February 29, 2012
[This is Part One of a two-part series, originally published on LandThink, investigating the economic potential for investing in the management of land, wildlife, biodiversity, and water resources. Part One covers economic incentives from government programs for establishing conservation practices. Part Two will address private sources of revenue that can be generated from establishing creative and multi-use land use practices and programming.]
On March 1, 1872, Congress signed into law an act that established Yellowstone National Park, the first of 58 protected areas to eventually be designated as national parks. Thus signaled the start of an era in national policy characterized by heavy public investment in conservation and land management.
As of 2010, 138 years later, the Bureau of Land Management held nearly 248 million acres of public land. However, this represents a decrease of two million acres from 2009 and a decrease of 5.5 million acres from 2008. This reduction reflects an effort on the part of public officials who would prefer to see the federal government take a more limited role in conservation efforts while also using the revenue from sales of public lands to pay down the national debt. It also demonstrates a shifting priority away from direct public investment in conservation through outright land purchases and toward providing incentives to individuals and organizations to purchase and manage the land themselves.
While some see this shift as troubling because it means conservation efforts are more haphazard and subject to the varying goals of individual landowners, others see it as an incredibly lucrative opportunity to invest in conservation. Take T. Boone Pickens, for example. Recognizing the economic potential of Texas ranches, he has made a name for himself (and a lot of money) by buying working livestock ranches, improving them with wildlife enhancement programs, and then reselling them. As he recently told The Land Report, “We always made a profit from the ranch sales. But what I really feel good about is knowing that we left the land in better shape than we found it.”