In the past few hundred years, the North American elk population has dropped by 90%. Today, there are only one million left. Elk are not currently endangered, but their preservation should be of concern to all us; as the elk go, so does the health of the habitat.

“Elk are important ecologically and can provide an indicator of how well habitats are functioning,” the U.S. Forest Service reports. But they could be at risk: “Expanding human populations into elk habitat and declining habitat quality remain some of the primary long term risks to elk.”

Elk need green space that seems to be disappearing, and many of the places through which they would travel in their migrations are on private land. That’s where free market conservation comes in.

Brian Yablonski is the CEO of Property and Environment Research Center (PERC), an organization that has been working to create and implement market-based solutions to conservation issues for more than 40 years. One such issue is the elk population.

To keep elk numbers from dwindling, PERC has a creative solution. It has partnered with the Greater Yellowstone Coalition to use donations to pay landowners “elk rent” for allowing the animals to travel through their property. Game cameras capture the number of elk on a plot of land, and ranchers get paid per elk, which helps offsets the costs that can come along with hosting wildlife, including broken fences, predators and more.

The system is a win-win. Ranchers get paid to help the elk, and the elk get safe passage on their migratory journey, ensuring their populations can continue to the next generation.

Yablonski says in order for these types of solutions to work, you have to “make conservation more of an asset than a liability.”

“There are people wanting to connect to a market-based approach to conservation. They just haven’t been given the market-based tools,” Yablonski says.