What in the world is a ZEC?

Written by Dylan Brewer, PERC Summer Intern

Québec’s zones d’exploitation contrôlée (ZECs) are one of the best kept secrets of conservation. Created in 1978 with the Ministère des Ressources naturelles et de la Faune’s (MRNF) launch of “Opération gestion faune,” ZECs are non-profit organizations in charge of managing wildlife resources. Each zone is headed by supervisors elected by paying members. In 1991, Terry Anderson and Donald Leal’s book Free Market Environmentalism looked at ZECs, praising their pricing system as “instrumental in maintaining high quality recreation.” Today, as the program nears its 35th year, ZECs are thriving and now serve more than 250,000 visitors per year.

When ZECs were started in 1978, each zone was charged with managing hunting and fishing within a certain domain. Prior to ZECs, public lands were managed by private clubs. The main criticism of the club system was that it was too restrictive on community involvement — many of the clubs were controlled by non-Canadians and non-residents, and poaching was widespread. The ZEC program began with the instrumental requirement that each ZEC obtain the necessary resources to cover their costs. Because the ZECs must be self-sustaining, there is an incentive to charge a reasonable and profitable price to users. Further, managers are incentivized to protect the flora and fauna of the area as a future revenue stream.

In 1982, the Fédération Québécoise des Gestionnaires de Zecs (FQGZ) was created to represent the ZECs before Québec’s provincial government. With this structure in place, the program grew without major change until 1999 when the FQGZ proposed to the MRNF that ZECs be given the opportunity to manage recreation beyond fishing and hunting. Following the MRNF’s approval of the proposal, activities offered by ZECs have expanded to include camping, hiking, and other activities. This expansion can be attributed to the requirement that ZECs generate their own funds. Recognizing demand for new goods, managers are able to change their business model rather than remain “frozen in time” like other government programs.

Over the course of 35 years, ZECs have been able to both make a profit as well as preserve wildlife. The question now is how to implement this system outside of Québec. While ZECs do not rely heavily on cultural norms unique to Quebec, the Québécios have had a history of paying to access recreational land. In the United States, new fees would be a barrier to the program at the local level, but giving locals the ultimate control of pricing and services may sidestep the problem.


Saving Patagonian Grasslands with Market Incentives

Meet Carlos Fernandez, PERC Board Member and the Nature Conservancy’s Patagonia Grasslands Manager. The following is an excerpt from our interview with Carlos in Bariloche, Patagonia:

I am the Patagonia Grasslands Argentina Project Manager for the Nature Conservancy and a PERC Board Member. I had my first encounter with PERC in 2005 when I met Don Leal at a workshop in the Galapagos Islands. Don and I started talking about our passion for fly fishing, both in Patagonia and in Montana. I began receiving PERC Reports and sure enough in July 2005 I attend PERC’s Enviropreneur Institute. It was here that I started to think more seriously about how important markets, contracts, and property rights are if we really want to improve environmental quality.

I moved to Patagonia from Washington D.C. in 2008 to launch TNC’s grasslands program. The purpose of this program is to conserve grasslands on a large scale. Given the fact that here in Patagonia about 75 percent of the land is in private hands, our team is doing a lot of work with private land owners aiming to halt or reverse the desertification of grassland ecosystems. We are working with ranchers, businesses, policy makers, universities, and think tanks. TNC and our partners have a pretty big goal, which is to try to bring sustainable conservation to between 30 and 40 million acres in the next 10 to 15 years.

In 2010, I was lucky enough to be invited to become one of PERC’s Board Members — the first board member representing the enviropreneurs and the first international board member, both of which make me very proud. The Patagonia grasslands program is just one venture where free market environmentalism is working on the ground. PERC’s 2012 Enviropreneur Institute will kick off this weekend. Stay tuned for more innovative ideas from the field.


Fishy Politics on World Oceans Day

World Oceans Day is meant to bring communities from around the globe together to celebrate the vast environmental, economic and social wealth of our oceans. It is also a day to remember the threats to ocean health and overfishing if we don’t manage our ocean resources accordingly. Apparently some politicians have other intentions. In her latest op-ed, Laura Huggins highlights the political irony of new legislation to protect our ocean resources.

See also PERC’s video “Saving Ocean Fisheries with Property Rights“:


Anti-Market, Anti-Environmental Fishery Policy

There is substantial theoretical and empirical evidence that property-based management schemes, such as catch-shares, prevent fishery collapse and ensure sustainability. The creation of property rights in ecological resources is also a principled conservative alternative to centralized regulation. Yet somehow a majority of House Republicans were bamboozled into voting to bar funding for further implementation of catch share funding along the Atlantic Coast and in the Gulf of Mexico. By supporting this amendment, offered by Reps. Steve Southerland (R-FL) and Ryan Grimm (R-NY), and endorsed by Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA), a majority of House Republicans managed to oppose property rights, market-based reforms, and environmental protection all at once.

Ronald Bailey has more here.


Guest Blogging on Environmental Policy for The Atlantic

For the past ten days PERC’s Jonathan Adler been one of the guest bloggers on Megan McArdle’s blog on The Atlantic‘s website. During this time he has written five posts on environmental policy:

– Property Rights and the Tragedy of the Commons

– Property Rights and Fishery Conservation

– How Property Rights Could Help Save the Environment

– Is Washington, D.C., Really the Environment’s Savior?

– A Conservative’s Approach to Combating Climate Change


Access Unlimited, Trout Limited

Image by Angus Mackie/Creative Commons via flickr

The May issue of Outdoor Life carried an article entitled “Can I Fish This Stream?” It included a map of the U.S. showing 45 states with “limited stream access,” 4 with “pending access litigation,” and 1 with “liberal stream access.” The one was Montana, about which the article’s author opined, “Anglers in other states should be so fortunate.” Not so fast.

Since the original stream access cases in the early 1980s, landowners have claimed that the court and the legislature took property rights without compensation. Not surprisingly, the conflict has torn the social fabric of landowner-sportsman relations in Montana.

What the author failed to note was the unintended consequences of Montana’s law, namely landowners who cannot prevent access have less incentive to preserve habitat. The now infamous Mitchell Slough case in southwest Montana illustrates what can happen. When anglers took the right to control access from landowners and created public access to the reclaimed irrigation ditch paid for by landowner dollars, owners rightfully shut off the flow leaving fish high and dry. Not only did this reduce spawning habitat for trout that previously migrated freely into the Bitterroot River over which public access has never been questioned, it reduced the incentive of other landowners to invest in such reclamation projects.

The Outdoor Life article concludes that “although Montanans were able to ward off impingement of their access rights last fall, it’s not likely that the assaults on stream and river accessibility are over.” Proponents of unlimited access fail to recognize that their assault on landowner rights is also an assault on trout habitat.

Access unlimited, yes; trout unlimited, no.


Trading Sheep for Grass and Fish in Patagonia

The big brown trout I was fishing for yesterday on the Limay River in Patagonia was nowhere to be found but I did manage to come across an old hang out of Butch Cassidy.

Being from Montana, where the Hole-in-the-Wall Gang pulled off their last job—a holdup of a Union Pacific train—before fleeing to South America, I was happy with this historical catch.

Legend has it that Butch became friends with Jarred Jones who ventured down to Argentina from Texas in 1887 to make his fortune. Jones didn’t find gold but he did manage to open a general store at the mouth of the Limay. The old store, which is now a friendly restaurant, still holds the shops books, old photos, and a frontier atmosphere of a century ago.

Jones earned enough money at the store to purchase two big ranches, which he fenced off with barbed wire—the first to be seen around these parts. Today, barbed wire is strung across much of the 98 million hectares of the Patagonian Steppe to enclose vast quantities of sheep.

Unfortunately, a flock of sheep can gobble up great expanses of native grasses, and in southern Argentina, they’re clearing some serious vegetation. In addition to vegetation loss, overgrazing equates to lost habitat for other animals, and damages waterways with runoff and silt from erosion, which affects the fish, which affects tourism.

Paradoxically, sheep—the slayers of grasslands—could become the saviors of the same landscapes and in turn protect fish and other species. It turns out that because the plants of the grasslands co-evolved with herbivores, such as guanacos, a little munching is good (and necessary) for the flora. It is also true that companies that have environmental components to their business plans and seek to create goods from natural products, including merino wool, would like to see grasslands flourish for the long term. And tourists like me who want to fish and recreate in Patagonia would be willing to pay a price premium for this outcome.

Enter The Nature Conservancy, Patagonia, Inc. and Ovis XXI. Armed with scientific knowledge and market tools, this trilogy is working to conserve more than 15 million acres of land in Patagonia by 2016. Ovis XXI works directly with the woolgrowers. These consultants know the industry, and how to raise sheep without destroying grasslands. The Nature Conservancy brings its science-based knowledge and environmental credibility to help build the sustainable grazing standard through planning and subsequent monitoring of conservation outcomes. And Patagonia Inc. brings the market perspective—buying the wool, networking with others in the supply chain, creating the final products, and using its brand strength to help publicize Patagonian wool.

The majority of the land targeted by the Patagonian Grasslands Conservation Project is privately owned, and remains in large and undivided properties of intact native grasslands. Because most landowners face ongoing political and economic challenges that affect their ability to stay in business, an incentive is needed to gain commitment from landowners to manage resources sustainably. In this case, the carrot comes in the form of a payment to ranchers for grazing less sheep and or for using more modern and environmentally friendly grazing practices.

In November 2011, the first shipment of sustainable wool (29 tons) left Patagonia for Asia to be turned into socks for Patagonia, Inc. So far this scheme has worked to place two million acres under sustainable grazing agreements. Time will tell if the environmental protection purchased by conservationists from sheep ranchers will protect grasslands and associated waterways in the future, but signs look promising. Stay tuned…


What a difference a year makes

by Brett Howell

As I sit here in Atlanta fully engaged in my Conservation Fellowship at Georgia Aquarium, I am constantly amazed at how much difference a year has made in my state-of-mind, life perspective, and daily activity.  This time last year I had just submitted my application to the PERC’s Enviropreneur Institute, and I spent my professional time doing management consulting work for one government client.  By comparison, so far this week I:

  • Had a Skype conversation with an entrepreneur in Jamaica
  • Talked with a CFO/mentor about the potential for creating coral mitigation banks in Florida
  • Organized a trip to SCUBA dive with The Nature Conservancy in the Dry Tortugas
  • Was invited to speak to an undergraduate class at Georgia State University and to present a seminar at Florida Atlantic University
  • Attended an info session about a social entrepreneurship incubator
  • Strategized about how to design a cutting edge coral planting scientific study
  • Talked about launching a new company with an enviropreneur from PERC’s 2007 class

Last week, I was humbled to have an article about a workshop I had organized as part of my project published in Nature, one of the most influential scientific publications, entitled “Conservation meets capitalism in Florida.”  One participant offered in congratulations: “The fact that you, or someone, got Nature to cover a meeting that may lead to a plan that may lead to action is a little mind boggling, but I suppose it’s a testament to the timeliness and novelty of the approach, and I’m very happy to see it.”

What changed, you might ask?  I became a full-time “enviropreneur” as the Walker Conservation Fellow at Georgia Aquarium.  Wondering what that means?  An “enviropreneur” is dedicated to improving environmental quality through property rights and markets.

PERC is accepting applications right now for their 2012 Enviropreneur Institute.  Not a day goes by when I’m not amazed at how my experience at PERC directly impacts my day-to-day work.  I have a network of peers and mentors to advise me, and I have been fortunate to receive ongoing support from PERC, including for the workshop “Market Approaches to Coral Reef Restoration: Investigating the Viability” that I co-directed with them in Florida and that led to the article in Nature.

Check out the Enviropreneur Institute today. Applications are due March 12th (deadline just extended)!  The application can be accessed here.

Brett Howell is a graduate of PERC’s 2011 Enviropreneur Institute and a Conservation Fellow at the Georgia Aquarium. Visit his blog on environmental entrepreneurship.


A Market to Conserve

Recently, several scientists proposed a market based solution to ensure the future of whales in nature. Tradable whale quotas, these scientists suggest, could reduce existing conflict and enhance cooperation.  Quota shares would be provided to member nations of the International Whaling Commission. Share holders could decide to maintain, use, trade, sell, or permanently retire their allocation. Similar to international fishing quotas (ITQs), the total allowable catch would be based on a scientifically determined sustainable harvest.

The proposal is no panacea but it does provide different incentives than the current leaky moratorium. Shareholders can decide if they value whales in the boat more or less than conservationists value them in the sea. Determining the allowable catch and enforcing catch limits is no easy task. An open market, however, can help improve cooperation and create better transparency than the often illicit trades that currently take place.

Many that are in opposition to whaling resist any commercial take. While a share market allows for that outcome–whale conservationists can purchase all the shares–it is unlikely. One great benefit of the proposal is that it will demonstrate the value of whales both dead and alive. Those opposed to whaling can purchase share quotas to hold or retire. Commercial whalers can purchase quotas for harvest. The policy would free resources for investment in whale management and conservation rather than demagoguery and the black market.

Originally posted at Environmental Trends.


Valentin Abe is spawning fish farmers in Haiti, lack of formal property rights be damned

by Tate Watkins

“Everything here in Haiti,” says Dr. Valentin Abe, “takes time.” Which is a comment as insightful as it is tautological.

Abe (pronounced AH-bay), originally from Côte d’Ivoire, first came to Haiti in 1997 on a six month contract to assess potential aquaculture sites. He’d recently earned a PhD in aquaculture from Auburn University, and before he knew it the contract spiraled into two years. He’s been working with fish farmers in Haiti ever since.

In 2005, he started Caribbean Harvest, a program that turns terra farmers into aqua farmers using startup aquaculture kits and fingerlings from Abe’s hatchery in Croix-des-Bouquets, in the outskirts of the capital. Potential fish farmers rely mainly on donations to provide startup costs, but the idea is that once a farmer has a kit—two cages, 2,400 fingerlings for each cage, and feed—his operation will sustain itself once the first harvest goes to market. The 150 or so farmers Abe works with have had varying degrees of success so far.

Haiti’s lack of formal property rights—the Hernando de Soto-backed international property rights index doesn’t even bother to include the country—has been cited ad infinitum, especially during the reconstruction tumult since the earthquake two years ago. But Abe and his partner farmers have had surprisingly few property rights-related problems when it comes to the waters that hold their fish.

“In the lakes and reservoirs,” he says, “[farmers] do the monitoring, provide security for the cages themselves. They do all the work.”

The Haitian constitution provides that “water resources are the domain of the state; the right to property does not extend to any springs, rivers, or water courses.” But in practice, informal customary law reigns, and farmers provide their own enforcement.

Land, however, is a different story.

“We’re trying to locate land and go build a processing plant,” says Abe. “The owner of the land, we know that he’s the owner of the land, but he doesn’t have the proper documentation because land has been handed down from generations, from father to son. So they’ve never felt the need to do the paperwork on the land, and we cannot build infrastructure on land that doesn’t have titles.”

Abe plans to build the fish processing plant near Lake Azuéi, Haiti’s largest lake and the site of many of Caribbean Harvest’s farmers. Eventually, he also wants to build fish ponds, a more efficient way to farm. But he faces the same hurdles when it comes to securing proper title for land on which he wants to build ponds. He guesses that it will take six months at best just for all parties to acquire the proper paperwork.

For now, he waits.

Tate Watkins is a freelance writer based in Washington, D.C. He writes about economic development, foreign aid, and immigration, among other things. Currently in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. Visit his website here. Photo via Caribbean Harvest.


Government As Definer of Fishing Rights

Ocean overfishing provides a classic illustration of the tragedy of commons. Because no one owns the fish in the sea, there are no incentives for fishermen to constrain their catch. Leaving fish for the future means they are available to others to catch. Government managers have tried to regulate the problem away, but the result has been a wasteful race for fish. A better approach emerged in the 1990s with the introduction of  individual transferable quotas (also called catch shares).  By receiving predetermined shares of the total allowable catch each season, fishermen are no longer compelled to race for the fish. The economics of a fishery improves dramatically and the fishery becomes more sustainable.

Unfortunately, because catch shares eliminate the problem of too many boats chasing too few fish, some congressional lawmakers with short time horizons are mounting a campaign against them in the name of  jobs.  To wit, when considering catch shares in a fishery the “Saving Fishing Jobs Act of 2011” defines fishermen as all permit holders, whether they have a record of catch or not, and requires 2/3 of them to approve a new catch share program. Non-fishing permit holders are likely to oppose a catch share program because their initial allocation is little, if any, share of the fish.

Ironically, such a ploy only serves to lock a fishery into a lower paying seasonal jobs instead off higher paying year-round jobs. Is it better to have 10 seasonal paying jobs earning poverty level wages of $7,000 a year under a race for fish or five year round fishing jobs earning $50,000 without the race? These tradeoffs should be weighed when lawmakers tout that they are saving jobs.

The political campaign at the national level now being mounted against catch shares illustrates another important lesson: When it comes to relying on higher levels of government to define property rights the costs of establishing those rights should be considered. Granted, given its monopoly on legitimized coercion, government can overcome the problem of enforcement, but there are information and rent-seeking costs to consider.  These costs are likely to be much higher at the national level than relying on lower levels of governance or private collective action (see Fred McChesney’s work on “Government as Definer of Property Rights“).

In short, the change that catch shares create in the nature of fishing jobs–from a larger, part-time, more seasonal workforce to a smaller, full-time, higher paid work force–is both economically and ecologically superior in the long run.


Catch Share Fisheries at Work in the World’s Poorest Countries

By Jingjie Chu

Fencing Fisheries in Namibia and Beyond strengthens the case that rights-based fishery management works and a well-designed catch share system customized to the local culture and history will work even in underdeveloped countries. The development stage should not be a hindrance. On the contrary, there is an urgent need to use rights-based fishery management to help improve productivity and enhance sustainability in the fishery sector.

Chu is a 2011 Enviropreneur Institute Fellow and a natural resource economist with The World Bank Group, Africa Region. The above is Chu’s personal view, which may not represent the view of the World Bank.