Ideas, Incentives, Gifts, and Governance

Toward Conservation Stewardship of Private Land, in Cultural and Psychological Perspective

Conserving ecological resources on private lands requires both (a) supportive landowners and (b) regulatory coercion, notwithstanding (c) that rural landowners comprise the most consistently anti-environmental demographic group in America. Neither policymakers nor legal scholars have come to terms with this predicament.Drawing upon sociological and psychological studies of attitudes toward land, community, and environment, and on the social psychology of group conflict, social influence, and attitudinal change, this Article explicates the predicament and proposes a way out of it. The solution carries us beyond legal scholars’ traditional focus on public law and administration to reach, on one side, mainline environmentalism’s self understanding and community involvements and, on the other, new institutions for governance by landowners. (Economic incentives and gift-giving are also entailed.) The main institutional innovation is the landowner-initiated, landowner-controlled “special nature district,” with limited powers of regulation, assessment, and property acquisition. Special nature districts would act on local interests in conservation, but would provide ecological amenities sought nationally via collective contracting with public conservation agencies. The academic upshot is a substantial research agenda for scholars of property and environmental law. The special nature district will (1) put to the test the burgeoning law and norms literature, (2) challenge scholars to invent models for jurisdictions fluid in their geography and competence, (3) focus attention on some heretofore peripheral issues of constitutional law, and (4) motivate empirical study of little known irrigation, drainage, grazing, zoning, and pest-control districts.

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