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A Tribute to Donald Leal

Research director and long-time PERC fellow Donald Leal is retiring this month after nearly 30 years at PERC. Leal is best known for his work on property rights in marine fisheries and his 1991 book with Terry Anderson, Free Market Environmentalism, winner of the Sir Antony Fisher International Memorial Award and the Choice Outstanding Academic Book Award. In his time at PERC, Leal has written and edited dozens of books, policy papers, and articles on fisheries, water, outdoor recreation, as well as timber and federal land use policy.

Don Leal helped move PERC out of the wilderness and into the center of the environmental research and policy world, leading to collaborations with Environmental Defense Fund, the Nature Conservancy, and the World Bank. In 2005, Leal was appointed to the Gulf of Mexico Fisheries Management Council and to the Ad Hoc Grouper IFQ Advisory Panel on rights-based fisheries management policy.

As a tribute to Don’s legacy at PERC, we reached out to friends and colleagues for their reflections on Don’s remarkable career.

Terry Anderson, president of PERC:

Don Leal came to PERC in 1985 as an experienced statistician, which he still is, but I couldn’t imagine what he had to offer PERC. Boy, was I wrong.

By 1988 we had published our first article in the Columbia Journal of Environmental Law. From that we went on publish 11 articles in journals, magazines, and newspapers. Of course, I brag most about us having an article in Fly Fisherman, even if it was on economics. I suppose now that Don is retired, he’ll publish there again, but this time without me and on the subject of “tight lines.”

It wasn’t long after his arrival that we began writing the first edition of Free Market Environmentalism, published in 1991. I don’t recall how we got started, but I do recall that it was a treat working with Don. I quickly realized that this statistician has economic insights and intuition that only a few economists can dream of, and he has a keen sense of what are the interesting applications of those tools. Writing that first edition and the second (2001) and Enviro-Capitalist: Doing Good While Doing Well (1997) and, now, the third edition were all team efforts.

During those early years, Don didn’t spend a lot of time going to meetings, though he was a key player in PERC conferences from his early days until his retirement. The fact that I was more in the limelight because I went to more meetings and conferences, led some to ask whether “Don Leal” was really a room full of graduate students who wrote things for me. Hardly! We were a team, and Don was my mentor as much as I might have been his.

The third edition of Free Market Environmentalism will have a subtitle of The Next Generation, that being a double entendre: the next generation of new applications and the next generation of “PERCies” because most chapters are co-authored with younger PERC scholars. Those co-authors are as lucky as I have been to work with and learn from Don.

Don definitely retires having left his mark on PERC, generally, and me, particularly. Free market environmentalism is Don Leal. I now only hope that he will continue to leave his mark on me by scoping out more pheasant hunting and fishing venues. With a little luck we will continue our team effort into the future, this time with more practical applications in the field. 

Michael Arbuckle, senior fisheries advisor to the World Bank:

I have known Don and his work for over 20 years but have only fully appreciated his remarkable abilities over the last five years.  During this period he has contributed greatly and lastingly to our work at the World Bank defining pathways for rights based reform of fisheries in the more challenging parts of the world. 

In the game of rugby in New Zealand Don is akin to what we call a “safe pass.” He is at the center of the team, will never drop the ball, lifts others to do better and most importantly is not distracted into making mistakes. In environmental policy circles we desperately need “safe passes” like Don who can stay on message and keep property rights at the fore of our thinking. Don has done this service for PERC for many years and must be credited with contributing greatly to the global application of property rights in fisheries and in environmental policy more generally.    

I wish the indomitable Don and his lovely partner Sandy a well-deserved retirement but sincerely hope that Don finds time to stay engaged in our work in some small way.

Holly Fretwell, research fellow at PERC:

When most people think of public lands they see visions of parks, campgrounds and roasting marshmallows, abundant wildlife, historic landmarks, and protected landscapes. Few delve behind the scenery to explore the tangled web of politics and public land management. That is where Don Leal became the don of the public lands.

Leal plunged into the PERC scene with an eye toward “environmental federalism.” In his early years at PERC, he completed numerous studies and books to clarify public land issues. In one of his eminent works on public lands, Leal compared the management structure of federal and state forestlands and the resulting outcomes. This was neither Leal’s first nor final study of the federal estate but one that changed the way PERC and others examine public land issues. Leal created a template that compared bureaucratic management incentives and environmental outcomes. The piece itself and the research it instigated helped motivate public land users and managers to look more closely at the desired outcomes and the policies needed to get there.

P.J. Hill, senior fellow at PERC:

One of the many pleasures of working with Don over many years has been his attitude towards those who disagree with him. Don has been at the heart of many intellectual battles over fisheries, government lands, and free market environmentalism generally. He has always been quick to respond with vigor, providing evidence and logic for his position. But his response has never been at the level of personal attacks, even when he has been subject to the same. And his workday world is remarkably free of complaints. What a great model of cheerful laboring for his ideas and the ideas of PERC.

Monica Lane Guenther, senior director for program management at PERC:

PERC always has prided itself in taking research from the bookshelf to policy makers. Don Leal’s research efforts have helped move PERC to another plain of influence in the policy arena. Don understands PERC’s strategic mission and his research in natural resources, and especially in fisheries management, put PERC in the international limelight. Don’s appointment to the Gulf of Mexico Fisheries Management Council and to the Ad Hoc Grouper IFQ Advisory Panel enhanced PERC’s reputation as an institute that generates practical solutions to environmental problems. Don was a consummate team player and demonstrated his leadership in mentoring and directing PERC’s young research fellows as they sought new research topics to apply the FME paradigm.

I value the years of friendship I have shared with Don. (He shared the miseries of chicken pox with my three children when they all came down with spots two weeks after enjoying a Super Bowl game at our home!) Don shared many hunting adventures (North Dakota-style, of course, where he learned bungee cords and duct tape are man’s best friend). Some of the best memories are yet to be told. For now, Don, you are entitled to a well-deserved retirement rich in seasons of successful hunting, fishing, reading, and relaxing.

For more on Donald Leal’s important work on rights-based fisheries management watch the video and follow the links below:

Helping Property Rights Evolve in Marine Fisheries

Governing U.S. Fisheries with IFQs

Beyond IFQs in marine fisheries
A guide for federal policy makers

Saving Fisheries with Free Markets

Bush Takes an Environmental Stand on Fishing

The Ecological Role of IFQs in U.S. Fisheries

Evolving Property Rights in Marine Fisheries

A New Fishing Tragedy?

Overcoming Hurdles to IFQs in U.S. Fisheries

Individual Fishing Quotas: Long Overdue

Fencing the Fishery
A Primer for Ending The Race for Fish

The Role of IFQs in Improving Fishery Governance
Congressional Testimony

Homesteading the Oceans: The Case for Property Rights in U.S. Fisheries

Managing Marine Recreational Fisheries

Evolving Approaches to Managing Marine Recreational Fisheries

Snagged—Halibut Gets Attention

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