Private property, we are told by progressives, involves privilege, exclusion, and repression. Public property, on the other hand, is supposedly one source of equality. As the theory goes, public property is commonly owned, eliminating any preference to the users of the property. Public property offers us parks, sidewalks, highways, rivers, grazing lands, monuments, and state buildings available to the masses. Excusing the obvious lack of control that any private citizen retains over any of these facilities (i.e. ownership), the benefits of these assets are easily seen: parkland for leisure, avenues of transit, water and lands for consumption, historical references, and infrastructure to access state benefits.
However, consumption of public property results in the “tragedy of the commons“; consumers of public facilities have little incentive to conserve the benefits available. In fact, users of these assets have an incentive to overuse what is available relative to other users of the same lands. For example, a cattle herd grazing public lands benefits more from eating all available foliage than leaving some for competitive herds. When a consumer has no vested interest in perpetuating available resources, they are instead incentivized to deplete resources as long as afforded access.
As for stewardship: those administering or maintaining public lands have incentives that run counter to conservation. To begin with, stewards on the public payroll typically realize no benefit for prolonged availability of the resources they protect. If they did see a benefit, they would be inclined to eliminate access to optimize their own benefit. Additionally, depletion of resources can offer an argument for increased, or at least prolonged, stewardship. In short, stewardship of public lands is just as prone to reverse incentives as is consumption of those same resources. These are the unseen effects of public property.