Conservation has a long and deep history in the United States. And while federal legislation can be important in continuing this heritage, expanding conservation in America will require buy-in from private property owners—who own more than 60 percent of America’s land—and supportive policy frameworks from state governments. In a recently released report aptly titled “How States Shape Wildlife Conservation on Private Lands,” the Property and Environment Research Center (PERC) provides an overview of exactly how states shape private wildlife conservation, for better or worse.
The study analyzed policies from all 50 states, ranking them across six major categories: landowner hunting license exemptions and non-marketable landowner permits; marketable landowner hunting permits; Deer Management Assistance Programs (DMAP); public hunting access programs; wildlife damage management; and property tax incentives.
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PERC’s analysis is designed to highlight the types of state conservation policies while also detailing their frequency of use and nuances. The goal in building this report was to create a thorough overview that the concerned public, wildlife managers, and policymakers can reference and use to shape public policy to meet conservation goals.
“States often tailor the implementation details of these policies to their specific needs, showcasing the flexibility and adaptability of state-based approaches to wildlife management,” PERC explains. “As ‘laboratories of democracy,’ states can learn from one another’s successes and challenges, ultimately driving innovation and improvement in wildlife conservation.”
So, how did states stack up? The report had some interesting findings:
Across the country, 25 states broadly exempt private property owners who are hunting on their own land from needing to purchase a hunting license. But there are still restrictions within that exemption. For example, eight states require that the land in question be used for agriculture or cultivation while many states require permitting for specific groups of game.
When it comes to the treatment of big game and turkey tags, states are also split. Twelve states, including Georgia and Pennsylvania, allow landowners to have free or reduced price tags to use on their own property, and eight states offer guaranteed or preferential opportunities to obtain these tags. While these tags usually can’t be sold on the open market, they do provide compensation of sorts to property owners who might be dealing with the damage caused by big game.
But nine states are taking it a step further and have created a program where property owners can acquire tags and then sell them to hunters. These programs usually have strings attached; California, for example, requires property owners to engage in specific habitat practices to be eligible. But by creating marketable permits, states open up an avenue of financial reward for landowners who are stewarding wildlife on their property.
Wildlife Damage Management
The presence of wildlife on private property often leads to damage. Disease transmission to livestock, ruined crops, loss of forage, and more can make it difficult for landowners to have wildlife on their property without hardship. Expanding hunting opportunities has often been the solution of choice for states wanting to ease the burden placed upon private landowners.
But states have started branching out and trying other methods of wildlife damage management. Idaho and Washington both have monetary compensation programs available to compensate landowners for repeated crop damage that is not resolved through methods such as hunting. Wyoming has a particularly interesting program:
Property Tax Incentives
PERC’s analysis discovered that 25 states, including Kansas and Nebraska, have tax incentives for property used for agricultural or forestry purposes while 23 states have incentives for agriculture, forestry, or some form of conservation or open space. Why isn’t conservation a valid reason for a property tax incentive in all states? PERC researchers had some thoughts:
States and property owners have to work hand-in-hand to achieve conservation goals. Governments can choose to slow down conservation through burdensome regulations placed upon landowners. Alternatively, state conservation policies can be passed to make it easier for property owners by creating a financially rewarding system while offering protection from undue hardship. The results of PERC’s study are a mixed bag, but it is encouraging to see that many states are making it easier to spur private conservation practices.
The full report can be read here.
Kelvey Vander Hart is a native Iowan, a member of the American Conservation Coalition, and a communications specialist at Reason Foundation.