Entrepreneurs are utilizing markets and property rights to improve conservation. These three examples are protecting our environment and making an impact that has proven beneficial.
The first example is conserving water. The West is familiar with drought, and with growing populations water is scarce in areas.
Trout Unlimited (TU) is one innovator who is harnessing water markets for conservation. Ranchers and farmers have water rights for their agricultural needs, and TU works with them to temporarily divert it to support fish populations. In exchange, TU financially compensates the water right holders.
The instream that is being diverted is legally considered a beneficial use, and water rights holders can enter into an agreement with conservation groups to leave some of their water instream with no risk of forfeiting their water rights.
The second example is sustaining wildlife habitat. Western states have experienced a surge in population and urban development. This increased pressure and growth threatens habitat integrity of the western region’s large and private working lands. These lands provide essential winter range for a variety of wildlife. Private partners are working towards agreements to conserve these ecosystems and habitats.
In the Paradise Valley of Montana, the Property and Environment Research Center and the Greater Yellowstone Coalition have partnered with a ranching family to conserve 500 acres of their ranch for elk winter range. This agreement is voluntary, privately funded, and does not require government oversight.
In many cases, a landowner is willing to manage and conserve their land when there is no government involvement.
The last example is improving forest health. Wildfires in the West have grown larger and hotter due to a build- up fuels like dead trees and overgrown vegetation.
The Forest Service has flagged 63 million acres at extreme risk of wildfire and in need of restoration. At the current pace and scale, this would take decades. But, innovators have discovered a way to access the private sector to get some of this restoration done.
Blue Forest is a conservation group that has pioneered the Forest Resilience Bond, with the help and partnership of World Resources Institute. Private investors, like an impact-investment firm or insurance company, fund the bond, and stakeholders pay the investors back plus a rate of return as restoration benefits are achieved.
The first Forest Resilience Bond was in Tahoe National Forest, where the tool is estimated to shorten to project time to 4 years rather than over a decade. This model provides the financial assistance needed to increase the scale and pace of critical restoration projects. This benefits forest health as well as western communities.
Many environmental challenges still remain, but market tools like property rights, price signals, and incentives are working to conserve crucial ecosystems, habitats, and the environment.