Ideas, Incentives, Gifts, and Governance: Toward Conservation Stewardship of Private Land, in Cultural and Psychological Perspective

84 Pages Posted: 7 Apr 2004

See all articles by Christopher S. Elmendorf

Christopher S. Elmendorf

University of California, Davis - School of Law


Conserving ecological resources on private lands appears to require both (a) supportive landowners, and (b) regulatory coercion, notwithstanding, (c) that rural landowners comprise the most consistently antienvironmental demographic group in America. Neither policymakers nor legal scholars have come up with satisfying responses to 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.

Keywords: environment, ecology, wildlife, habitat, conservation, nature, culture, psychology, norms, special districts, contract, regulation, common property, co-management

Suggested Citation

Elmendorf, Christopher S., Ideas, Incentives, Gifts, and Governance: Toward Conservation Stewardship of Private Land, in Cultural and Psychological Perspective. University of Illinois Law Review, Vol. 2003, No. 2, pp. 423-505. Available at SSRN:

Christopher S. Elmendorf (Contact Author)

University of California, Davis - School of Law ( email )

Martin Luther King, Jr. Hall
Davis, CA CA 95616-5201
United States
530-752-5756 (Phone)
530-753-5311 (Fax)

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