Property rights theorists and others considering various conservation regimes often differentiate between common and private property rights institutions. There is a rich anthropology literature on common property and the efforts of groups and communities to conserve natural resources. There is also a rich economics literature on the importance of institutions and private property to conserva-tion. Both rely on an institutional analysis of the incentives facing decision makers, but just what difference – if any – exists between common and private institutions is not well defined. An additional confusion arises from the fact that the word “commons” has been used to describe everything from open access areas to a strict set of rules governing behavior.
In an effort to clarify what really constitutes private conservation in the context of private and common property rights, the Center for Private Conservation hosted a roundtable discussion on March 17, 1998. The comments of fisheries economist Dr. Francis Christy, free-market environmen-tal expert Don Leal, political scientist Professor Edella Schlager, and economist Professor Barry Field shed light on this and other questions, such as when “communal” arrangements may be more effective than individual arrangements, and what the proper role of government should be in fostering the host of successful conservation initiatives mentioned.