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Government Obstacle:

  • J. Bishop Grewell

    Thwarted By Regulation
    David Cameron is a third-generation Montana rancher. A lanky, middle-aged man with a genial manner, he raises cattle and sheep. Cameron is also a biologist, recently retired from Montana State University. He and his family have a long tradition of protecting wildlife. Elk, deer, mountain lions, and bears inhabit his ranch.

    A few years ago Cameron decided to reintroduce a native Montana fish, the grayling. This fish had thrived when Lewis and Clark passed through the region but had disappeared in recent years. After consulting with specialists, he found a suitable stream on his ranch for bringing back the fish.

    Then he learned that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service was considering listing the Montana grayling as an endangered species under the Endangered Species Act. “I sadly bowed out,” he says.

    Cameron realized that once he had an endangered fish on his property, even though he had reintroduced it, federal officials could change his life. They might think that his cattle would pollute the stream. If so, they could prevent him from using his streamside areas. In his case, regulation achieved results counter to those intended.

    Bureaucratic Hurdles
    Peter O’Neill is on the cutting edge of a new trend-ecologically sensitive developments. In the early 1980s, his path-breaking River Run residential development in Boise, Idaho, was laid out with open space, woods, a seven-acre lake, and free-flowing streams.

    O’Neill saw an opportunity to further enhance the site. Along the north edge of River Run, an ugly flood-relief channel built by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers paralleled the Boise River. O’Neill realized that if water could flow continuously through it, the flood channel could be converted into a beautiful stream. All it needed was additional water.

    So in 1982 O’Neill applied for a right to divert ten cubic feet per second from the Boise River into the flood channel. But Idaho Department of Fish and Game officials opposed him. They argued that this diversion would reduce the river flow to levels below the minimum needed to maintain trout populations. The department was already restocking the river every year, since the Boise River doesn’t have the small gravel beds and fastflowing water needed for trout to spawn. They didn’t want the situation to worsen.

    O’Neill saw a way to address both problems-the lack of spawning habitat and the problem of the ugly ditch. He proposed turning the flood-relief channel into not just a stream, but a trout-spawning stream. But his project needed to get approval-not only from Idaho Fish and Game, but also from the Idaho Department of Water Resources, the Boise Parks Department, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, and the Army Corps of Engineers.

    Fortunately for O’Neill, once Idaho wildlife officials saw his plan for increasing spawning beds, they dropped their objection to his water right application. And more importantly, they became strong supporters because more trout would ease the annual job of restocking. They helped River Run get approval from the other government agencies. Without this local support, the project would have been bogged down in bureaucratic red tape.

    It’s Against The Law
    Glendive is a small agricultural town in the eastern part of Montana. When farm prices fell in the 1980s, the town went into a steep decline. Farms were sold at rock-bottom prices, stores closed, and long-time residents left town.

    Joseph Frank Crisafulli, a local businessman, knew there was a hidden asset just outside of town, in the lower Yellowstone River. The paddlefish, a large bottom fish with a paddle-like snout, is prized for its white meat. It draws tourists each spring to the Glendive area. But when fishermen cleaned their fish, they threw the eggs and innards on the ground, creating an unsightly mess.

    Crisafulli knew that paddlefish roe is the leading source of American caviar. He figured out a way to clean up the river banks, help the town, and increase research on the paddlefish. Crisafulli joined with the Glendive Chamber of Commerce and Agriculture to develop a market for the roe.

    Unfortunately, he faced some hurdles, and not just the challenge of building a market. In Montana, as in most states, it is generally against the law to sell wild game products. The Chamber of Commerce had to persuade the legislature to change Montana law so that the roe of the paddlefish could be sold. Once the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks understood the plan, it went to bat for the Glendive project, and the law was changed.

    The department also rallied around the chamber in a more difficult fight. While paddlefish populations are healthy in Montana, the fish is endangered in some parts of the Mississippi River system. The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service wanted to ban trade in paddlefish and its products. The agency pushed for listing it under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES). This would have severely limited the market for paddlefish roe.

    Fortunately, with the support of Fish, Wildlife and Parks, listing was averted. Project employees now clean the paddlefish in return for the eggs, which are sold to gourmet food shops around the country. The proceeds, typically over $200,000 per year, go to local civic projects and paddlefish research.

    What The Government Wants, The Government Takes
    The preservation of spectacular Grandfather Mountain is partly a story of resistance to government incursions. In the 1880s, Hugh MacRae, a mining engineer, moved to North Carolina. Traveling on horseback into Avery County, he was awestruck by the high-country beauty. He wanted hikers and nature enthusiasts to enjoy the area’s many vistas.

    With financial backing from his father, MacRae purchased nearly 16,000 acres, including the highest point in the Blue Ridge Mountains, Grandfather Mountain. He built a road, founded a stagecoach line, and even created a small resort town at the bottom of the mountain.

    In 1939, President Roosevelt wanted to connect Great Smoky Mountains National Park with Shenandoah National Park, using a route that ran right past Grandfather Mountain. The family sold a right-of-way 1,000 feet wide and eight miles long across the eastern slope of Grandfather Mountain.

    That was not enough, however. In 1945, when Hugh Morton, another family member, was at the helm of Grandfather Mountain, the North Carolina Highway Commission wanted to build a second route higher up the mountain and demanded more right-of-way. Morton balked, fearful that the road would hurt Grandfather Mountain’s pristine setting and commercial appeal. Undeterred, the state condemned the parcel under eminent domain. Morton fought back, complaining that this additional demand was an “abuse of discretion,” since his family had already sold right-of-way to the state in 1939. Morton prevailed.

    But not for long. By the 1950s, the National Park Service was pushing for the higher route and an expanded right-of-way. Again, Morton fought back. He even debated the head of the National Park Service, Conrad Worth, on television. Morton’s comment that “cut and fill at that elevation would be like taking a switch blade to the Mona Lisa” made headlines across the state. During the debate, Morton recalled later, “the switchboard just lit up and 90 percent of the calls were on our side.” Morton was not entirely successful. The issue ended in a compromise -a middle route, lower down the mountain.

    Today, under arrangement with the Nature Conservancy, Grandfather Mountain is permanently protected and remains in private hands, home to 47 rare and endangered species, and continues to awe visitors with its majesty.

    Not For Sale

    Orri Vigfusson won PERC’s 1998 Enviro-Capitalist Award for his innovative ways of protecting North Atlantic salmon. An Icelandic businessman and sports fisherman, Vigfœsson recognized that commercial fishing of salmon on the Atlantic high seas has decimated salmon stocks in the North Atlantic. But Vigfœsson didn’t push for an international treaty or lobby governments to stop the fishing. Instead, he used the tools of the market.

    In 1989, he created the North Atlantic Salmon Fund to buy up commercial fishing rights. Using private funds raised with the help of the Atlantic Salmon Federation, he paid commercial fishers off the Faroe Islands (located between Iceland and the Shetlands) to stop netting. For $685,500 a year, they did, and the number of salmon returning to native rivers nearly doubled.

    He also paid fishers off Greenland a total of $400,000 per year, reducing the catch from 213 metric tons to 12 metric tons. He estimates that 1.3 million salmon have been saved in this way.

    But Vigfusson, too, is finding that governmental politics can stymie environmental entrepreneurship. Private ownership of the right to fish off Greenland and the Faroe Islands is critical to his success, but private fishing rights are not universal. Far from it.

    Even though England has private fishing rights on its streams, fishing is a common right off the coasts of England and Ireland. If one commercial fisher were bought off, another could take his place. Vigfœsson is trying to persuade the British and Irish governments to cut back on salmon catches but he faces formidable political opposition.

    Enviro-capitalists don’t have eminent domain authority; they don’t have tax- payer money; they can’t tell anybody what to do. In contrast, bureaucrats and government officials have a lot of power. When government officials oppose a project, they can create insurmountable obstacles. Most of the individuals discussed here overcame the roadblocks, especially when the roadblocks came from local officials. But we are left to wonder how many would-be enviro-capitalists have been thwarted by government obstacles they could not topple.

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