PERC holds workshops throughout the year to bring together scholars, conservationists, and policymakers to advance the ideas of free market environmentalism. Through research, lecture, discussion, and field visits, workshop participants explore challenges to conservation and help develop innovative solutions.
Many PERC workshops result in a series of publications that summarize the research presented at a workshop. Examples include Back to the Future of America’s National Parks and Distributional Effects of Environmental Markets.
Due to uncertainty surrounding Covid-19, PERC is exploring ways to safely and effectively hold our 2021 research workshops. We will actively update participants regarding the use of online platforms or date and location changes.
Don’t Use It, Don’t Lose It: Overcoming Barrier to Environmental Markets
Environmental markets have gained momentum in recent years. Rights-based approaches, however, are often limited to privately owned resources due to legal and policy requirements that preclude conservationists from participating in the markets that allocate publicly managed natural resources. For public natural resources—including energy, grazing, and timber leases managed by states and federal agencies—federal and state rules typically require leaseholders to harvest, extract, or otherwise develop the resources, effectively shutting conservationists out of the market process. For this reason, conservationists often have no other option but to lobby for restrictive designations, regulate existing land practices, or file legal challenges to conserve the public lands and resources they care about.
Should conservationists be allowed to lease or acquire non-use rights to publicly managed natural resources? And if they could, would they actively participate in such markets? In recent years, conservationists have attempted to use market mechanisms to acquire energy rights, negotiate buyouts of grazing permits, purchase hunting tags to preserve species, and bid on timber leases for conservation purposes. Yet such market approaches have often been stymied or thwarted entirely due to legal and policy barriers that prohibit acquiring or leasing such resources for non-use conservation purposes.
This workshop will explore the legal and institutional obstacles to establishing conservation-oriented non-use rights to natural resources and the scope for market provision of non-use values through ownership rights. Through various detailed case studies, this workshop will identify specific policy reforms that are needed to better accommodate environmental market solutions within current natural resource governance systems and demonstrate the importance of overcoming such barriers to policymakers, conservationists, and academic researchers.
Yellowstone: Issues of the Rocky Mountain West
Yellowstone is the most-watched show on cable television. Next summer, the Paramount Network television series, which stars Kevin Costner, will enter its fourth season. The dramatic show, which is only gaining in popularity, exposes millions of viewers each week to a variety of conflicts over resource use that are prevalent in the Rocky Mountain West, including fights over water rights, the rural-urban divide, indigenous lands, public vs. private land ownership, the Endangered Species Act, and commodity-based vs. amenity-based economic development.
The popularity of Yellowstone provides an opportunity to explore the often-overlooked legal and political institutions that underpin such conflicts, as well as what might be done to resolve them in more cooperative, mutually beneficial ways. This workshop will focus on select scenes from the show’s three seasons that highlight pressing resource management questions and engage participants in a discussion of market-based resolutions to the challenges. Sessions will explore the underlying institutional settings that often give rise to such conflicts and offer policy solutions that would better address such challenges through property rights and markets.
For example, in a dramatic scene in the show’s first season, ranchers destroy the headwaters of a mountain stream to divert water away from a nearby developer who plans to build a golf course that would affect the rancher’s water supply. A session structured around that particular scene would explore real-world western water law and how reforms to legal institutions could better resolve or prevent such conflicts. Participants would include academics, natural resource managers, and policymakers, as well as show-affiliated individuals, such as writers or producers for the series.
Innovations in Conservation Investment
The emerging field of conservation investment uses private dollars to enhance biodiversity and ecosystem services. A significant portion of such investments are philanthropic, but there is a growing interest in private conservation investments that provide a financial rate of return in addition to conservation benefits. In light of variable and limited government appropriations and budgets not suitable for conservation needs, conservation investment is becoming a critical tool for timely conservation issues like forest management, wildfire prevention, protection of critical watersheds, and more.
In addition to nonprofit-led efforts, for-profit businesses are increasingly interested in demonstrating the commitment to conservation that provides a return not only to their direct stakeholders but also to conservation. Impact investors, for example, are often willing to accept lower-than-market rates of financial return when investments are complemented by social or conservation benefits. As interest rates continue to plummet, savvy investment companies will increasingly look toward other market mechanisms to produce returns and diverse portfolios. Innovative investment mechanisms that generate a sustainable cash flow to support ecosystem services are also becoming more common.
There are, however, significant challenges to using investment tools as a viable revenue source for conservation including measuring and tying the conservation outcome to differing rates of return, managing risk and uncertainty to acceptable levels for expected returns, and scaling projects to move them from pilot projects to sustainable business models.
The purpose of this workshop is to bring together conservation practitioners, financial experts, academic researchers, and other environmental market experts to explore these challenges and opportunities in detail. In particular, this workshop will commission research that helps bridge the gap between conservation finance funding and conservation projects that provide ecosystem services.