Of Property and Antiproperty

Private property is widely perceived as a potent prodevelopment and anticonservationist force. The drive to accumulate wealth through private property rights is thought to encourage environmentally destructive development; legal protection of such property rights is believed to thwart environmentally friendly public measures. Indeed, property rights advocates and environmentalists are generally described as irreconcilable foes. This presumed clash often leads environmentalists to urge public acquisition of private lands. Interestingly, less attention is paid to the possibility that the government may prove no better a conservator than private owners. Government actors often mismanage conservation properties, collaborating with private developers to dispose of government property at submarket prices and encouraging inefficient development on conservation property. The federal Bureau of Land Management, for instance, came under fire in a recent congressional report for its sale of seventy acres of Nevada land to a private developer for $763,000; the developer sold the land the next day for $4.6 million.