What Would Environmentalists Do If They Owned ANWR?
The debate over the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge reemerged last week as the Obama administration announced new protections for the vast, oil-rich Alaskan landscape. The Department of Interior is placing the 30,000 square mile ANWR off-limits to drilling, and the president wants Congress to further designate the refuge as wilderness—the highest form of federal protection. Under public ownership, ANWR takes on excessive political symbolism: Should we save the Arctic or destroy it for short-term profit? Protect America’s last great wilderness or drill, baby, drill? The Rainey Sanctuary demonstrates that it doesn’t have to be one or the other. Private ownership gives environmental groups a strong incentive to balance conservation with resource development and resolve competing demands in a cooperative, mutually beneficial way. Property rights matter. When environmental groups bear the costs of managing their own lands, their behavior is often very different than what they advocate on publicly owned lands.