Snowy owls are popping up all over the eastern United States and Canada. One even made it to Bermuda.
Biologists aren’t sure why. Perhaps a summer lemming boom fed many more snowy owlets than usual?
Whatever the reason, remarkable numbers of Hedwig’s kin have come south. If you’d like to see one in the wild, now is the time. Keep an eye out at airports, the beach, fields, and other open areas that remind owls of the tundra. But they could show up anywhere, like this one at a Maryland McDonald’s.
My friend Roger Kass recently gave me a chance to review an early cut of Emptying the Skies, his new film with brother Doug and novelist Jonathan Franzen. The documentary makes it U.S debut at the Hamptons International Film Festival next weekend. I highly recommend it as tale of both birds and people. Here’s a brief description:
Based on a New Yorker article by best-selling writer Jonathan Franzen, EMPTYING THE SKIES chronicles the poaching of migratory birds in southern Europe and introduces us to the intrepid volunteer squad of bird-lovers trying to stop it. Trapped at “pinch points” near the Mediterranean, these globetrotting songbirds are considered culinary delicacies and reap big bucks on the black market, yet many species are endangered and some face extinction. Directors Douglas and Roger Kass skillfully translate the spirit of Franzen’s words onto the screen and deservedly win this year’s Zelda Penzel Giving Voice to the Voiceless Award.
The world’s most fascinating insects live, of all places, in the eastern United States. Periodical cicadas spend most of their lives underground, sucking up nutrients from tree and shrub roots. But every 13 or 17 years, they emerge en masse to reproduce. If you are in the right spot (some would say the wrong spot), you can see thousands or tens of thousands all at once. (For information on Brood II, which is emerging this year, see magicicada.org.)
Film-maker Samuel Orr is making a full-length documentary of their remarkable lives. But I have to say, his Kickstarter promotion video is an outstanding documentary in its own right:
The existing environmental regulatory architecture, largely erected in the 1970s, is outdated and ill-suited to address contemporary environmental concerns. Any debate on the future of environmental protection, if it is to be meaningful, must span the political spectrum. Yet there is little engagement in the substance of environmental policy from the political right. Conservatives have largely failed to consider how the nation’s environmental goals may be best achieved. Perhaps as a consequence, the general premises underlying existing environmental laws have gone unchallenged and few meaningful reforms have proposed, let alone adopted. This essay, prepared for the Duke Law School conference on “Conservative Visions of Our Environmental Future,” represents a small effort to fill this void. Specifically, this essay briefly outlines a conservative alternative to the conventional environmental paradigm. After surveying contemporary conservative approaches to environmental policies, it briefly sketches some problems with the conventional environmental paradigm, particularly its emphasis on prescriptive regulation and the centralization of regulatory authority in the hands of the federal government. The essay then concludes with a summary of several environmental principles that could provide the basis for a conservative alternative to conventional environmental policies.
One example of what he thinks ought to be a conservative approach to resource protection: property rights in fisheries (footnotes omitted):
The benefits of property rights at promoting both economic efficiency and environmental stewardship can be seen in the context of fisheries. For decades, fishery economists have argued that the creation of property rights in ocean fisheries, such as through the recognition of “catch-shares,” would eliminate the tragedy of the commons and avoid the pathologies of traditional fishery regulation. The imposition of limits on entry, gear, total catches, or fishing seasons has not proven particularly effective. Property-based management systems, on the other hand, have been shown to increase the efficiency and sustainability of the fisheries by aligning the interests of fishers with the underlying resource. A recent study in Science, for example, looked at over 11,000 fisheries over a fifty-year period and found clear evidence that the adoption of property-based management regimes prevents fishery collapse. Other research has confirmed both the economic and ecological benefits of property-based fishery management. The recognition of property rights in marine resources can also make it easier to adopt additional conservation measures. For instance, the adoption of catch-shares can reduce the incremental burden from the imposition of by-catch limits or the creation of marine reserves. A shift to catch-shares would have fiscal benefits as well. Yet in recent years, the greatest opposition to the adoption of such property-based management regimes has not come from progressive environmentalist groups, but from Republicans in Congress.
He also endorses a carbon tax, which combines responsibility (the polluter pays principle) with a move toward consumption taxation.
Creating property rights has helped protect fisheries while making the fishing industry more efficient, according to a nice blog post by Eric Pooley of the Environmental Defense Fund (ht: Dick Thaler). Writing at the Harvard Business Review, Pooley notes the success of the “catch share” approach to fisheries management:
The Gulf of Mexico red snapper fishery, for example, was on the brink of collapse in the early part of the last decade. Fishermen were limited to 52-day seasons that were getting shorter every year. The shortened seasons, an attempt to counter overfishing, hurt fishermen economically and created unsafe “derbies” that often forced them to race into storms like the boats in The Deadliest Catch.
This short window also meant that all of the red snapper were being caught and brought to market at the same time, creating a glut that crashed prices. Many fishermen couldn’t even cover the cost of their trip to sea after selling their fish.
A decade ago, the Environmental Defense Fund began working with a group of commercial red snapper fishermen on a new and better way of doing business. Together, we set out to propose a catch share management system for snapper.
Simply put, fishermen would be allocated shares based on their catch history (the average amount of fish in pounds they landed each year) of the scientifically determined amount of fish allowed for catch each year (the catch limit). Fishermen could then fish within their shares, or quota, all year long, giving them the flexibility they needed to run their businesses.
This meant no more fishing in dangerously bad weather and no more market gluts. For the consumer, it meant fresh red snapper all year long.
After five years of catch share management, the Gulf of Mexico red snapper fishery is growing because fishermen are staying within the scientific limits. Boats that once suffered from ever-shortening seasons have seen a 60% increase in the amount of fish they are allowed to catch. Having a percentage share of the fishery means fishermen have a built-in incentive to husband the resource, so it will continue to grow.
Please read the rest of his piece for additional examples in the United States and around the world. Catch shares don’t deserve all the credit for fishery rebounds (catch limits presumably played a significant role), but they appear to be a much better way to manage limited stocks.
One small quibble: Pooley refers to catch shares as an example of behavioral economics in action. That must be a sign of just how fashionable behavioral economics–the integration of psychology into economics–has become. In this case, though, the story is straight-up economics: incentives and property rights.
Bluefin tuna are swift, gigantic, tasty, and increasingly endangered.* Those last two items go together, of course, with tuna’s high market value encouraging over-exploitation of many populations.
But markets can also encourage creative efforts to preserve threatened species. Jason Kottke points to one example: bluefin farming in Japan. This 5-minute video raises a host of important questions, including the source of baby bluefin and the resource costs of their food. And, full warning, it doesn’t shy away from the bloody reality of bluefin harvesting:
On a closely related note, Felicity Barringer of the New York Times News Service writes about Utah’s market in hunting licenses for deer, elk, moose, and pronghorn.
The auction or sale of scarce licenses inevitably means that some will to well-heeled hunters, often from out-of-state, rather than typical residents. For some, that raises concerns about the marketplace intruding on what was once a natural resource held in public trust. On the other hand, by allocating some licenses to landowners who provide habitat, the program encourages conservation:
Here is how it works: The state has enticed ranchers with an allotment of vouchers for lucrative hunting licenses that they can sell for thousands of dollars as part of a private hunt on their land. Many used to complain bitterly to state officials about elk and other game eating forage meant for their cattle.
The vouchers for hunting licenses, handed out for more than 10 years now, give them ample economic incentive to nurture big game on their land and not get frustrated with ranching and sell their land to developers.
Both the video and the article are great fodder for a discussion of markets and wildlife conservation.
* Note for tuna enthusiasts: There are three species of bluefin (Atlantic, Pacific, and southern) that differ in size and degree of endangerment; see Wikipedia).
I probably ought to be blogging about the latest GDP data or how Twitter taught McDonald’s about the Congressional Budget Office (here and here; Mickey D’s is promoting its Cheddar Bacon Onion). But the heck with that. Instead, let’s celebrate Friday with this stunning photo of a shortfin mako by Sam Cahir as published in the Mail Online (ht: Rick MacPherson):
What a beautiful creature (click to enlarge).
At this point, I usually would encourage you to read the accompanying article. In this case, though, caveat lector – parts are incredibly overwrought. But the other photos are lovely, including one of the mako with a great white.
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