To Homestead a Nature Preserve

A response to Block and Edelstein, “POPSICLE STICKS AND HOMESTEADING LAND
FOR NATURE PRESERVES” (, Accessed on 4-22-2015)

Peter Lothian Nelson, PE


With the current widespread interest in preservation and in the natural environment, it behooves Libertarians to consider how to perform similar safeguards while respecting private property. Extant nature preserves tend overwhelmingly to be government owned. The few remaining are run by NGOs which usually eschew the profit motive and, hence, the ability to perform economic calculations. The difficulty for freedom loving people is that real property is based on mixing one’s labor, which is uniquely their own, with virgin territory to create a personal property. On the contrary an unsullied reservation would appear to prevent such mixing of labor and land. This article demonstrates that simple preservation is inadequate for the purpose. Restoration, maintenance, and on-going activities that involve intensive labor are necessary and compatible with conservancy. While it is the entrepreneur that determines the goal of a reserve, profit opportunities are suggested. That ethical, non-violent, profitable processes can be used to create a nature preserve is demonstrated.


JEL Classification: Q24

To Homestead a Nature Preserve

Peter Lothian Nelson, PE

HOW CAN AN ORIGINAL EXPLORER homestead a nature preserve? With the current interest in organic culture, it is incumbent on libertarians to address how one might preserve a natural environment. Statists assert they are the only people concerned to safeguard the environment. Most reservations, wilderness areas, national parks, etc. are lands claimed by governments. While a few NGOs conduct such enterprises, almost all of these seek governmental partnerships and approval while they eschew the profit motive. What is glaringly missing in such endeavors is regard for the expenses or resources required to create an enclosure and a clear, articulable goal. They tend to fall prey to a cabal of unethical and competing interest groups each hoping to gain a rent for themselves at the involuntary expense of other people.

Homesteading refers to an action to establish a property right in previously unowned land. According to the theories of 17th century philosopher, John Locke, ownership is based on mixing one’s labor with the land and thus making it an extension of his person:

“[E]very man has a property in his own person. This nobody has any right to but himself. The labour of his body and the work of his hands, we may say, are properly his. Whatsoever, then, he removes out of the state that nature hath provided, and left it in, he hath mixed his labour with it, and joined to it something that is his own, and thereby makes it his property.” (Locke, 1948,, Accessed on 4-22-2015)

This basic libertarian principle works admirably when making such alterations to virgin territory as establishing a farm. Clearly, a farmer who has cleared the land, built a house and a barn, and tilled and planted a crop has made what was of little or no value into a resource capable of providing sustenance. The increase in value stems from his own valuation manifested by his personal labor. The overwhelming majority, if not all, of the value that he places on the farm is an extension of his very person and cannot be legitimately taken from him. Two other factors influence whether such activities amount to making a personal asset according to Locke’s principle.

(1.) Homesteading must create value or have purpose because if after mixing his labor with the land the pioneer finds that the altered state has no value, he will abandon it. Profit drives creative endeavors. The entrepreneur can calculate the effort expended on the enterprise as well as the income estimate he expects to derive (Brätland, 2006,, Accessed on 4-22-2015). If at anytime that calculation demonstrates inadequate value, he will walk away. His work will deteriorate and the supposed asset will return towards a more natural state. Eventually it will be as though he were never there.

(2.) The work must be real. If a wilderness hiker should light a camp fire and then lose control so that it burns down the forest, he does not thereby establish a homestead. Instead he has created a disaster area with no value.[1] In a similar vein consider the answer of Friedman (1983,, Accessed on 4-22-2015) to Nozick’s question:

“Robert Nozick, in Anarchy, State and Utopia, asks whether, when he dumps a can of tomato soup in the pacific ocean [sic], he acquires ownership over the ocean (having mixed his tomato soup with it) or merely loses the soup. My answer is that he has merely lost his soup. My justification is the assertion that my swimming somewhere off Bali, while it may move molecules of his soup around, does not injure him; the molecules are no more use to him before I move them than afterward.”

The afore-mentioned use to which a homesteader might put land involves rigorous labor. A question arises for Libertarians about what to do should a young enterpriser wish to establish a nature preserve. Nothing natural attains to a farm or a factory; they are inimical to the concept of unsullied ground. Is it therefore impossible for freedom loving people to protect untarnished land?

This article demonstrates that answer to be NO! A pioneer can create a nature preserve. Others have attempted to show methods for doing just that, but they involve alterations to the land (Block, 2012). Herein, no deliberate alterations to the land are proposed; though, restoration is allowed, indeed mandated.

What is a nature preserve? Presumably, it is an area of earth that remains in a pristine unaltered state. However, the earth is constantly mutable. “Unaltered” does not work because it does not refer to a known state of being. Would it be to preserve the status quo? Would it be enough to never again allow a human to enter the reservation? As this article will demonstrate, that too will not work; but for now, let us assume that this last definition is what is meant by establishing a nature preserve.

Then it would appear that mixing one’s labor with the land to formalize unsullied land is impossible. There could be no homestead. As soon as one created a farmstead by mixing his labor with the land, the status quo would be upset. Block and Edelstein (2012) suggest a number of low impact alternatives including the launching of Popsicle sticks, or pasturing cattle. We do not need to go into those here as they already reject those solutions for the obvious anthropologic intrusions that they are. Rather they propose an inventive solution: taking control of a native species of small creatures such as frogs or insects that are natural to the area and then releasing them into the property to be homesteaded.

This supposed resolution, were it possible, is still an impact. That the footprint is small in no way changes the reality of human intrusion. But one might point out that they suggest subtle control techniques. They propose the use of a lure to attract a practicable species. Once having captured and homesteaded these animals, they train them and put them to work by releasing them to do the homesteading at their behest. Not only do these actions constitute an impression, they in no way further the goal of the developer. They are to no purpose.

The problem is that Block and Edelstein try too hard to satisfy “radical environmentalists” while failing to establish a genuine nature preserve. They refer to their activities as “herculean efforts”. Such efforts are not such; rather they are a skiver’s pseudo-effort which avoids the truly hard work of establishing a pure reservation. Perfect, after all, is the enemy of the good. Furthermore, one must ask what exactly the purpose of this arrangement is. The formula sounds more like a measly claim[2] than a bona fide homestead.

There is no need to be as puritanical as radical environmentalists. To understand why, let us reconsider that to establish a nature preserve is “to preserve the status quo… it would be enough to never again allow a human to enter the reservation.” The first act of “labor” would establish a screen or its equivalent together with “keep out” signs. However, simply fencing and signing is inadequate because such an act would not preserve the environment.

Consider the flora in the status quo preserve. The pioneer cannot legitimately force nearby property owners to create similar reservations. That combined with the fact that the winds will blow[3] means that the vegetation will change over time.[4] Those changes will start immediately as pollen from the neighbor’s crops hybridizes with compatible species within the compound.[5] Birds unable to distinguish property lines will import the seeds of non-native plants. The manager of the paddock, if he wishes to have a truly pristine unaltered state of affairs must constantly undo such adulterations, for even though the processes are natural, the invading materials are not. Moreover, he must diligently survey the property and catalogue both the flora and fauna in order to understand exactly what is and is not native. Rather than launch some implausible low-footprint ruse for no purpose, the homesteader would necessarily apply intense labor to maintain a nature preserve as unsullied. In other words, his labor would be directed purposefully at his goal.

As intensive as the preceding would be, it is not enough. Consider the fauna. Some animals prey on others. If there are too many predators[6] the prey would become extinct in the preserve. This might occur even without animals crossing into or out of the enclave. To avoid that problem, the homesteader must keep it in balance. If the wolves are ascendant, proper maintenance will require periodic culling[7].

Finally, there is the goal of the nature preserve; what is it for? That would be up to the homesteader, but it might include such activities as scientific study of the natural environment. It might even include one-off intentional alterations for the purpose of understanding how the environment works and what impressions each defined modification would have. Such study, funded by persons interested in the research results, would involve the entry of people or at least manmade devices for data collection. Other purposes might include recreation: hunting, artistic sculpture, or hiking. Once again, all of those involve human access plus profit potential. The bottom line is that without his entry into the enclosure, without an objective for the homestead, it would appear to be nothing other than a vicious exercise to stake a claim in an attempt to inhibit the freedom of would-be homesteaders.

A nature preserve would and never could be absolutely 100 percent untouched.  The purposeful “monitoring” implies human entry to the reservation.  It could be remote, robotic, or areal observational in nature to reduce the foot print, but only the quixotic could believe that an enclosure could remain totally unscathed.  Furthermore, preservation itself is an intentional human act and hence a form of interference.

In conclusion, it is entirely within the Libertarian understanding of mixing one’s labor with the land to create and take possession of a nature preserve. Suspicious, questionable, and false labor that fails to attain its purpose is unnecessary as are violent and unethical governmental claims to oppress would be settlers. With the ability to define the goal and calculate the potential income, the sour politics of special interests and the need for state funded loot are avoided. To build a paling, monitor the enclosure, maintain the fence as well as the natural flora and fauna, and keep out interlopers requires intense, unending labor. It has purpose as determined by the proprietor. It is for his benefit and profit which stem from his blood, sweat, and tears. It would be a legitimate homestead.


[1] This thought abstracts from the idea that he might intentionally burn the forest to clear land as for farming.

[2] The proposal is not much different than a Francisco Vazquez de Coronado sticking a flag on a sea shore and claiming a continent.

[3] The winds are necessary for the viability of the reservation because they provide an essential method to effect pollination.

[4] Some might argue that the preserve is not large enough if the homesteader suffers such a problem. On the contrary, no matter how large the reservation, this issue will occur at all of the boundaries and spread into the interior given enough time. Furthermore, too much extent creates larger problems. Monitoring for changes will become more difficult if not impossible. Consider the plights of John Sutter (1857,, Accessed on 4-22-2015) and Mariano Vallejo (PBS, 2001,, Accessed on 4-22-2015) (isolating from the fact that these were not homesteaders and that their land grants covered territory already occupied by native people): Their land was so extensive that they could not inspect it and keep control. Both men were marginalized from “their” property because it was never properly homesteaded. It was merely claimed; thus, the immigration of other settlers could not be stopped.

[5] This slow deterioration can be viewed as but one more example of the Second Law of Thermal Dynamics: “Entropy increases.”

[6] One could imagine that even a lone wolf might be too much for the number of deer in a small enclosure.

[7] Such an act is considered verboten in most government national parks and wilderness areas or at least the subject of unending political controversy. Yet, it could further a profitable venture and keep the preserve pristine.