Laura Huggins

Laura Huggins

Laura E. Huggins is a research fellow at the Hoover Institution and director of development at PERC—the Property and Environment Research Center—a think tank in Bozeman, Montana, that focuses on market solutions to environmental problems.

The big brown trout I was fishing for yesterday on the Limay River in Patagonia was nowhere to be found but I did manage to come across an old hang out of Butch Cassidy.

Being from Montana, where the Hole-in-the-Wall Gang pulled off their last job—a holdup of a Union Pacific train—before fleeing to South America, I was happy with this historical catch.

Legend has it that Butch became friends with Jarred Jones who ventured down to Argentina from Texas in 1887 to make his fortune. Jones didn’t find gold but he did manage to open a general storeat the mouth of the Limay. The old store, which is now a friendly restaurant, still holds the shops books, old photos, and a frontier atmosphere of a century ago.

Jones earned enough money at the store to purchase two big ranches, which he fenced off with barbed wire—the first to be seen around these parts. Today, barbed wire is strung across much of the 98 million hectares of the Patagonian Steppe to enclose vast quantities of sheep.

Unfortunately, a flock of sheep can gobble up great expanses of native grasses, and in southern Argentina, they’re clearing some serious vegetation. In addition to vegetation loss, overgrazing equates to lost habitat for other animals, and damages waterways with runoff and silt from erosion, which affects the fish, which affects tourism.

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Trade a Tortoise

Two years ago in PERC Reports Todd Gartner wrote, “I am helping the American Forest Foundation develop a market-based habitat credit trading system in portions of Georgia and Alabama. The incentive-based framework will complement other efforts in the region to keep the eastern population of the gopher tortoise off the Endangered Species list.”

Today, Gartner, in collaboration with Josh Donlan and James Mulligan of  Advanced Conservation Strategies, are ready to launch their first pilot transactions.

Here is how the gopher tortoise candidate conservation marketplace is being designed and piloted:

  • An interested and eligible private landowner (the “seller”) receives a negotiated payment to conserve, manage, or restore longleaf pine forests capable of supporting healthy populations of gopher tortoises on his or her property. In so doing, the landowner generates gopher tortoise habitat credits.

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Hunting Endangered Species

The scimitar horned oryx . . . the addax . . . the dama gazelle – endangered animals one would expect to encounter in Africa. Yet, as some Texas ranches are proving, helping to bring back large numbers of these endangered species can be a profitable pastime. As a 60 Minutes segment shows, by allowing a number of these animals to be hunted for a high price, exotic wildlife ranches have achieved a major feat in wildlife conservation. A billion dollar industry, supporting more than 14,000 jobs—exotic ranches have worked to bolster the populations of approximately 125 different endangered species.

The funds collected from hunting a small percentage of the endangered animals gives ranchers the money they need to continue to run their ranches. Thus, hunting endangered species in Texas has provided economic incentives for ranchers to continue to conserve and protect the species.

Read Terry Anderson and Shawn Regan’s article, “Shoot an Elephant, Save a Community,” to see how assigning economic value to animals in Africa is also working to conserve wildlife.

Just Say No to Embalming

In this two minute video the Insitute for Justice points out the injustice of the Government making entrepreneurs “do useless things for no reason?”

Verlin Stoll has built a successful business because he offers low-cost funerals while providing high-quality service.  His business is one of the few funeral homes that benefits low-income families who cannot afford the big funeral-home companies.  Stoll wants to expand his business,  but Minnesota refuses to let him build a second funeral home unless he builds a $30,000 embalming room that he will never use. Stoll and the Insitute for Justice are fighting back.

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National Geographic recently launched its “Seven Billion Special Series“–a year-long series on global population. I hesitantly read the first article expecting more of the same old gloom and doom but “The City Solution”  offers a refreshing take on why economists and environmentalists can embrace cities.

With Earth’s population headed toward nine or ten billion, dense citites are looking more like a cure–the best hope for lifting people out of poverty without wrecking the planet, writes Robert Kunzig.

Harvard economist Edward Glaeser supports this point of view in his new book, Triumph of the City where he writes, “There’s no such thing as a poor urbanized country; there’s no such thing as a rich rural country.” Poor people flock to cities, according to Glaeser, because there is more money and cities produce more because “the absence of space between people” makes it cheaper to move goods, people, and ideas.

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What To Do With That Christmas Tree?

Once the holidays are over and the glitter and glam is stripped from the fir, chances are the Christmas tree ends up in the trash. Perhaps the trees could be useful even after they lose their glow. Why not turn them into woody biomass for energy? A few companies, such Biomass One, are doing just that.

Biomass One, which has been recycling Christmas trees for the past four years, estimates it will receive 4,500 trees this year. According to Biomass One Vice President Gordon Draper, this amount “equals out to approximately 56 dry tons of wood biomass, which can provide about an hour and a half worth of power to the company’s wood-fired cogeneration power plant.” This is only a tiny amount compared to the 325,000 dry tons of wood it grinds up annually to power the plant. And an even smaller amount compared to the woody biomass the state of Vermont is using to heat schools and other public buildings.

Burning wood for energy is, of course, an ancient technology, but as Steven Bick points out in anew PERC case study, wood can provide an economic and environmentally viable solution for high heating costs in many parts of the country.

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Prepare for a frightening Halloween – not from ghosts, ghouls and goblins at your doorstep – but because on Oct. 31, the world’s population is expected to reach 7 billion people. For many, the new milestone is a haunting premonition of what lies ahead for the human race. Witness a few alarming headlines warning of doom and gloom: “The World’s Biggest Problem? Too Many People,” and “As Earth’s population hits 7 billion, the consequences for humanity could be grim.”

Such scary predictions are nothing new. Aristotle cautioned that populations could strip their resources and that poverty would follow. Nineteenth-century theorist Thomas Malthus argued – at a time when the world’s population was fewer than 1 billion – that birthrates had to be lowered or famine and violence would ensue.

Even in the past century, it was fashionable to emphasize the negative consequences of growth. In 1945, demographer Kingsley Davis wrote, “The earth’s population has been like a long, thin powder fuse that burns slowly and haltingly until it finally reaches the charge and explodes.” Paul Ehrlich picked up on this theme with his 1968 best-seller, “The Population Bomb.”

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Care for a Coke with that tree?

It was refreshing to read the following about state parks in the Los Angeles Times:

The California State Parks Department “should be praised for not just sitting by while parks close, but seeking out innovative ways to keep its natural gems accessible to the public.”

Rather than simply shutting down 70 state parks, the department is considering more corporate logos in the parks as well as limited private management agreements. Although these options might “conjure up a mountain range’s worth of slippery slopes, they’re better than the alternative.”

In fact, as summarized by the NCPA, a few logo agreements already are in place:

  • A partnership between Coca-Cola and Stater Bros., for example, replanted trees in Cuyamaca Rancho State Park, which in 2003 suffered a wildfire so devastating that there were no trees left to provide seed for new growth.
  • The companies also partnered in a project that rehabilitated areas of Chino Hills State Park after a 2008 fire burned more than 90 percent of the park.
  • Stater Bros., a supermarket chain, promoted offers in which the purchase of $10 worth of Coca-Cola products would result in a donation of $1 to state parks.
  • Customers were invited to donate an additional small sum at the store.
  • Over three years, $2 million was raised.
  • In exchange, very modest renditions of the companies’ logos are included at
    the bottom of interpretive signs in the parks.

This approach, known as “cause marketing,” falls somewhere between philanthropy and branding; companies gain sales through promotions, exposure, and goodwill. But, as stated in the Times, “no one is talking about changing Chino Hills’ name to Fanta Hills State Park. Corporate officials say they wouldn’t even want such a thing; overpromoting their role creates a backlash.”

California State Parks Director Ruth Coleman says this move toward private agreements, whether for logos or outright park operation, would not be allowed to change the essential character of the parks. Just as it is doing for outside operating agreements, the parks department can draw up strict guidelines for corporate partnerships to avoid “logo creep.”

Other ideas for saving parks include allowing nonprofit organizations to run some of them, forming partnerships with counties or cities, or offering concessions to companies to manage parks that otherwise would close.

There are several examples of private firms operating public parks. In fact, nearly half of all Forest Service campgrounds are managed via private leases. Most campers are unaware of this arrangement because, as my colleague, Holly Fretwell points out, “unlike a KOA with swimming pools and laundromats, the wild and scenic amenities remain protected.”

The financial crisis followed by shrinking tax revenues has brought many state parks to their knees—nine states have proposed park closures between 2000 and 2011. But as Fretwell points out in “Funding Parks,” it is simply not necessary for park budgets to be threatened during every fiscal crisis.

(photo credit: natedregerphoto)

Mary Ellen Harte and Anne Ehrlich write,"Unsustainable population levels are depleting resources and denying a decent future to our descendants. We must stop the denial."

We are in denial for a reason. For more than 40 years, climaxing around the first Earth Day, the public has been bombarded with apocalyptic tales of disaster regarding population growth. Paul Ehrlich, for example, a Stanford professor, prominent prophet of population doom and contributor to this op-ed article, predicted in his 1968 bestseller "The Population Bomb" that millions of people would die of starvation during the 1970s because the Earth’s inhabitants would multiply at a faster rate than the world’s ability to supply food. Six years later, in "The End of Affluence," a book he co-authored with his wife, Anne Ehrlich, the death toll estimates increased to a billion dying from starvation by the mid-1980s. By 1985, Ehrlich predicted, the world would enter a genuine era of scarcity.

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