More Free Market Environmentalism

My support for the Nature Conservancy and other land trusts who buy land for preservation rather than just expropriate the current holder through changed use regulations in this post garnered more comments than any of my other recent posts.  Presuming this is an indicator of interest in the topic, I point your attention to this article in the NY Times about environmentalists and grazing in southern Utah.  I no longer have much trust in the NY Times to portray such stories correctly, but from what they write, it looks like another great example of environmental activism using markets and consensual agreements rather than public coercion:

Mr. LeFevre wants the ranchers to win this range war against the lawyers and
politicians trying to restrict grazing on the plateau north of the Grand Canyon.
He fought unsuccessfully to stop the Clinton administration from declaring it
the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument because he knew the designation
would mean more regulations, more hikers and fewer cows....

But he is not bitter when he talks about the deal he made with an
environmentalist named Bill Hedden, the executive director of the Grand Canyon
Trust. Mr. Hedden's group doesn't use lobbyists or lawsuits (or guns) to drive
out ranchers. These environmentalists get land the old-fashioned way. They buy

To reclaim the Escalante River canyon, Mr. Hedden bought the permits that
entitle Mr. LeFevre's cows to graze on the federal land near the river. He
figures it was a good deal for the environment because native shrubs and grasses
are reappearing, now that cows aren't eating and trampling the vegetation.

I love to see this.  The alternative Mr. LeFevre faced was steady expropriation of his grazing permits via creeping regulation and legal action:

Mr. LeFevre likes the deal because it enabled him to buy grazing permits for
higher ground that's easier for him and his cows to reach than the canyon. (He
was once almost killed there when his horse fell). He's also relieved to be on
land where hikers aren't pressuring the Bureau of Land Management to restrict
grazing, as they did for the canyon.

"I was afraid the B.L.M. would add so many restrictions that I wouldn't be
able to use the land anyway, and I'd be out the $100,000 I spent for the
permits," he said. "The B.L.M. just shuts you down. Bill said, 'Let's try to
resolve this peacefully and make you whole.' I respect that."

Ironically, this win-win environmentalism is being opposed by the Bush administration. 

The Interior Department has decided that environmentalists can no longer
simply buy grazing permits and retire them. Under its reading of the law - not
wholly shared by predecessors in the Clinton administration - land currently
being used by ranchers has already been determined to be "chiefly valuable for
grazing" and can be opened to herds at any time if the B.L.M.'s "land use
planning process" deems it necessary.

But why should a federal bureaucrat decide what's "chiefly valuable" about a
piece of land? Mr. Hedden and Mr. LeFevre have discovered a "land use planning
process" of their own: see who will pay the most for it. If an environmentalist
offers enough to induce a rancher to sell, that's the best indication the land
is more valuable for hiking than for grazing.

I have no idea why a grazing permit can't be retired - certainly that's legal and proper with emissions permits.  I never, ever thought I would find the NY Times writing something like "why should a federal bureaucrat decide what's "chiefly valuable" about a
piece of land", but I love it. And raspberries to the Bush Administration, who yet again are demonstrating that their lack of dedication to markets and private action.  Its time to admit that the republicans have returned to the bad old days of their 1970's support for big government crony capitalism.

The new policy may make short-term political sense for the Bush
administration by pleasing its Republican allies in Utah and lobbyists for the
ranching industry. But it's not good for individual ranchers, and it ensures
more bitter range wars in the future. If environmentalists can't spend their
money on land, they'll just spend it on lawyers.

Here is Mr. Hedden's site at the Grand Canyon Trust, which unfortunately seems to support lobbying for government coercion at least as much as market-based solutions.

Hat tip to Nature Noted, a great blog on land trusts.


  1. speedbird:

    Excellent article.

  2. Craig:

    Free market environmentalism offers remedies to many environmental problems. Individial transferable quotas (ITQs) for fish species promote sustainable fishing; cap-and-trade policies promote efficient, low-cost pollution reduction; user fees at Forest Service and BLM sites help these areas fund their own operations and cater to the needs of users, not politicians; water markets allow for efficient, harmonious allocation of water to its best use. For more, check out the Property and Environment Research Center at

  3. Pat Burns:

    Thanks so much for the tip of the hat!

  4. Gary and the Samoyeds:

    Unfortunately, the Nature Conservatory still has the statist mindset when they don't own the property. They own a large hunk of swampland in, I think, Lousiana. They allow oil companies to work there, but have a bunch of requirements about not ruining the place. That's fine. But right NEXT to their land is some federal (state?) land. They vehemently oppose ANY exploration on that land, regardless of conditions.

  5. Duncan Brown:


    Your snideness about the NYT is a little misplaced. The article in question appeared on the Op-Ed page, where opionion of various stripes can be found. John Tierney has recently joined the roster of Times columnists, and he writes with a notable and frank libertarian slant. He has an interesting mind, and interesting views. But it's not news coverage, and like most columnists he sometimes is forced to cut the evidence to fit the 800-word limit.


  6. Wes Rolley:

    Your lack of trust in the NY Times is well earned. You should access to find a detailed study about how (best case) sloppy ow whether (worst case) coercion was involved.

    I support the land trust movement. It is all that stands in the way of rampant, exploitive development. In particular, I cite the case of the Sacramento / San Joaquin Delta where residential development on below sea level land that has 1.5 ft. per decade subsidence is just plain idiotic where growth is good developers pour money into local political campaigns with great results for them and bad results for the public. Regulation has failed because the developers buy the politicians. The end result will be New Orleans repeated in the delta and Los Angeles with no water.