Debates about environmental stewardship and conservation have been a key fixture of public debate for decades.

With calls to preserve the natural environment, many have advocated for the expansion of government-owned property as the primary way to protect the environment and increase its quality. However, it is worth considering potential conservation alternatives that do not require putting more property in the hands of the state. 

The traditional approach for many conservation initiatives has been for the government to purchase property from the private sector and then allocate that land for conservation purposes. This approach has been reasonably effective in many cases. However, it is important to consider the strong potential for conservation on privately held lands.

According to the U.S. Geological Survey, approximately 93 percent of Mississippi land is under private jurisdiction. This places Mississippi among the highest in the country for the amount of land that is privately managed. As a state with so many natural resources and natural beauty, the opportunities for conservation and stewardship abound. 

With so many private landowners, there is considerable potential behind the concept of incentivizing private land conservation using the state funds that are already allocated for conservation anyway. Such a model not only respects private property, but it also gives money back to taxpayers by supporting conservation efforts on their privately held lands. 

There are several opportunities for the state to spend its appropriated conservation funds as effectively as possible. Mississippi could see the realization of private land conservation efforts in different contexts. Drawing largely from the state’s primary land uses found in cropland and forestry, there are a plethora of ways that private landowners can utilize their property in Mississippi for conservation efforts.

In agriculture, the opportunity for farmers to utilize specific sectors of their property for conservation carries enormous potential. For instance, while a lowland sector of a farm could be risky for crops due to flooding concerns, such land could carry great potential for waterfowl conservation

With the allocation of the state’s conservation funds, farmers could establish a waterfowl habitat. The same goes for good cropland as well. In the advent of new technologies, it has even become possible for farmers to determine which sectors of their cropland have the greatest potential for conservation

In forestry, conservation efforts on private land have obvious potential to create habitats for wildlife within timberland. In Mississippi, 77 percent of all timberland is privately owned, equating to approximately 15.1 million acres. 

Given that many timberlands cover vast areas and are ecosystems in their own right, policies that directed conservation funds to these private lands would greatly expand the potential for conservation funds to be used as effectively as possible. 

Mississippi is a beautiful state, and its natural beauty should be preserved for future generations. By allocating conservation funds to private landowners, the state could continue to protect Mississippi’s natural habitats. Ninety-three percent of Mississippi’s land is in the hands of private citizens. The state should ensure that the funds it appropriates for conservation can be directed back to taxpayers’ property worth conserving and not just government property.