Environmentalism and free-market economics have long been viewed as being adversarial. The very notion of combining these two ideas seem like nothing more than an oxymoron. This popularly perpetuated stereotype is echoed in the rhetoric of the Green New Deal. Why should conservation efforts not be guided by the signals of profit and loss mechanisms? Better yet, why should conservation efforts be insensitive to incentives and rely solely on legislative fiat and sanctions to enforce such initiatives? It is about time that environmentalism sheds its crunchy -granola image in exchange for more of a pragmatic approach. After all, conservation does entail conserving resources. Any economically conscious actor would consider the limitations on nonrenewable resources. Meaning that economic agents would strive for the more efficient use of resources of limited quantities. Efficient uses of resources tend to be rewarded in free-market economics. Ironically demonstrating how environmental conservation and free-market economics dovetails perfectly to one another.
One of the most notable leaders in market-based environmentalism has been PERC. Founded in Bozeman, Montana back in 1980 and has been committed to devising economically sound solutions to environmental issues. All the while, respecting private property rights. This research institute flips the conventional notion of environmentalism on its head. Seeking to pursue private solutions to environmental versus automatically resorting to legislation and regulation. One of Terry Anderson’s, a senior fellow at PERC, favorite examples of this was the story of Hank Fisher. A leader in the wolf restoration effort in the 1980s.
Fisher came to an epiphany in 1984, after meeting with a group of local ranchers in a schoolhouse in St, Anthony, Idaho. Fisher assembled the ranchers to hear their concerns regarding wolf reintroduction at the Yellowstone national park. The consensus was that the majority of the ranchers were concerned about the cost of losing livestock as a result of an increase in the wolf population. It was the response of one of the ranchers that solidified the foundation for Fisher’s market-based solution. One of the ranchers told Fisher: “It’s easy to be a wolf lover. It doesn’t cost anything. It’s the people who own livestock who end up paying for wolves.” Fisher then remembered a livestock compensation plan that was implemented previously in Minnesota. However, the ranchers were incredulous at the fact that they ever would be compensated for their losses.
In the summer of 1987, Fisher was able to test out the concept of a livestock compensation program in Montana. As wolves returned to northwestern Montana, local ranchers lost thousands of dollars’ worth of livestock. Killed by the wolves migrating back to their natural habitat. The indignation of the ranchers was reflected in the flurry of headlines in the local papers. Fisher quickly sent out a fundraising newsletter out to” ..Defenders of Wildlife members in Montana…”. He was able to raise the necessary funds to compensate the ranchers for their losses within 48 hours. After seeing the success of his first initiative, Fisher decided to continue to implement and maintain rancher compensation programs. He collaborated with local artist Monte Dolack creating posters depicting what Yellowstone would look like with a restored wolf population. Selling posters to the public for $30.00 apiece. Since 1987 (reference article was published in 2001), the program has raised $175,000.00 in rancher compensation. The scope of the program has been extended to ranchers in Idaho, Wyoming, Arizona, and New Mexico. Defenders of Wildlife also implemented a program in 1997, compensating for grizzly bear damages. Raising $60,000.00 by 2001.
The story of the environmental efforts of Hank Fisher is an illuminating one. Challenging the conventional wisdom that we need to dispense with free-market economics when pursuing environmental restoration efforts. Both are perfectly compatible with one another. With a little bit of ingenuity and understanding of market incentives, other aspiring pioneers could follow in his footsteps. By doing so create a win-win scenario versus the zero-sum policies that are favored in government-sanctioned penalties and inflexible regulations.