chapter  2
39 Pages

A Property Rights Approach to Wilderness Management

WithJohn Baden, Dean Lueck

Goals of conserving resources and anticipating future environmental problems are more likely to be met by private means than by assigning these responsibilities to governmental bureaucracies. The most important role for government is to define and enforce property rights, which will lessen the tragedy of the commons and other negative spillovers and encourage effective responses to changing relative scarcities. When private property rights to resources, including wilderness lands, are well-defined, enforced, and transferable, owners tend to allocate those resources efficiently. When decisions are made by bureaucrats who are seeking budgetary increases, workplace amenities, discretionary power, career advancement, and minimal tension, we can expect resources to be allocated inefficiently.

Profit-motivated individuals and groups are already providing some "environmental goods" in the marketplace. "Wilderness homesteading" by conservation groups who would build trails, provide campgrounds, and so forth is proposed. Under this scheme, the wilderness owner would have every incentive to use his resources efficiently and to promote environmentally sensitive development. The alternative of politicized decision-making, especially in the face of increased resource scarcity, offers little long-term security for wilderness enthusiasts.