Given that private conservation activities deliver a mix of benefits — meeting private demand while also providing public goods, such as ecosystem services — it can be difficult to separate the discussion of market-based and private means of incentivizing conservation from publicly funded means.[*] As a result, there was often a blending of private and public concepts during working group discussions.
While recognizing the value of protecting portions of the state’s natural areas as wilderness, this working group is focused on promoting the wise use of privately owned or privately managed natural areas. Despite that agreement, it was clear that a certain level of confusion exists in the conservation movement over what constitutes private conservation, or how free-market conservation specifically could benefit the effort. Therefore, group discussion worked to determine the best ways to educate current supporters of conservation and to better understand the value of market-based conservation options.
Group consensus coalesced around the idea that private conservation is the management of natural areas in a way that prevents their degradation or discourages the diminishment of natural processes by nongovernmental individuals or organizations who possess the legal right to make decisions about how an area or property is managed. Additionally, the group highlighted that providing conservation advocates with a clear distinction between private and public efforts promotes better prioritization. Some efforts can be covered by public funding, while others require private backing and support.
The working group’s discussion established that private conservation efforts in Michigan include privately owned and managed natural areas and nature preserves, or conservation easements that purchase development rights from landowners and hold them in perpetuity. Often these areas continue to be used for a variety of purposes including outdoor recreation, interpretation or hunting and fishing. In some cases, other forms of active management, such as limited harvesting of forests are employed to achieve and maintain a specific forest ecology or habitat type.
[*]The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency defines “ecosystem services” as, “Ecosystem goods and services produce the many life-sustaining benefits we receive from nature — clean air and water, fertile soil for crop production, pollination, and flood control.” “Ecosystem Services” (U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Aug. 12, 2019), https:// perma.cc/K6QE-FJ4M.