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In Praise of ‘Enviropreneurs’

By Terry Anderson

Entrepreneurs are my heroes because of their optimism. Instead of seeing problems, they see opportunities. And "enviropreneurs" can give us cause to celebrate the future of our planet by finding ways to ameliorate or solve environmental problems.

But we’ll have to beware of environmental Luddites who can thwart even the best of positive steps. Like their 19th-century counterparts who opposed industrialization by destroying machines, they see solutions as problems.

Consider the recent story on CBS’s "60 Minutes" showing the proliferation of exotic and, in some cases, endangered African wildlife on Texas ranches. These ranches have switched from raising cattle to raising wildlife. As a result, Texas now has more than a quarter million exotic animals, mostly from Africa and Asia, of which three—the scimitar-horned oryx, the addax, and the Dama gazelle—have been brought back from the brink of extinction.

Some ranchers made the switch because they liked having exotic wildlife on their property, but if wildlife ranching was to be sustainable, ranchers had to find a way to make it pay. And it is paying because hunters are willing to fork over as much as $50,000 for a hunt. Moreover, these forays are not at all like "shooting fish in a barrel." The bush is thick and the ranches large enough so that not every hunter goes home with a trophy.

A similar business model is at work in Africa where landowners in South Africa and Namibia, who could barely eke out a living with livestock grazing, are sustaining wild game populations on their land for a profit. They market the wildlife to hunters, photo safaris and other ranchers wanting wild stock for their land.

As South African economist Michael ‘t-Sas Rolfes points out, "Strong property rights and market incentives have provided a successful model for rhino conservation, despite the negative impact of command-and-control approaches that rely on regulations and bans that restrict wildlife use."

Who could be opposed to environmental entrepreneurship that has successfully propagated endangered species, even if a few animals are hunted so that the populations will be sustained? Priscilla Feral, president of Friends of Animals, is one. She condemns having African animals on U.S. soil.

Though the scimitar-horned oryx went extinct in Africa, Ms. Feral believes the species found on Texas ranches should only live on African reserves, which are neither natural (many of them are fenced) nor sustainable. "I don’t want to see them on hunting ranches," Ms. Feral said on "60 Minutes" on Jan. 29. "I don’t want to see their value in body parts. I think it’s obscene."

Unfortunately, environmental Luddites often prevail by using the power of government. For years the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service lauded Texas ranchers for their conservation efforts, saying in the Federal Register in 2005, that "Hunting . . . provides an economic incentive for . . . ranchers to continue to breed these species" and that "hunting . . . reduces the threat of the species’ extinction."

Now, however, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service must require a permit to hunt three endangered antelope species thanks to a lawsuit decided in federal district court for the District of Columbia, led by Ms. Feral using the Endangered Species Act.

Everyone agrees that obtaining these permits will be virtually impossible—based on similar past experience, they’re very hard to get, and they’re also subject to objections by groups like the Friends of Animals. As a result, Charly Seale, a fourth-generation rancher and the executive director of the Exotic Wildlife Association, speculates that there will be half as many of these antelope in five years and none in 10 years.

If enviropreneurs are thwarted at every turn by environmental Luddites, we have reason to be pessimistic about our environmental future. Instead of celebrating the fruits of human ingenuity, we will have to watch wildlife and its habitat suffer. In this political season, let us hope that some leaders are willing to unshackle entrepreneurs from the red tape of governmental regulation, not just for the sake of the economy, but for the sake of nature, too.

Mr. Anderson is the executive director of the Property and Environment Research Center (PERC) in Bozeman, Mont., and a senior fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution.

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