Even the best-intended government policies can sometimes cause unintended consequences. When the government protected the spotted owl as an endangered species, for example, it became illegal to work the land this owl called home. So when farmers saw spotted owls on their land, they shot them. Measures to save the spotted owl also jeopardized the barred owl and triggered forest fires in the Northwest.

Not exactly the ideal model for environmental policy.

The goal of government should be a policy with as few unintended consequences as possible, or none at all. And one example of government getting it right is a little-known incentive meant to promote private land conservation while combining responsible environmental stewardship with responsible fiscal conservatism. The incentive, tax benefits for placing a conservation easement on private land and donating that land to a nonprofit, just needs a little bit of updating by Congress to keep the IRS from destroying it.