Human Ecology

, Volume 28, Issue 2, pp 145-169

First online:

Clearcutting Maine: Implications for the Theory of Common Property Resources

  • James AchesonAffiliated withDepartment of Anthropology and School of Marine Sciences, University of Maine

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One of the basic tenets of the theory of common property resources is that private property rights work to conserve natural resources. There is growing evidence, however, that some large forest owners in Maine are cutting their forests heavily, using poor-quality silviculture techniques. This overexploitation is being done by paper companies, forest contractors, and some private land owners, who are being motivated by very different sets of factors. This article explores the reasons that private owners of forest resources are overexploiting their own lands and the implications of this for the theory of common property resources. Secure private property rights alone will not be enough to conserve resources and do away with externalities when the owners are operating in a system demanding constant short-term profits, where they are producing undifferentiated commodities in a highly competitive market, where the future value of slow-growing resources is very low, and where harvesting has so many ramifying biological and social effects.

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