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Allow “Nonuse Rights” to Conserve Natural Resources


Market approaches to environmental conservation, by which mechanisms such as property rights, prices, and contracts are used to advance environmental goals, have gained traction globally in recent decades. But in many cases, antiquated rules limit their role in conserving public natural resources. “Use-it-or-lose-it” requirements, together with narrow definitions of eligible “uses,” can preclude environmental groups from participating in markets for natural resources. These restrictions can bias resource management in favor of extractive users, even when conservation interests are willing to pay more to protect resources from development. We argue that acquisition of public natural resource rights for the purpose of withholding them from development should be allowed. Policies should be reformed to include conservation as a legally valid form of “use.” Allowing such “nonuse rights” to public natural resources would enable markets to advance environmental goals, leading to more stable and less contentious outcomes.

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Written By
  • Bryan Leonard
    • Fellowship Director,
    • Senior Fellow

    Bryan Leonard is an associate professor of environmental and natural resource economics in the School of Sustainability and a faculty affiliate in the Economics Department and the Center for Behavior, Institutions, and the Environment at Arizona State University. He is also a senior fellow at PERC, a PERC fellowship director, and a 2017 and 2018 PERC Lone Mountain Fellow. 

  • Shawn Regan
    Shawn Regan
    • Vice President of Research

    Shawn Regan is a research fellow and vice president of research at PERC.  He is the executive editor of PERC Reports.

  • Christopher Costello
    • Board Member,
    • Senior Fellow

    Christopher Costello is a professor of Environmental and Resource Economics at the University of California, Santa Barbara. He is research director of the Environmental Markets Lab and a Research Associate with the National Bureau of Economic Research. He is also on the board of Environmental Defense Fund and Global Fishing Watch and serves on the Council of Economic Advisors for California’s Governor.

  • Dominic Parker
    Dominic Parker
    • Senior Fellow

    Dominic (Nick) Parker, is a PERC senior fellow as well as director of PERC’s summer fellowship program. Nick is also a professor of applied economics at the University of Wisconsin-Madison where he serves in editorial roles for three leading academic journals in environmental and resource economics.

  • Andrew Plantinga
    • Lone Mountain Fellow

    Andrew Plantinga is a Professor of Resource Economics and Land Use Economics in the Bren School of Environmental Science and Management at University of California Santa Barbara.

  • James Salzman

    James Salzman holds joint appointments at Duke University as the Nicholas Institute Professor of Environmental Policy at the Nicholas School and as the Samuel F. Mordecai Professor at the Law School.

  • V. Kerry Smith
    • Julian Simon Fellow

    Kerry Smith is an Emeritus Regents Professor and University Professor Emeritus in the Department of Economics at the W.P. Carey School of Business at ASU.

  • Temple Stoellinger
    Temple Stoellinger
    • Senior Fellow

    Temple Stoellinger is a PERC senior fellow and an assistant professor at the Haub School of Environment and Natural Resources at the University of Wyoming as well as co-director of the Center for Law and Energy Resources in the Rockies.

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