Conservatives who also consider themselves conservationists have always held up organizations like Forever Wild and The Nature Conservancy as good examples of making environmentalists realize the economic reality of their ideological pursuits.
If you want to protect the environment for the enjoyment and benefit of future generations, then you should be prepared to suffer the economic and fiscal consequences of doing so. Buying privately held land and setting it aside forces institutionalized environmental protection programs to acquire the property at market rates. By extension, it also forces government to analyze the cost effectiveness of a contemplated purchase.
It’s not good enough to buy and set aside a tract of land just because ducks like to stop over there. They have to determine—for want of a better analogy—what the right dollars-for-ducks ratio is.
If one tract of land produces 100 ducks for a dollar, does it make sense to purchase an adjacent tract that only produces 50 ducks? How about 25? 10? At what point does the dollars-for-ducks ratio become an irrational bargain, assuming that any value for the ratio is rational?
Most Americans agree that preserving environmentally sensitive land and wetlands is a desirable activity and serves as an example of good government. Indeed, the US Fish & Wildlife’s National Wildlife Refuge program is heralded from all sides as a well conceived, well run program that promotes conservation.
But when forced to deal with the costs of that activity, the public tends to be less generous with its scarce resources. They demand cost effectiveness and tend to agree with setting aside the most productive tracts and letting the marginal to less productive tracts go to another use, such as farming, timber production, perhaps even residential development.
That is the philosophical debate currently dividing the Alabama GOP over the renewal of Alabama’s Forever Wild program. Legislation is currently making its way through the chambers of Goat Hill, but Republicans are divided over renewing the program for another 20 years. Those who are absolutely philosophically opposed to any government intervention are going to be opposed regardless of how many ducks a dollar produces.
But those who see such programs as a legitimate way of making environmentalists address the costs of their actions see Forever Wild as a useful tool to use in dragging the tree huggers back to reality.
Count me among the latter. As an avid fisherman and outdoorsman, I think preservation is a necessary function of government. But as a fiscal and economic conservative, I believe the costs of such activities must be demonstrated and rational decision-making must be a part of the process. It’s got to be transparent, and the dollars-to-ducks ratio has got to be there.