Environmentalism

It's an Endangered Bird! Get the Chainsaw!

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More fun with unintended consequences! A new paper explores what happens when landowners freak out because someone thinks they might have seen an endangered bird somewhere in the neighborhood:

We showcase our approach empirically by exploring the extent to which the U.S. Endangered Species Act has altered land development patterns. We report evidence indicating significant acceleration of development directly after each of several events deemed likely to raise fears among owners of habitat land. Our preferred estimate suggests an overall acceleration of land development by roughly one year. We also find from complementary hedonic regression models that habitat parcels declined in value when the habitat map was published, which is consistent with our estimates of the degree of preemption. These results have clear implications for policymakers, who continue to discuss alternative regulatory frameworks for species preservation.

Accelerating a big develpment project by a year is a big deal. Negotiations have to be rushed leading to sub-optimal deals. Developers lose the chance to refine plans. And hasty construction can lead to greater environmental damage to the land being developed and to the surrounding area.

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  1. Katherine Mangu-Ward, I love you.

  2. Now which way does this cut?

  3. Thank you for pointing out the obvious Katherine. A lot of Reason readers need it.

  4. Happens in my neighborhood all the time. Buy the land, bulldoze the entire property. Then go see the county about building. Kangaroo Rats? Quino Checkered Butterflies? None on my land. Go ahead, you can check for yourself.

  5. “Happens in my neighborhood all the time. Buy the land, bulldoze the entire property. Then go see the county about building. Kangaroo Rats? Quino Checkered Butterflies? None on my land. Go ahead, you can check for yourself.”

    Brraaaap! I blame Bush. Brraaaaap!

  6. KM-W,
    Changed engangered to endangered.

  7. The report certainly convinces me of the need to regulate clearing on potential habitat areas.

    Be careful what you wish for.

  8. “engandered”?

  9. Obviously, only the free market should be allowed to decide which species live on and which ones perish.

  10. Ted, ted, ted

    The free market decides nothing. People decide which species live and which perish.

    Now in a free-market, conservationists would have to buy the habitat, or somehow convince the owners of the habitat to preserve the species they (the conservationists) care about.

    Under our current system, the conservationists lobby people with political power, who then prevent, by violence or threats of violence, the landowners form altering the habitat.

    Instead of convincing a woman to sleep with them, or purchasing her services, they are raping her. Such class.

  11. In your system it’s still the free market as the value of a piece of land as habitat must remain higher than for any other use.

    Not to mention that if you own a piece of land, the government steals from me under the threat of violence in order to pay agents to use violence to keep me from altering “your” land. Violence all around.

  12. Well, not to rattle anyone’s preconceived notion but there are organizations that buy land they wish to preserve. The Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation is a good example. This worthy organization, supported mostly by elk hunters, has secured millions of acres of habitat through direct purchase or through conservation easements… legal free market transactions without government coercion.

    As to the point, I will paraphrase a familiar quote about economics. People respond to incentives; all else is commentary. If a threatened or endangered species might hurt the value of your land, you have “SSS.” For those of you not familiar with the West, the acronym comes from the response to the reintroduction of wolves in some areas: “Shoot, shovel and shut up.” Of course, I do not agree with any such illegal activity. I simply think such activity is inevitable when government creates incentives.

  13. The interesting thing about about the preservationist movement is that most of those Sierra Club guys live in neighborhoods where every last square foot of habitat, every rattlesnake, and every K-rat has been bulldozed into oblivion.

  14. joe,

    “The report certainly convinces me of the need to regulate clearing on potential habitat areas.”

    At which point the owners would start clearing things out based on when they suspect they may soon fall under those regulations.

    I don’t understand why liberals are so attached to the current regulatory scheme with it’s contradictory incentives instead of advocating solutions that would be more effective and easier to enforce that would involve the government subsidizing biodiverisity by buying conservation easments (or subsidizing the buying of said easments). This is one of the rare problems where the “throw money at it” approach actually would achieve the desired results.

  15. “Not to mention that if you own a piece of land, the government steals from me under the threat of violence in order to pay agents to use violence to keep me from altering “your” land. Violence all around.”

    A little bit a circular reasoning there, buck. So you “own” your property but he doesn’t really “own” his?

  16. Shoot, Shovel & Shut Up.

  17. Luke,

    I believe Buck is a sock puppet of the angry anti-libertarian Ted. I believe he is trying to post absurdist parody “libertarian” views as part of his plan to paint libertarians as fools.

    I believe that the incoherence arises out of the contradictions inherent to his strawmen.

  18. Live Bounties.

    In many, many cases, the land isn’t going to be for sale, so…
    1. Convince our overlords to eliminate the disincentives if a landowner participates in the program (this is the hard part).
    2. Find a source of non-governmental funding (conservation organization, philanthropist, newly-glorified CEO) who cares about the particular species.
    3. Set up bounties for live, reproducing examples of the species – renewable every X years. Landowner has 1 viable nest of RCWs, they get $10,000. 2 years later, they have 3, they get $30,000. 2 years later they have 5, they get $50,000.

    Like that.

  19. RCW = red-cockaded woodpecker

    Sorry

  20. Jose Ortega y Gasset,

    Well, not to rattle anyone’s preconceived notion but there are organizations that buy land they wish to preserve. The Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation is a good example.

    Another would be the Isaac Walton League. And don’t forget Ted Turner, but I am not sure how pure his motovation may be.

  21. The report certainly convinces me of the need to regulate clearing on potential habitat areas.

    Since everything is a “potential habitat area”, joe is advocating increased government control of every square inch of the US not already under pavement.

    Show of hands from those surprised by joe’s desire to control others?

  22. Like a woman needs a man to tell her what is her true value (looks, legs, whatnot), a land “owner” needs the state to tell him what value his land has and what the best use of that is. It’s not like any one person can own land, anyway. Just think of the state like a benevolent landlord looking after his rental property.

  23. “benevolent”?

  24. Matt XIV,

    “At which point the owners would start clearing things out based on when they suspect they may soon fall under those regulations.”

    …which they would be enjoined from doing without prior approal, under a rational system of environmental protection.

    RC,

    Potential endangered species habitat. Duh. Do you ever think beyond shouting “a-hah?”

  25. The report certainly convinces me of the need to regulate clearing on potential habitat areas.

    “Potential habitat areas”??? What isn’t a potential habitat area? Or maybe you intended that to be ironic, knowing that it covers…everything? Everything that’s not already paved, at the least. Y’know joe, you answer Matt VIX well, but chances are there’ll be ways around your new regulation, even if you, he and I don’t think of one right off. After all, we’re not the ones with millions to lose. Anyway, as a good student of economics, you should know such a regulation will be very expensive. An expense that would be borne not just by developers but by their customers and by their customers, etc. In other words everyone. Hopefully there’s a better way. Maybe one that uses incentives rather than punishment at the least, that exploits voluntarism rather than coercion at best.

  26. How about we just go back to letting the property owner do what they like with their property?

    There is already a ton of common law that prevents or disuades the owner from ruining his neighbor’s property, so just leave him alone and nobody gets hurt.

  27. The appropriate solution would be to have the government actually uphold Fifth Amemdment private property rights and prevent government taking of private property without compensation via environmental regulatory bans on development – because that’s exactly what those regulations are – an effective taking of private property.

    If the governmnet wants to effectively take the property in that way then it should be required to actually buy the property at fair market value the same way it has to buy property to build a highway or a school.

    Then we would see the true value that the public places on preserving every little species of cricket or mouse if the taxpaying publics money had to be spent on it – and compete with other public spending such as national defense, education, etc. rather than the government being able to mandate something supposedly for the “public good” and offload all the costs onto private parties.

  28. well the snot has caked against my pants
    it has turned into crystal
    there’s a bluebird singing on a branch
    guess I’ll take my pistol
    I’ve got it in my hand
    because he’s on my land

  29. Then we would see the true value that the public places on preserving every little species of cricket or mouse if the taxpaying publics money had to be spent on it – and compete with other public spending such as national defense, education, etc. rather than the government being able to mandate something supposedly for the “public good” and offload all the costs onto private parties.

    Depends on whether the reg predates the land purchasers purchase.

    In cases where the species was put on the list prior to the latest transfer of the land, I would strongly argue that the ancient legal principle of caveat emptor can and should apply.

  30. “Depends on whether the reg predates the land purchasers purchase.”

    No it doesn’t.

    The Fifth Amendment to the Constitution was ratified long before the Endangered Species Act came down the pike. And it prohibits the taking of private property for public use without compensation.

  31. The Fifth Amendment to the Constitution was ratified long before the Endangered Species Act came down the pike. And it prohibits the taking of private property for public use without compensation.

    that is fine for the person who owned the land when the law was passed. If there is a takings clause it belongs to that person (who may or may not have slept on their rights).

    However, once the property is sold in the free market, it has already lost the margin of value that the environmental regulation takes away. The new owner is presumed to know that and to have bargained the purchase price in light of that. That is what caveat emptor is all about.

  32. You are still missing the point.

    The Endagered Species Act, as written is unconstitutional. Regulations that prohibit a landowner from doing anything with his property other than leave it in it’s allegedly “natural” state constitute a taking that must be compensated. Who bought what property when is irrelevant.

    The Act should be changed to make it comply with the Fifth Amenmdment. If there is some “public good” to protecting some subspecies of fly, then the government should directly purchase the land and set it aside for that purpose.

  33. The Endagered Species Act, as written is unconstitutional.

    No, you are missing the point. I am saying that the unconstitutionality claim, such as it is, belongs to the person who owned the land at the time the taking occurred. The unconstitutionality claim might amount to a plaintiff’s shot at getting the endangered Species Act overturned in toto. The unconstitutionality claim may amount to a claim for monetary compensation to cure the unconstitutionality that would otherwise exist. the unconstitutionality claim may include both these potential remedies. the unconstitutionality claim may be a bag of smoke if there are solid, unfavorable precedents (the law is not always fair).

    The exact nature of the unconstitutionality claim matters not with respect to my point which is that the unconstitutionality claim belongs to the person who owned the land (or rights in the land) at the time The Endangered Species Act was passed (or amended in a relevant way). The claim does not run with the land.

  34. “No, you are missing the point. I am saying that the unconstitutionality claim, such as it is, belongs to the person who owned the land at the time the taking occurred.”

    Well I don’t agree with that conception of it.
    Unconstitutional claims don’t “belong” to anybody.

    If the law is unconstitutional, the remedy is to change the law to bring it into compliance with the Constitution – not have the government undertake one-shot settlements with selected property owners for “damages”. If the law is unconstitutional, it doesn’t matter whether any particular property owner bought the property before or after the Endangered Species Act was enacted or not – or whether he had any knowledge of species on the list being on the land or not.

    If a law deemed in vioation of some other Constitutional right, such as freedom of speech is deemed unconstitutional, the law is struck down and the government is restrainted from enforcing it. The law is not allowed to remain in force and be remedied by individual settlements with anybody who thinks their freedom of speech has been infringed.

  35. Sam Franklin:

    your assertion is erroneous nonsense. constitutional law and rights trump statutory law, regardless of chronological sequence of ownership and signing of the ESA bill into law. as a conservationist, I recognize that the ESA and other environmental laws are on tenuous constitutional grounds. application of the ESA should be amended to compensate landowners for losses in value of their lands that result from the ESA. other environmental laws, such as wetlands protections, seem less onerous to me, since wetlands are necessary for maintaining a pure aquifer water supply, the same way navigable waterways are state property in Florida.

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