In Papua New Guinea, the fate of forests is governed by forest-dwelling tribal societies. A rapidly increasing pace of logging compels us to ask why tribal communities prefer logging to conservation. In the absence of feasible development opportunities, remote communities become quickly enthusiastic about conservation projects, but once an area is opened up to logging few such projects survive. Direct payments to forest owners to cover the costs of missed opportunities for economic development are advocated here to make conservation competitive. A conservation royalty scheme would deliver a higher proportion of the conservation funds to the resource owners than the management-intensive community development projects currently favored. Such an approach requires a profound cultural change within conservation organizations from a ‘development aid’ approach to one more oriented toward business.