protection. Through case studies, empirical assessments, and consideration of the institutional constraints that may alternatively facilitate or hamper private conservation efforts, these papers deepen our understanding of the institutional context in which conservation occurs and the potential for property-based approaches to supplement, if not supplant, traditional government management of natural resources and environmental regulation. Together, they aim to enhance the conservation potential of property institutions by looking at how such institutions may be extended and defended so as to maximize property's ecological potential.