The Promise of Private Conservation

Private individuals, groups, and associations provided conservation amenities long before the birth of the environmental movement, but today these efforts are often subsumed by broader public initiatives. To refocus attention on the power or private effort as Earth Day approached, the Center for Private Conservation hosted a half-day forum at the National Press Club on April 17 that consisted of two panels who explored the past, present, and potential of private conservation.

Some have argued that making nature pay its own way is anathema to conservation, but a number of initiatives, particularly in southern Africa, are proving that individuals and communities around the world can use the value of wildlife to improve conditions for both people and animals. Thus, the first panel explored the role of commerce in conservation. The panel was moderated by CEI’s Ike Sugg, who offered some insights from his work in both Africa and the U.S. on the subject of sustainable use of wildlife.

Dr. Steven Edwards, who is Chairman of the Sustainable Use Initiative at IUCN (The World Conservation Union), spoke of successful commercial use programs around the world. He also described how these programs began to change attitudes toward conservation through commerce throughout the international environmental community. Clive Stockil, Chairman of Save Valley Conservancy, recounted the Conservancy’s remarkable efforts to shift land-use in the lowveld of Zimbabwe from cattle to wildlife habitat, which never would have been possible without the probability of profit. The Conservancy is also home to some of the last remaining black rhino in Zimbabwe and has been partially responsible for the first increase in their population in decades. Dr. Grahame Webb is Director of Wildlife Management International in Australia, which played a crucial role in both the population increases and general public acceptance of salt-water crocodiles in the Northern Territories of Australia, which, he explained, was made possible by recognizing the commercial value of those animals.

The second panel explored private conservation more broadly, and each panelist discussed the success of a current private conservation activity from their own experience. The panel began with CPC Senior Scholar R.J. Smith’s account of the roots of private conservation in America and the subsequent de-emphasis on private action in recent years by much of the environmental movement. Dr. Bill Burnham, President of The Peregrine Fund, talked about the success of that organization in rehabilitating populations of birds of prey, and the importance of their captive breeding facilities.

Dr. Brent Haglund, President of the Sand County Foundation in Madison, WI (see page 6), discussed the philosophies of Aldo Leopold, who inspired Sand County’s founders, and the effectiveness of their private programs to improve land management on both their property and on surrounding lands.

Finally, Maurice McTigue, a former Minister and MP in New Zealand and now a visiting scholar of the James Buchanan Center for the Study of Public Choice, discussed how a set of remarkable reforms in New Zealand has transformed resource stewardship in that country. By creating private rights in both forestry and the fisheries, New Zealand’s strong conservation incentives have vastly improved resource management in that country. New Zealand’s experience demonstrates the value of fostering property based institutions for environmental protection.

The April private conservation forum is the most recent event hosted by the Center for Private Conservation to focus attention on the role of private institutions and markets in encouraging and supporting conservation efforts. These panel discussions will be transcribed and released by the CPC at a later date.