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Does Privatization Protect Natural Resources? Property Rights and Forests in Guatemala

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Objectives. Property rights are central to debates about natural resource policy. Governments traditionally have been seen as the appropriate custodians of natural resources for their citizens. More recently, many argue the privatization of property rights will ensure that users have incentives to manage their resources well. Common property, to the extent it is discussed at all, is seen as leading to the tragedy of the commons. We evaluate these claims by assessing property rights and forest conditions in two private and three communal forests in Guatemala. Methods. Data on biological and social phenomena from five forests (151 plots) and their associated communities were collected using the International Forestry Resources and Institutions Research Program protocols. Ordinary least squares regression was used to analyze four models. We examined t-scores for differences in coefficients for the different models. Results. The models demonstrate that de jure property rights are not a powerful predictor of variations among the sampled forests. Conclusions. We argue that de facto institutions and their enforcement are much more important than de jure property rights to forest management. Communities holding a forest in common can, under certain circumstances, create institutions to manage their resources as successfully as—or more successfully than—private owners.
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Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 1: University of California–San Diego, 2: Centro de Investigacion y Docencia Economicas–Mexico, 3: University of California–Riverside

Publication date: 2002-03-01

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