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Measures against the abandonment of common property summer pastures: experimental evidence from joint appropriation–provision games

Ivo Baur, École polytechnique fédérale de Lausanne ‐ EPFL
Heinrich H. Nax, Behavioral Game Theory, ETH Zurich; University of Zurich


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Common property summer pastures constitute longstanding evidence that the tragedy of the commons can be prevented through self-organization. As a byproduct of their sustainable governance, high nature value farming systems with well-integrated patchy landscapes have existed for centuries. These common pool resources—which have historically needed protection from overexploitation—today suffer from underutilization, and their continued use is often contingent on government subsidies. The current study sought to identify which user, institutional, and resource attributes contribute to the sustainable use of high nature value summer pastures. Taking as our point of departure a recent field study of Swiss Alpine grazing lands, we set out to experimentally identify the most promising mechanisms for successful resource management in this context. To do so, we implement a controlled experiment that closely mirrors our field observations ("field-in-the-lab"), and parametrize our experiment to replicate field data. Our focus is on the institutional linkage of provision and appropriation. Our treatments varied across a range of parameters, ceteris paribus, to isolate which governance elements are most relevant; we did so to identify which policy options and scenarios should be prioritized in practical policy evaluations. It turns out that underappropriation appears to be the main management challenge for Swiss common property pastures today. Our analytical results suggest that current governance institutions—and, more specifically, how they link appropriation to provision requirements—might need to be overhauled. The most promising avenues for doing so appear to be increased provision requirements, incentivized overprovision, and appropriation subsidies. Thus, our study highlights promising institutional adaptations at various governance levels that potentially counteract the decreasing use of high nature value common property pastures in Switzerland and elsewhere in Europe.

Key words

appropriation; common pool resource management; field data; lab experiments; policy, provision; sustainability

Copyright © 2021 by the author(s). Published here under license by The Resilience Alliance. This article is under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License. You may share and adapt the work for noncommercial purposes provided the original author and source are credited, you indicate whether any changes were made, and you include a link to the license.

Ecology and Society. ISSN: 1708-3087