The Property and Environment Research Center (PERC) is accepting applications for the Enviropreneur Institute. The primary purpose of this blog post is to encourage any and all individuals interested in pursuing their enviropreneurial dreams to apply to the institute. If I could reapply, I would. I am an alumni and am entering year three of my enviropreneurial venture. This start-up was merely an idea when I attended the institute. I’ve leveraged the network I developed through this institute for the following: web development, marketing, PR, financing, project leads, project design, speaking engagements, thought leadership, fly fishing destinations (oh yeah) and good, clean, fun. As someone who chased these dreams and experienced the trials and triumphs of being an enviropreneur, I’ll leave you with this…
1. Enviropreneurs are simply entrepreneurs that leverage environmental capital.
2. The idea of leveraging environmental capital is a paradigm shift. Enjoy the ride and embrace the challenge.
3. Start-ups solve problems; enviropreneurs solve environmental problems. The opportunities are endless.
4. You lose 100% of the races you don’t start (I stole this one from a no fear t-shirt).
5. I’m proud to be an enviropreneur. It’s not easy, but it’s rewarding, and that is what makes life worth living.
With wolf numbers rising in the American West, ranchers are increasingly bearing the costs of their presence. This Guardian story has the details:
His farm equipment roster now includes a roll-out fence: a two-mile coil of electrified cable fitted with bright red strips of plastic. The sight of the streamers on the fence, called a Fladry line, stops the wolves in their tracks. "We have had them stop and just sit on the side," says [rancher Jim] Stone. But then the wolves grow accustomed to the streamers, forcing Stone to roll up the line and start all over again.
This summer, for the second year, Stone and his neighbours also clubbed together to hire a range rider to keep an eye on their cattle as they moved into remote areas. Peter Brown spent his days traversing the pastures by truck, motorcyle, on horseback and on foot.
The article goes on to describe other creative ways ranchers are coexisting with wolves, including using loudspeakers to play sounds such as sirens, helicopters, or gunshots when a wolf with a radio collar is in the area.
Todd Graham runs Madison Valley Expeditions, which works with private landowners to provide paying guests exclusive wildlife tours. Todd's business is turning wolves and other wildlife into an asset for landowners--not a liability.
As one rancher once told Hank, "It's easy to be a wolf lover. It doesn't cost anything. It's the people who own livestock who end up paying for wolves." Enviropreneurs like Hank and Todd understand this and are working to compensate landowners and enable them to coexist with wolves.
Paul Schwennesen recently appeared on Fox Business to discuss food safety. Paul offers more comments on the issue below.
We all want safe food. Question is, how do we get it? “There oughta be a law,” seems to be the generally conceived approach, as evidenced by recent passage of the now-famous food safety bill. A tidy and altogether comforting solution: simply slay the beast of dangerous food with the bludgeon of enlightened bureaucracy. But for the food advocates who support this kind of top-down solution, beware. The kind of government meddling that created cheap-at-any-cost is now about to do the same for “safe” food.
But isn’t food safety a pressing concern, a public health problem we can’t afford to fool around with? The problem is, the problem isn’t. Emotional rants that “thousands die every year!” do not help us grapple with the scope or magnitude of this alleged threat. Let’s try some perspective: according to the Centers for Disease Control, the estimated number of deaths caused by food borne illness numbers around five thousand a year. Sounds pretty bad, eh? Time to call in the Salmonella SWAT team? Before you do, consider that the same number of people die by intentionally strangling themselves each year. Or that the same number of people die from Alzheimer’s in California alone each year. Or that four times that number die each year accidentally falling off of things. Moreover, 70% of food borne illnesses result from poor food handling procedures during preparation. Unless you’re also on a crusade to flatten everything or cure Alzheimer’s, I’d think twice about ceding greater authority of our food system to centralized management.
True to form, Congress has blithely offered its professional problem-solving services to rid us of the menace of deadly food. And, true to form, it’s about to embark on another unarmed expedition into the tortuous territory of unintended consequences.
More regulations always have the effect of reducing the number of operators in that sector. It can be dramatic (as in the case of the payday loan industry), or it can be insidious (as in the case of the livestock industry). The food industry is no exception; it’s impossible to envision a wave of enthusiastic newcomers clamoring at the gates to enter the food business now that the FDA has been granted the most sweeping extension of powers in seventy years. Granted, some of the bad actors need to be pushed out of the industry (as in the Peanut Corp. of America, which apparently intentionally distributed salmonella-laced product). Call me a Pollyanna, but I don’t think the bad actors generally represent the food industry. The people who do represent a large part of the industry are the small, local, independent operators who have been squeaking by for decades. This kind of regulatory barrage is exactly the sort of thing to make them call it quits. BSE (mad cow) regulations pushed our predecessor to hang up his hat. The increasing silliness over E-coli testing pushed his predecessor over the brink years ago. Warranted or not, an increasingly difficult regulatory environment will always winnow out the small players, leaving the field more sparse than before.
Of course the demand for food hasn’t gone down, so how does the system accommodate a hungry public? Well, that’s where Cargill, Tyson, Monsanto and the rest of the Big Food set come in. They’re not evil (despite bumper-sticker claims to the contrary) they’re just picking up the slack left when the small guys get pushed out by Big Government. I know, I know, it’s easier to blame their success on high-priced lobbying and a cozy relationship with regulators. But consider this: government regulators can only be manipulated by the lobbying and cozying when their hands are firmly on the wheel of that particular industry.
The unintended consequence in this legislative bid to create safer food is to push more and more production into fewer and fewer hands. As we all know, the more top-heavy a thing gets, the more prone it is to toppling (pick your metaphor: pyramids, the Eiffel tower, icebergs, Michael Dukakis...). As Tom Philpott writes, “the real systematic risk of the food system [is] the exponential expansion of hazard that comes from concentrating huge amounts of production in relatively small spaces.”
So, is there any solution? If we agree that even one death from food borne illness is too many (and it is), then how can we aim to squeeze out that lingering menace without artificially exacerbating the very problem we are trying to solve? How can we do to Lysteria what we did to malaria?
I may be waxing heretical, but might I suggest de-regulation? Contrary to myth, markets are in fact very good at giving us what we want, even if those things are intangibles like clean air or safe food.
Let me give you an example: As a producer of livestock and owner of a small (very small, according to the USDA) packing house, I know about the raft of bureaucratic “protections” between you and the beef I produce. There is little or no incentive for me to create a remarkably safer production system because my processes are effectively in the hands of our state inspector. The incentive among producers is to win the race toward the bottom, where you can most cheaply and easily meet the minimum standard. Imagine for a moment what the food world would look like if we made food safety a competitive advantage. What if I could demonstrate (through third-party quality assurance, a sophisticated testing regime, or something completely unthought-of of) that my beef was quantitatively safer than my competition? I suspect that the maligned self-interest of “money-grubbing capitalists” would be instantly harnessed toward the greater public good. I, for one, would probably behave considerably differently if I were continually striving for the next-higher grade on a “Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval” instead of aiming simply for the “Inspected -- Passed” stamp.
We didn’t regulate malaria out of existence; we simply ensured that millions of empowered individual actors had the information to combat it (that, and some choice applications of DDT). Allowing food processors to compete for customers by marketing their very best possible food handling practices would have a similar effect.
Regulations are good for imposing minimums, but not at creating excellence. Since our food safety “problem” is clearly in the vanishing margins, excellence is what is needed. This can only really be attained when incentives are structured to push our producers (and consumers) to go the extra step to make food as safe as it can possibly be.
Many food advocates rightly criticize government meddling in the food sector in the late 1940s for attempting to create cheap food at tremendous ecological and sociological expense. Let us not condone the same mistake under the aegis of “safe food.”
Paul Schwennesen is a southern Arizona rancher and a PERC Enviropreneur alum. He can be reached at AgrarianLiberty.com. For more from the Schwennesens on this topic, see here, here, and here.
At the end of the 19th century, historians declared that the American frontier had closed. The Homestead Act had caused population density in the West to exceed two people per square mile—the metric the census used to gauge frontier status. Writing in 1893, historian Frederick Jackson Turner regretted the impact this would have on the character of the American individual. The frontier, he claimed, created freedom by “breaking the bonds of custom, offering new experiences, [and] calling out new institutions and activities.” According to Turner, with the closing of the frontier went the American propensity to forge new ideas, institutions, and solutions in the face of new environments.
Now, more than a hundred years later, the Great Plains are experiencing Manifest Destiny in reverse— people are leaving in droves. Rural counties have lost 20 percent of their population since 1980, continuing a steady downward trend that dates back to the 1930s. The young are leading the exodus, seeking better opportunities elsewhere, and the median age in some rural counties is pushing 60. This situation in the Great Plains is widely portrayed as dire. The Atlantic described a “slow death in the Great Plains,” and the New York Times spoke of “dying towns” and futures “mired in poverty.”
Without a doubt, the plains are undergoing a period of economic and demographic change—agriculture provides only half as much employment and income to the region as it did in 1969—but where some see the death of a traditional way of life, others see a landscape full of new opportunities. Land values are rising and nonlocals are buying up property for investment or recreational purposes. Entrepreneurs are creating new enterprises by capitalizing on ecotourism and the preservation of environmental amenities, thus transforming the region’s traditional agriculture-rangeland paradigm into a new nature-based economy.
Hidden in this dynamic process of change is an irony: population density outside of metropolitan areas in the Great Plains has fallen to 1.5 people per square mile—well below frontier density. The frontier that Turner saw as the engine for new institutions and innovations has returned. What’s emerging is a new type of region—one that is led by entrepreneurs discovering innovative ways of combining traditional land management with new opportunities on the frontier.
“That is spectacular!” “Who owns this?” “Check out the wide-open space!” These were comments made this summer by participants of the PERC/Liberty Fund cosponsored colloquium on Free Market Environmentalism. The annual program offers 25 undergraduate students the opportunity to explore how property rights and markets can help improve environmental quality. To bring theory outside of the classroom and into the real world, the group spends a day exploring on-the-ground examples of free market environmentalism.
One destination for 2010 was the Granger Ranches owned by Jeff Laszlo. A native of New York, Laszlo came to manage the family ranch just a decade ago. That Laszlo became a rancher was no accident; childhood visits to the ranch pumped the desire to work the Montana range into his blood. But it was by accident that he became an environmentalist.
The 13,000-acre ranch sits in the middle of the Madison Valley amidst a one million-acre corridor that runs from the small town of Ennis, Montana, south to Yellowstone National Park. The valley is channeled by the Madison River and framed by the Madison and Gravelly mountain ranges. Most of the valley is privately owned, skirted by federal lands and an occasional state allotment. This area is famous for having the greatest ecological abundance in the greater Yellowstone ecosystem.
Change may be at the cusp, however, as properties like the Granger face the ever increasing pressures of rising operational costs, low returns on investment, encroaching development, wildlife, and inheritance issues. These hurdles often force the sale of large land holdings that can have dire environmental consequences by disrupting the wildlife corridors that run through the valley.
Laszlo is responding to these challenges with a push for conservation and a diversification of the values his land represents. In Laszlo’s words, “Some only see value in the forage that can be raised on the land as crops or native pasture, but I now see a new set of values that include biodiversity, habitat, water quality, and open space. As these things become rarer, the value they represent will become more precious in many ways.” In this way, Laszlo sees managing the Granger Ranches as a “balancing act between consumptive practices and preserving the land for the important biological and economic values it represents.”
Yet, the very ecological abundance that makes the Madison Valley a treasured place can also present complications to livestock producers. Vast herds of elk compete for the same forage needed to raise cattle. And the number of wolves in the region now exceeds a “sustainable” population according to the original reintroduction plan. While wolves help keep the elk numbers in check, they occasionally feed on the cattle that ranchers depend on to make ends meet. Just the presence of predators like wolves can stress livestock enough to reduce weight gain, which translates into decreased cattle revenues.
Want an environmentally friendly way to remove weeds and invasive species? Don Watson, a rancher in Loveland, Colorado, has discovered that his sheep are not just good for wool, but also for vegetation management. According to the California Farm Bureau Federation, Watson recently launched his "targeted grazing" service, Wooly Weeders, as a natural alternative to the use of herbicides.
Though still a relatively new idea, using livestock such as sheep and goats to control weeds and brush has gained attention and popularity in recent years. Watson called his grazing business a good complement to his ranching operation that provides another important revenue stream.
He said before getting into the grazing business, he was actually losing money selling meat and wool. Today, he said he nets a profit.
Landowners can rent Watson's herd to control weeds in what he calls a "symbiotic quid pro quo." The weeds feed the sheep and the sheep provide manure, which acts as a fertilizer.
The idea was launched by accident. Watson's sheep had gotten into a neighbor's vineyard one day and feasted on vines. Later, after retrieving the sheep, the neighbor called wondering when the sheep could return. Since then, Watson's traditional ranching operation has been supplemented by his natural mowing service–a true environmental entrepreneur.
If you haven't already, be sure to check out the latest edition of PERC Reports. You can read the magazine's text at PERCReports.orgin HTML or in it's colorful entirety in PDF format. The new edition explores frontiers in land management and how innovative property rights arrangements can improve environmental quality and reduce land use conflicts. We will continue to feature select articles from the magazine throughout the week on the PERColator and welcome your feedback.
In the fall edition of PERC Reports out this week, James Salzman, professor of law and environmental policy at Duke University, provides an overview of ecosystem services and the conditions under which markets can provide them. Look for more from Salzman on this topic in a forthcoming PERC Policy Series.
When visiting a store, one expects to find useful goods and services such as apples to eat and a refrigerator to keep them chilled. We depend on similar items in our everyday lives. In much the same way, nature also provides us valuable goods and services. When we bite into an apple, if we pause to think beyond the store where it was purchased, we may think of soil and water, but probably not the natural pollinators that fertilized the apple blossom so the fruit can set. When we drink a glass of tap water, we may think of the local reservoir, but not the source of the water quality, which lies miles upstream in the wooded watershed that filters and cleans the water as it flows downhill.
Largely taken for granted, healthy ecosystems provide a variety of critical goods and services. Created by the interactions of living organisms with their environment, “ecosystem services” provide both the conditions and processes that sustain human life. Trees provide timber; coastal marshes provide shellfish. That’s obvious. The services underpinning these goods, though less visible, are equally important. If you doubt this, consider how to grow an apple without pollination, pest control, or soil fertility.
A specific landscape creates a range of ecosystem services. A forest at the top of a watershed, for example, provides water quality by filtering contaminants from the water as it flows through roots and soil, flood control as the water slows while moving through the watershed, pollination by those pollinators living along the edge of the forest, and biodiversity conservation if endangered plants or animals live in the woods. Or consider something as simple as soil. More than a clump of dirt, soil is a complex matrix of organic and inorganic constituents transformed by numerous tiny organisms. The level of biological activity within soil is staggering. Under a square meter of pasture soil in Denmark, for example, scientists identified more than 50,000 worms, 48,000 small insects, and 10 million nematodes. This living soil provides a range of ecosystem services: buffering and moderation of the hydrological cycle, physical support for plants, retention and delivery of nutrients to plants, disposal of wastes and dead organic matter, and renewal of soil fertility.
Just as we tend not to think about everyday goods and services until the store is out of apples or the refrigerator stops working, so, too, do we fail to appreciate the importance of services until we suffer the impacts of their loss. One cannot easily appreciate the impact that widespread wetland destruction has had on the ecosystem service of water retention until after a flood. Nor does one fully appreciate water quality until recognizing how development in forested watersheds has degraded the service of water purification. The costs from degradation of these services are high, and are suffered in rich and poor countries alike.
Despite the central role ecosystem services play in the provision of important benefits, they are only rarely considered or protected by the law. Nor, in the past, have significant markets arisen that capitalize on the commercial value of these services. The reason for this neglect is threefold. First, we are often either ignorant of the sources of the ecosystem goods and services we depend on, or we lack the scientific knowledge to predict with certainty how specific actions affecting these factors will impact the local ecosystem services themselves. Second, institutional barriers such as jurisdictional boundaries and inadequate property rights often hinder the development of markets for these services. And third, the ecosystem services underpinning these goods are often treated as if they are free...
Founded 30 years ago in Bozeman, Montana, PERC—the Property and Environment Research Center—is the nation’s oldest and largest institute dedicated to improving environmental quality through property rights and markets.
The goal of PERC’s programs is to fully realize the vision of establishing “PERC University,” where scholars, students, policy makers, and others convene to expand the applications of free market environmentalism.
PERC's fellowships share a common goal of exposing new scholars, students, journalists, and policy makers to free market environmentalism, as well as enable scholars already familiar with FME to explore new applications.