Perspective: Private Property

It is not the right of property which is protected, but the right to property. Property, per se, has no rights; but the individual, the man, has three great rights, equally sacred from arbitrary interference: the right to his life, the right to his liberty, the right to his property . . . . The three rights are so bound together as to be essentially one right. To give a man his life but deny him his liberty is to take from him all that makes his life worth living. To give him liberty but to take from him the property which is the fruit and badge of his liberty, is to still leave him a slave.

—Justice George Sutherland

Government Against Wildlife

Perversely, the government sometimes penalizes landowners for improving habitat. Dayton Hyde, who put 25 percent of his ranch into marshes for wildlife, initiated research on the sandhill crane and built a lake with three and a half miles of shoreline for wildlife. But he paid a price: “My lands have been zoned. I am being regulated for wetlands that weren’t there before I created them. Like most of my neighbors I can save myself from financial disaster only by some creative land management, but the state legislature has cut out most of my options.”

As founder of Operation Stronghold, an international organization of private landowners practicing conservation on their land, Hyde is serious about wildlife conservation. But his efforts rest on the cooperation of thousands of private landowners, who could go a lot further if government would refrain from imposing costly zoning restrictions. Hyde has found that some ranchers are reluctant to join. As one landowner put it: “Look, you don’t understand. We would like to do our share for wildlife but we are afraid if we create something worthwhile the public will want what we have. It’s just plain easier and a lot safer to sterilize the land.” Because the willingness of the private sector to improve habitat or create recreational opportunity depends on the incentives landowners face, we cannot expect a positive response from the private sector if landowners are penalized for improving habitat.

—Terry L. Anderson And Donald R. Leal

Free Market Environmentalism

Spotted Owl with Tarragon Pesto?

I have one question about that April 2 environmental teach-in in Portland with President Clinton: Why are those spotted owl couples entitled to 300 acres each? Candidate Clinton pledged to help “the ones who do the work and play by the rules,” and I know a lot of humans like that and none of them has even one acre.

“The ones who do the work and play by the rules” are getting an average of $4,500 added to each new house in higher lumber prices. The price of 2×4s is up 90 percent since November, in no small part because of the logging restrictions imposed by environmentalists.

John Hampton, president of Willamina Lumber Company, figures that the proposed millions of acres in set-asides for owl habitat will have each pair of spotted owls sitting on $95 million in timber.

On the top of these rising lumber prices, there’s unemployment. The people in Oregon, Washington, and California stand to lose anywhere from 10,000 to 50,000 logging jobs, plus the secondary unemployment that will ripple out.

The bottom line, as I understand it, is that someone has to move, either the loggers or the owls. Neither can live with the other; both have their family roots deeply planted in the same “old growth” forests, and someone is going to end up losing his home. Just looking at that aspect, from an economist’s focus on costs and benefits, it’s clearly the owl couples who should hit the road since their homes are next to worthless.

And in terms of the actual costs of moving, loggers must hire expensive vans and help, whereas all the owls have to do is wake up when they hear the saws and fly over to some other trees. Isn’t that why birds have wings, so they can fly? Many birds fly thousands of miles each year; some even do a roundtrip from Canada to Argentina every year without whining about it. But environmentalists whine because owls might have to move to “new growth” trees. So there they sit, even though they are costing millions of dollars in unnecessary housing costs, tens of thousands of lost jobs, and the closing of entire human towns.

It’s time to tell the spotted owls to start playing survival of the fittest and move on and take their chances adapting to a new environment, just like most of the rest of us did. The Irish survived the potato famine by moving to New York City and the Cubans survived Castro’s power grab by moving to Miami. Why should someone with wings be expected to do less?

—Ralph R. Reiland

Robert Morris College

Acid Rain

In 1980 the Environmental Protection Agency asserted that the average lake in the northeastern United States had been acidified a hundredfold in the last 40 years by acid rain. And the National Academy of Sciences claimed that acid rain would double the damage again by 1990.

But the 10-year National Acid Precipitation Assessment Program (NAPAP), conducted under the auspices of the EPA, has completely discredited these claims and shown them to be baseless. The $500 million study found that:

• The average lake in the Adirondacks is no more acidic now than it was before the Industrial Revolution.

• There was no measurable change in the acidity of lakes over the preceding 10 years.

• Only 35,000 of the 200 million acres of U.S. lakes are too acidic to support sports fisheries—and most of this acidity is natural.

Executive Alert