Letters to the editor
Seals a sustainable natural resource?
I found the news blurb on page 13 of your April issue "Members of Congress oppose Canadian seal quota" somewhat disturbing. What does the annual seal harvest in Newfoundland have to do with your magazine? It seems more appropriate for a publication from the National Wildlife Federation or more likely People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA). I found it to be terribly out of place and unbalanced. You devote 80 percent of the article to the anti-fur crowd and 20 percent to the hunters. If you talk to a rank-and-file Newfie, he will tell you the cod are gone because there are too many seals. And there just isn't a whole lot to do up there to make ends meet, other than harvest a sustainable natural resource.
Furthermore, by what right do we dictate to the Canadians how to manage their natural resources? I'm sure we'd get a little excited if they started making suggestions to us on how to manage our non-migratory species.
Health and Safety Specialist/Extension
Associate, Ohio State University
Our magazine's goal is to cover important national and international issues related to protecting the environment. We at Environmental Protection feel strongly that our coverage of environmental topics should not be limited solely to focusing on hazardous waste management and remediation, wastewater treatment, air quality management and other associated pollution control subjects. We think that the preservation of natural resources is a crucial part of protecting the earth's environment and, therefore, we think it is important to cover this subject along with topics related to pollution control.
The news brief that you found objectionable profiled an organized effort by 19 members of the U.S. Congress, 160 parliament members from several European countries, 22 Canadian scientists and Canadian conservation organizations, in which they voiced their concern over the current practices surrounding the commercial harvest of adult harp seals in Canada. We feel that this is a legitimate news story, and we stand behind our decision to run it.
The debate continues...
Although Mr. Matthew Brown and Dr. Richard L. Stroup raised some intriguing points in their article "The takings debate," June 1999, pp. 59-61, they are absolutely incorrect when they state that their example cases "are not emphasis theirs situations where someone is polluting the environment." They compound their error by stating "If the property owner were doing something environmentally harmful, that would be different."
By eliminating critical animal habitat, landowners are harming the environment. To put it another way, all "pollution" constitutes habitat destruction, albeit to varying degrees.
The fundamental issue underlying species preservation is habitat preservation. As the authors point out in their article, it is relatively easy to prevent endangered species from taking up residence on one's property by simply managing the property in such a way as to eliminate or prevent the formation of appropriate habitat. It is no surprise that the least adaptable species are some of the most endangered.
However, the authors are absolutely correct in pointing out that heavy-handed implementation of environmental regulations by governmental personnel can cause as many, if not more, problems than it can ever solve. Taking an individual's property without providing fair compensation is an injustice. Put another way, such a taking can also be considered pollution, in that it renders the property unfit for human habitation.
The only solution to this quandary is for landowners, environmental regulators and non-governmental organization (NGO) personnel to work together to find ways in which properties can be developed that are mutually beneficial to all interested parties. Compromise and reason, by all of the parties involved, is essential.
Gordon M. Combs, PE
Senior Consultant, Stone & Webster
Management Consultants Inc.
First, in our effort to distinguish polluting (an environmental bad), from failing to provide habitat for an endangered species (an environmental good), we may have oversimplified the issue. Yes, it can be environmentally harmful to lose an endangered species, and a landowner might speed that loss by cultivating his or her field. But our point was that this situation is far different from pollution.
Normal activities such as farming do not violate other people's rights the way that pollution does. The public, it seems to us, may want the use of a farm to protect an endangered species, but the farmer doesn't owe the public this for free. If the public fails to offer payment, then failing to stop farming is nothing like harming people by dumping industrial waste in a local river. The latter violates the rights of water users; the former does not.
The distinction is important because in the farming case (and similar cases) there may be a taking that deserves compensation. It would be wrong to pay someone not to harm others by pollution. It is, however, equally wrong to fail to pay for goods taken from that same person in order to provide a good for the general public.
Second, Mr. Combs appears to equate habitat destruction and pollution. If owning a home or operating a ranch, which certainly destroys some habitat, is considered pollution, then to completely avoid habitat destruction leaves little room for humans.
If this is the case, the cooperation Mr. Combs seeks to achieve will never occur. What he views as cooperation among NGOs, landowners and the government usually means that the most politically powerful organization has succeeded in getting the government to impose its vision on the public, and landowners have little alternative but to go along. This is hardly a win-win situation.
Where real cooperation actually takes place, on a daily basis, is in a free market. When property rights are respected, no group - not the government, not an NGO and not landowners - can force another group to do its bidding. The only actions that are taken are those that benefit all parties' interests, as they themselves define those interests. This is a win-win situation.
Misuse of the Endangered Species Act and some other environmental laws destroys property rights. This inevitably leads to direct, emotional conflict. Until the government and its advocates in NGOs realize how they cause this vicious circle, things will continue to move in the wrong direction. It will be a lose-lose situation.
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This article originally appeared in the 09/01/1999 issue of Environmental Protection.