Letters to the Editor

Keep the Alternatives to Market-Based Hunting

There is some merit in Terry Anderson's thesis (On Target, December 2005) that unlimited access can lead to a tragedy of the commons, and I have personally seen some areas of public land that are overcrowded. However, your recommendation of private land with limited access (presumably with market forces setting the price of access) is not the only way to avoid this outcome.

Hunter access can be and often is limited through permit systems or mechanical methods restrictions. This leads to the same quality hunting experiences you describe on private land. I hunted several areas of national forest last fall where I saw few or no other hunters and saw and heard abundant wildlife, including grizzly bears.

Market-based hunting access has its place and, for people who can afford it, offers a viable alternative. But such a system would price many Montana residents out of any opportunity to hunt. The loss of those hunters, and the resultant drop in public support for conservation, would be an outcome equally as tragic as those you describe. Fortunately, in Montana we have significant amounts of both private and public land and can apply multiple approaches to providing access to meet the needs of a broad range of hunters while conserving wildlife across the entire landscape.

-Chris Smith
Chief of Staff, Montana Fish Wildlife and Parks
Helena, Montana

Terry Anderson Replies

I agree that there are ways other than markets to prevent the tragedy of the commons. Montana State University economics professor Dave Buschena and I studied weapon restrictions in Colorado. We found that weapon restrictions (limiting weapons to bows and arrows, for example) increase the value of the hunt, which is another way of saying that they reduce the tragedy of the commons.

There are, however, at least two reasons that I think other types of restrictions are not "on target." First, many are extremely inefficient. The managers of a Chesapeake oyster fishery prevented the tragedy of the commons by requiring oystermen to use only sailboats even though power boats were available. Yes, this limited entry by raising the cost, but it made no sense from an efficiency perspective. Similar stories abound from the regulation of other ocean fisheries.

Second, other mechanisms typically do not generate positive incentives for land managers, public or private. If we hunters paid a fee for hunting on Forest Service land as we do for state lands, we might get more attention from the agency; today, Forest Service managers have little incentive to enhance wildlife habitat. The beauty of the market mechanism is that it makes wildlife habitat an asset and therefore rewards the manager for better stewardship.

It may be true that a market-based access system would price some Montanans out of the market, but this is an empirical statement for which there are no data. You are assuming that all access will be high-priced. The same holds for the argument that a market would reduce support for hunting. Some counterevidence to both of these claims comes from the southeastern United States where there is little public land and where market-based access is prevalent. The hunting culture is arguably stronger there than here, and fees vary from very high to quite low, depending on quality. It does not appear that hunting is on the decline as a result of markets.

You are certainly correct in pointing out that we have the opportunity in Montana to try many options. I was trying to emphasize the market option because too many sportsmen and women ignore it and put their heads in the sand thinking it will go away. The pressure for high-quality recreation on private land is growing, and it will lead to more market opportunities for the landowner. As Montanans, we would do well to find ways to be a part of that solution rather than ignoring or trying to prohibit it.


Making Congress Accountable

David Schoenbrod's "Irresponsible Environmental Policy," (December 2005) effectively points out that despite the U.S. Constitution's assignment of all legislative powers to Congress, members of Congress have abdicated much of their lawmaking responsibility over environmental issues. A few added points are worth making

First, the growth of unjustified delegation of Congress's lawmaking powers goes back at least to U.S. v. Grimand in 1911. Congress had begun giving administrative agencies power to formulate rules to implement Congress' general policy objectives, and in Grimand the Supreme Court gave such rulings the full force of law. Delegation has mushroomed since. Reining in such delegation will require overcoming a great deal of inertia.

Second, congressional delegation of its regulatory powers to executive agencies is a sign that the legislators do not know enough to improve social outcomes. And many times, they don't even know what the real problems are.

Third, political efforts have been underway for years to address this problem. Those efforts focus on the Congressional Responsibility Act, which has been introduced each session of Congress for almost a decade. It would end the legislative delegation by allowing agency regulations to go into effect only if passed by Congress and signed by the president.

- Gary M. Galles
Professor of Economics
Pepperdine University

David Shoenbrod Replies

I was consulted in the drafting of the Congressional Responsibility Act bill and supported it during several hearings. But Congress instead enacted the Congressional Review Act. The Congressional Responsibility Act would have required the legislators to vote on agency laws before they could go into effect. The bill that became law gave the legislators the option to vote or not. They almost always decline' to avoid being accountable for controversial choices.


Conservation Easements are Public Goods?

In earlier issues of PERC Reports I have read comments that express some reservations about the impact of conservation easements, so I was surprised at the favorable attitude toward them in the June 2005 issue ("How To Avoid Tax Cheating,?" by Terry L. Anderson and Jon Christensen). One of my many concerns is this: If land trusts were truly altruistically interested in buying land and saving it, either privately or for the public, they would pay the full price to the private landowner. But they don't, because they can gain control through below-market, irrevocable conservation easements, or by brokering deals bankrolled by the public (as with open space initiatives supported by voters).

Dave Larson
Owner/operator, Larson Red Angus
Big Timber, Montana


Terry Anderson Replies

You raise two points here. As you will see in my column in this issue (p. 17), I too have some reservations about trusts. Our article, however, took the position that it's wrong to "throw the baby out with the bath."

Your first point is that if trusts were truly altruistic, they would pay full price for the land. But buying the land outright does not make sense in all cases, as research by PERC senior research fellow Dominic Parker (2005) points out. In some, perhaps many, cases, using easements to purchase only a few sticks from the bundle of rights makes more sense than owning all the sticks. Furthermore, Parker's research suggests that land trusts holding the land do a better job of managing land than we would get under governmental ownership.

Your second point focuses on the role of the public in financing these deals, and I recognize that this is the crux of the free market environmentalism issue. We tried to emphasize in the PERC Reports article that tax-supported conservation easements are justified to the extent that the easements produce public goods.

Economists view public goods as goods that benefit many people, but, unlike with private goods, some of the people who benefit cannot be required to pay for the good. Scenic views and open space may fit this category. With these goods, people tend to be "free riders," letting others pay for them even though they themselves benefit. If protecting open space is a public good, economic theory would suggest that there will be too little voluntary support for it.

The free rider problem is one of the main justifications for government intervention. Forcing people to pay (through taxes) overrides their unwillingness to pay and makes possible the full provision of public goods. In the case of conservation easements, allowing tax deductions for those who provide the public goods means that the larger public is helping to support (to "bankroll" the public good

But when the easement provides mainly private goods (such as preventing development on my neighbor's land), there is no justification for such bankrolling. So when it comes to conservation easements, the extent of the public good is really the issue.

Parker, Dominic P. 2005. Conservation Easements: A Closer Look at Federal Tax Policy. PERC Policy Series PS-34. Bozeman, MT: PERC, October.

Jane S. Shaw welcomes vigorous debate about controversial environmental topics. Send your letters to her at: PERC Reports, 2048 Analysis Drive, Suite A, Bozeman, MT 59718 or shaw@perc.org.


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