Environmental impacts of different property regimes in forests, fisheries and rangelands: preliminary findings from a systematic review

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Debate over the effects of different property regimes on natural resource systems has long been controversial, incited by Hardin’s (Hardin 1968) thesis that common pool resources will inevitably suffer from overexploitation and degradation. A large, diverse, and rapidly growing body of literature has investigated the links between different property rights regimes and environmental outcomes and shown that common, government, and private property rights regimes are each capable of yielding sustainable environmental outcomes. However, the existing evidence base is highly fragmented. There also exists a large body of literature reviews assessing the evidence base, but these reviews have been limited in scope, focusing on specific resource systems and specific regime comparisons without examining the links between property rights regimes and environmental outcomes across these resource systems. Also, few studies compare impacts across geographical regions.

This paper addresses this knowledge gap through a systematic review that assesses current knowledge of the impacts of property rights regimes on environmental outcomes in forests, fisheries, and rangelands in developing countries. We use a bundle of rights approach to assess environmental impacts across the three main property rights regimes--state, private, and community--as well as mixed property rights regimes that involve some combination of these three.

The review screened over 29,000 references and identified a total of 208 relevant articles, but was only able to use 107 of these articles in data analysis, as the remaining articles were unclear in their presentation of property regimes. A total of 342 case studies were extracted from these 107 articles, as many articles included more than one case study.

Preliminary results show that most of the included articles examine forests (53 articles), followed by fisheries (40 articles) and rangelands (14 articles). Geographically, most of the studies were conducted in Africa (43); with equal number of studies conducted in Asia (including Melanesia) and Latin America and the Caribbean (32 each).

In general, the quality of the evidence base is limited by the lack of data from cases prior to property regime change, and most case studies present spatial comparisons in a control-impact setting. Only 20 articles (N=107) contain data from cases prior to property regime change, while the remaining 87 articles present spatial comparisons between cases with and without property rights arrangements. As many studies address the impact of formal protection compared to adjacent areas, adequate proof for site similarity is often missing. Comparison between cases is further complicated by the wide variety of environmental indicators used for measuring environmental outcomes.


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