Conservation — cooperation or coercion?
After the way the Bush Administration has been blitzed lately for its environmental policies, it was interesting to
spend time last week with the new Deputy Secretary of the Interior, Lynn Scarlett, to get her point of view. And, since
she has only just left her former
position of Assistant Secretary for
Policy, she is the horse’s mouth for the administration’s environmental policies.
We talked mostly about Interior’s
new “cooperative conservation” policies, which emphasize cooperating with the
private individuals, companies and institutions, together with state and local
governments, as the most effective way of implementing environmental
Examples of cooperation are:
closely with Chevron Hawaii to protect
and manage a population of the endangered Hawaiian stilt and Hawaiian coot
at the James
Park refinery on the Ewa plain.[ii]
winegrowers to help fund the planting of elderberry plants around grape
vines to provide habitat for
the endangered elderberry beetle.[iii]
- Helping Maui
Coast Land Trust fund the purchase of 277 acres of undeveloped coastal dunes on the island
with a $1 million grant.
The present change is more one of
emphasis than radical change. Earlier policies relied more
on coercive regulation to conserve the environment rather than the current
policy, termed “cooperative conservation,” where they rely more on willing cooperation among the various
The more virulent
of the environmentalists have excoriated
the new emphasis as being everything from a “conservation con game”[iv]
to a “campaign ploy” to dismissing it "just another name for voluntary partnership .... It's not enough."[v]
Which raises the question, if voluntary is not enough, will only coercion do?
Having just read Thomas Sowell’s recent and fascinating
article, “Them or Us,”[vi]
I felt that some of this criticism had a familiar ring to it. Sowell says that,
“true believers don’t think in terms of trade-offs and cost-benefit analysis.”
It is not about “which policy would produce what results. It was about personal
identification with lofty goals and kindred souls.”
For example, no
one ever suggested that Ronald Reagan get a Peace Prize for
bringing the Soviet Union to its economic
knees — even though that ended the Cold War.[vii]
To be lauded by the peace lobby requires that one show a dovish approach to the
subject — regardless of results.
Scarlett says results are what counts; getting the best environmental
bang for the available government
buck. If ranchers discover endangered plant species on their properties, it
should be in their best economic interests to conserve them, rather than plough
them under in order to retain full
rights over their land.
One of the ways of dealing with such situations is the
development of Safe Harbor
Agreements. The Environmental Defense organization
says, “The basic idea … is that people who do good
deeds shouldn't be punished for
doing them. And so, in a Safe Harbor
agreement, a landowner commits to doing a "good deed" for endangered wildlife — usually by restoring or
enhancing habitats for endangered
species — and the government pledges not to "punish" the landowner for doing that good deed.”[viii]
Scarlett point out
that voluntary private efforts,
alone or in conjunction with federal
and state assistance, have been largely overlooked. For
example, in the year 2000 non-regulatory
efforts preserved nearly two million
acres of wetlands.[ix]
For those with the mindset that the only way to deal
with private individuals and companies is through coercive legislation and
regulation, this change of emphasis is going to be unsatisfactory. It would seem they would prefer to do battle
with what they see as the “enemy,” rather than seek reasonable or even preferable solutions.
However, the only
satisfactory and sustainable
resolution to any dispute is when it is win-win rather than win-lose. The
win-lose resolution invariably results in an outcome that leaves bitterness with
the loser and a desire for revenge.
Thus, often win-lose turns into lose-lose.
The win-win aspect
of “cooperative conservation” may well turn out to be one of those extremely rare
government policies that not only works,
but has nearly all the participants satisfied with it.
Cliff Slater is a regular columnist whose footnoted
columns are available at: www.cliffslater.com