Buying Nature

From American and Comparative Environmental Policy

Buying Nature

The Limits of Land Acquisition as a Conservation Strategy, 1780-2004

By Sally K. Fairfax, Lauren Gwin, Mary Ann King, Leigh Raymond and Laura A. Watt





Buying land to conserve it is not a recent phenomenon. Buying Nature chronicles the evolution of land acquisition as a conservation strategy in the United States since the late 1700s. It goes beyond the usual focus on conservation successes to provide a critical assessment of both public and private land acquisition efforts.

The book shows that for more than 200 years, both private purchasers—such as the Nature Conservancy and the Trust for Public Land—and governmental agencies have acquired land for conservation. It documents trends of growing complexity in transactions and a blurring of public and private roles. The preservation of Mount Vernon and its grounds, for example, began with a private group—the Mount Vernon Ladies Association of the Union—and continues today with a mosaic of private, state, and federal actors. The current emphasis on private land trust acquisitions, the authors argue, may undercut other effective governmental efforts to preserve the environment and may not be the best way to meet conservation goals. Buying Nature emphasizes the accountability issues that arise when the line between public and private efforts is indistinct. The authors also pay unique attention to how federal land agencies' individual histories shape their participation in modern land acquisition transactions. An unusual mix of scholarship, the book combines political, legal and constitutional, and economic history with rich case studies of land conservation and quantitative analyses of acquisitions over time to provide a new and distinctive perspective on enduring questions of public policy and environmental protection.


Out of Print ISBN: 9780262062480 360 pp. | 6 in x 9 in 25 illus.


$35.00 X ISBN: 9780262562102 360 pp. | 6 in x 9 in 25 illus.


  • This book makes an important contribution to an ongoing discussion of global environmental governance, and it is a wonderful balance to the many works that see globalization as both inevitable and mostly good. The picture of the global and the local that emerges is complex, nuanced, contextual, and very interesting. Its readability and accessibility to an interdisciplinary audience will make it highly attractive to graduate and undergraduate course adoption in a variety of disciplines.

    Helen Ingram

    Professor of Political Science and Warmington Endowed Chair in the School of Social Ecology, University of California, Irvine

  • To truly protect land you need to own it or a portion of the rights to it. But who owns, how did they gain ownership, and how do they manage the land are questions unasked until Fairfax and her coauthors wrote this book. By carefully exploring the mosaic of actors, tools, controls, and conservation authorities, they identify the complexities and diversity of modern conservation management. Every student of public lands and conservation policies should read this book.

    Randy T. Simmons

    Professor and Department Head, Department of Political Science, Utah State University

  • Buying Nature is the definitive work on land acquisition for conservation purposes in the United States. With its sweeping history and critical assessment of public and private policies, the book redefines how we think and how we should think about land acquisition. The wealth of information alone will make Buying Nature a standard reference for academics and practitioners for years to come. The policy critique makes this information immediately relevant.

    Craig W. Thomas

    Department of Political Science, University of Massachusetts Amherst

  • The authors of Buying Nature use their considerable interdisciplinary talent to make sense of the patchwork practices of land conservation in the United States. The compelling evidence they marshal defies all simple solutions dictated by ideology. The book is required reading for anyone interested in natural resources policy.

    Helen Ingram

    Professor of Political Science and Warmington Endowed Chair in the School of Social Ecology, University of California, Irvine