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162 C h a p t e r Twenty-Six

a scheme would retain most of the environmental benefits of the garbage-


pricing program. C h a p t e r 27
The message beginning to emerge across the country, then, is that
garbage is no different from the things we consume in the course of pro-
ducing it. As long as the trashman is paid, he will come, and as long as
we must pay for his services, his burden will be bearable.
BYE-BYE, BISON
DISCUSSION QUESTIONS
1. How do deposits on bottles and cans affect the incentives of individ-
uals to recycle these products?
2. Why do many communities mandate recycling? Is it possible to
induce people to recycle more without requiring that all residents The destruction of animal species by humans is nothing new. For exam-
recycle? ple, the arrival of human beings in North America about twelve thousand
3. How do hefty per-can garbage pickup fees influence the decisions years ago is tied to the extinction of most of the megafauna (very large
people make about what goods they will consume? animals) that then existed. The famous La Brea Tar Pits of Southern
California yielded the remains of twenty-four mammals and twenty-two
4. A community planning on charging a fee for trash pickup might birds that no longer exist. Among these are the saber-toothed tiger, the
structure the fee in any of several ways. It might, for example, charge giant llama, the 20-foot ground sloth, and a bison that stood 7 feet at the
a fixed amount per can, an amount per pound of garbage, or a flat fee hump and had 6-foot-wide horns.
per month without regard to amount of garbage. How would each of Although many experts believe that human hunting was responsible
these affect the amount and type of garbage produced? Which sys- for the demise of these species and that hunting and habitat destruction
tem would lead to an increase in the use of trash compactors? Which by humans have led to the extinction of many other species, the link is
would lead to the most garbage? not always as clear as it might seem at first glance. For example, it is
estimated that only about 0.02 percent (1 in 5,000) of all species that
have ever existed are currently extant. Most of the others (including the
dinosaurs) disappeared long before humans ever made an appearance.
The simple fact is that all species compete for the limited resources avail-
able, and most species have been outcompeted, with or without the help
of Homo sapiens. Just as important is that basic economic principles can
help explain why various species are more or less prone to meet their
demise at the hands of humans and what humans might do if they want
to delay the extinction of any particular species.1
Let's begin with the passenger pigeon, which provides the most
famous example of the role of human beings in the extinction of a
species. At one time, these birds were the most numerous species of birds
in North America and perhaps in the world. They nested and migrated in
huge flocks and probably numbered in the billions. When flocks passed

1. We say "delay" rather than "prevent" extinction because there is no evidence to date that
any species—Homo sapiens included—has any claim on immortality.

165
164 Chapter Twenty-Seven
BYE-BYE, BISON 165

overhead, the sky would be dark with pigeons for days at a time. The Europeans who followed: Once an animal was killed, its ownership was
famous naturalist John James Audubon measured one roost at 40 miles clearly defined, fully enforced, and readily transferable. Moreover, the
long and 3 miles wide, with birds stacked from treetop down to nearly rewards were distributed in accordance with the contribution that each
ground level. Although the Native Americans had long hunted these person had made to the overall success of the hunt.
birds, the demise of the passenger pigeon is usually tied to the arrival of Matters were different when it came to the ownership rights
the Europeans, who increased the demand for pigeons as a source of ^ison^ Native Americans, like the white hunters and settlers who came ,
food and sport. The birds were shot and netted in vast numbers; by the TaterVnacTnp economically practical way to fence in the herds. The bison
end of the nineteenth century, an animal species that had been looked on could (andUid) migrate freelyTrorn oneTri be's territory into the territory^
as almost indestructible because of its enormous numbers had almost /of other tribes. If the members of one tribe economized on their kill, their
completely disappeared. The last known passenger pigeon died in the conservation efforts would chiefly provide more meat for another tribe,
Cincinnati Zoo in 1914. who might well be their mortal enemies. This fact induced Native
The American bison only narrowly escaped the same fate. The vast Americans to exploit the bison, so that the herds disappeared from some
herds that roamed the plains were easy targets for hunters; with the traditional territories on the Great Plains by 1840—before Buffalo Bill
advent of the railroad and the need to feed crews of workers as the was even born.
transcontinental railroads were built, hunters such as Buffalo Bill Cody Two factors made the efforts of the railroad hunters more destructive,
killed bison by the thousands. As the demand for bison hides increased, hastening the disappearance of the bison herds. First, the white popula-
the animals became the target of more hunting. Like the passenger tion (and thus the demand for the meat and hides) became much larger
pigeon, the bison had appeared to be indestructible because of its huge than the Native American population. Second, white hunters used
numbers, but the species was soon on the road to extinction. Despite the firearms —a technological revolution that increased the killing capacity
outcries of the Native Americans who found their major food source of a given hunter by a factor of 20 or more, compared to the bow and
being decimated, it was not until late in the nineteenth century that any arrow. Nevertheless, the fundamental problem was the same for whites
efforts were made to protect the bison.2 and Native Americans alike: The property rights to live bison could not
These two episodes, particularly that of the bison, are generally be cheaply established and enforced. To own a bison, one had to kill it,
viewed as classic examples of humans' inhumanity to our fellow species, and so too many bison were killed.
as well as to our fellow humans, for many Native American tribes were The property rights to a scarce good or resource must be clearly
ultimately devastated by the near demise of the bison. A closer look defined, fully enforced, and readily transferable if that resource is to be
reveals more than simply wasteful slaughter; it discloses exactly why used efficiently —that is, in the manner that yields the greatest net bene-
events progressed as they did and how we can learn from them to improve fits. ThisTs IrueTwhether the resource in question is the American bison,
modern efforts to protect species threatened by human neighbors. the water in a stream, or a pepperoni pizza. If these conditions are satis-
Native Americans had hunted the bison for many years before the fied, Jhe resource will be used in the manner that best benefits both
arrival of Europeans and are generally portrayed as both carefully hus- ^wneTand societ^)lf_they are not satisfied —as they were not for bison
banding their prey and generously sharing the meat among tribal mem- on the hoof or passenger pigeons on the wing—the resource will gener-
bers. Yet the braves who rode their horses into the thundering herds fl]]y not he ngf rl in fh^ mr>Sf efficient manner. In the case of animal species
marked their arrows so that it would be clear who had killed each bison. that are competing with human beings, this sometimes means extinction.
The marked arrows gave the shooter rights to the best parts of the animal. In modern times, the government has attempted to limit hunting and
Tribal members who specialized in butchering the kill also received a fishing seasons and the number of animals that may be taken by impos-
share as payment for processing the meat. Indeed, the Native American ing state and federal regulations. In effect, a rationing system (other than
hunting parties were organized remarkably like the parties of the

3. This does not mean that all species will be permanently protected from extinction, for
2. For the bison's cousin, the eastern buffalo—which stood 7 feet tall at the shoulder, was reasons that are suggested in Chapter 3, "Flying the Friendly Skies?" It does mean that
12 feet long, and weighed more than a ton—the efforts came too late. The last known extinction will be permitted to occur only if the benefits of letting it occur exceed the
members of the species, a cow and her calf, were killed in 1825 in the Allegheny Mountains. costs.
166 Chapter Twenty-Seven BYE-BYE, BISON 167

prices) is being used in an attempt to induce hunters and fishermen to act Codfish off the New England and eastern Canadian coasts were once so
as though the rights to animals were clearly defined, fully enforced, and abundant, it was said, that a person could walk across the sea on their
readily transferable. The results have been at least partly successful. It is backs. The fish grew into 6-foot-long, 200-pound giants, and generations
likely, for example, that there are more deer in North America today than of families from coastal communities knew they could count on the fish
there were at the time of the colonists—a fact that is not entirely good for a prosperous livelihood. The problem was that the fish had to be
news for people whose gardens are sometimes the target of hungry herds. hauled from the sea before rights to it could be established. The result
The threatened status of many species of whales illustrates that the was overfishing, which led to declining yields and shrinking fish.
problem is far from r^nlve.d The pattern of harvesting whales has been Between 1970 and 2000, the catch dropped more than 75 percent, and the
the subject of international discussion ever since World War II, for migra- typical fish caught these days weighs but 20 pounds. As a result, the
tory whales are like nineteenth-century bison: To own them, one must Canadians have closed down their cod fishery, and the American fleet is
kill them. It was readily apparent that without some form of restraint, a ghost of its former self.
many species of whales were in danger of extinction. The result was the The cod is not alone in its demise. The world's ocean fisheries are in
founding in 1948 of the International Whaling Commission (IWC), decline. Since 1950, nearly 30 percent of all fisheries have collapsed,
which attempted to regulate international whaling. But the IWC was and some scientists project that in forty years, all of the world's fisheries
doomed from the start, for its members had the right to veto any regula- could disappear. The problem, it is widely agreed, is a failure of humans
tion they considered too restrictive, and the commission had no enforce- to manage fisheries in a way that is consistent with both maximum eco-
ment powers in the event that a member nation chose to disregard the nomic benefit and long-term survival of ocean fish stocks. But it is now
rules. Moreover, some whaling nations (such as Chile and Peru) refused becoming increasingly apparent that a simple property-rights system has
to join the IWC, so commission quotas had little effect on them. Some the power to stop and even reverse these declines.
IWC members have used nonmember flagships to circumvent agreed A system of catch shares called individual teansjferable quotas (ITQs)
quotas, while others have claimed that they were killing the whales solely is stunningly successful in protecting fisheries. Where such rights have
for exempt "research" purposes. been assigned, there is no evidence of collapse. In fact, the assignment
The story ofthedecimation of a species is well told in the events sur- of catch share rights often halts and even reverses potential collapse,. And
rounding blue whales, wmcn areTJelieved to migrate thousands of miles in fisheries where they are used, ITQs have permitted the return of eco-
each year. A blue whale, which can weigh almost 100 tons, is difficult to nomically viable fishing activities.
kill even with the most modern equipment; nevertheless, intensive hunt- Command-and-control systems of fisheries management have his-
ing gradually reduced the stock from somewhere between 300,000 and 1 torically held sway around the world. These systems limit, for example,
million to, at present, somewhere between 3,000 and 4,000. In the fishing gear and season length, in an effort to keep total harvests within
1930-1931 winter season, almost 30,000 blue whales were taken, a num- quotas. But even the best of them suffer from a profound misalignment
ber far in excess of the species' ability to replenish through reproduction. of incentives: the self-interest of the individual harvester is generally
Continued intense harvesting brought the catch down to fewer than 10,000 inconsistent with actions that would both maximize the value of the fish-
by 1945-1946, and in the late 1950s, the yearly harvest was down to ery and ensure its sustainability. Because individuals lack secure rights
around 1,500 per year. By 1964-1965, whalers managed to find and kill to part of the harvest, they are motivated to "race to fish" to outcompete
only 20 blue whales. Despite a 1965 ban by the IWC, the hunting of blues others. The results are poor stewardship andlobbyihgtor"ever-larger
continued by nonmembers such as Brazil, Chile, and Peru. harvest quotas, causing excessive harvests, reduced stocks, and eventual
Humpback whales were also hunted to near-extinction. From an collapse. ;> ' • '"• ' • • -l " >'''",'
original population estimated at 300,000, stocks plunged to 5,000 or In recent years, the failure of command-and-control fishery manage-"
fewer, although as many as 60,000 to 80,000 humpbacks are alive today. ment has become increasingly clear, but the question has been, is there a
It is generally agreed that the IWC ban on hunting humpbacks has played viable alternative? Economists have suggested that catch shares assigned
a key role in the species' ongoing recovery. to individual harvesters (such as ITQs) offer such an alternative, because
Whales are not the only seagoing creatures to suffer from an absence roperty-rights systems, of which ITQs are an example, are generally the
of clearly defined, cheaply enforceable, and transferable property rights. e ^ ' to conserve resources.
BYE-BYE, BISON 169
168 Chapter Twenty-Seven

an expansion of ITQs and other catch-share systems can lead to the


Catch-share systems combine two features. First, based on biologi- recovery of fish stocks and of the profits from harvesting them—one
cal and other scientific criFeria, an allowable catch size is determined. more illustration that the clear assignment of enforceable, transferable
Then members of the fishing community (individuals or "optrad^ property rights remains the most effective way we know to protect other
for example) are assigned shares olthejotaUlowable_catch. These species from the depredations of Homo sapiens.
shares can then beuseaoTbTsdd or leased to others; no one is allowed
to harvest in excess of the amount specified in the harvester s quota. The
ITQs give fishermen de facto property rights in the catch, much as hey DISCUSSION QUESTIONS
have rfghts in their boaTTand gear. Collectively, these rights owners hen
have an incentive to protect and maintain the value of the fishery, just as 1. Has there ever been a problem with the extinction of dogs, cats, or
they do to maintain their other property. cattle? Why not?
Case studies of the use of ITQs suggest that catch shares can dra-
2. Some people argue that the best way to save rare species is to set up
matically improve both the biological and the economic health of fish- private game reserves to which wealthy hunters can travel. How
eries Alaska British Columbia, Iceland, and New Zealand all represent could this help save endangered species?
locations where ITQs are regarded as having succeeded. But recent
research covering more than eleven thousand fisheries around the world 3. Is government ownership of animals needed to protect species from
reveals that ITQs are effective worldwide. In fact, the outcomes for extinction?
fisheries with and without catch-share systems have been studied sys- 4. In the United States, most fishing streams are public property, with
tematically, accounting for factors (such as ecosystem characteristics and access available to all. In Britain, most fishing streams are privately
fish species) that might have played a role in the health and viability of owned, with access restricted to those who are willing to pay for the
the fish stocks. This amounts to conducting a statistically controlled right to fish. Anglers agree that over the past thirty years, the qual-
experiment—and the results are striking. _ ity of fishing in the United States has declined, while the quality of
A conventional measure of collapse for a fishery is a decline in catch fishing in Britain has risen. Can you suggest why?
to a level that is less than 10 percent of the maximum recorded catch for
that fishery. By this criterion, an average of more than fifty fisheries has
reached collapse each year since 1950, in a worldwide pattern that seems
to be pointing toward the demise of all fisheries. But in fisheries; where
a catch-share system is implemented, the process of collapse halts-
completely. Moreover, in many of the ITQ fisheries, recovery of fish
stocks begins soon after implementation, even as fishermen continue to
profitably catch fish. .
It is now estimated that had ITQs been implemented in all fisheries
beginning in 1970, the incidence of collapse would have been cut by two-
thirds Moreover, instead of watching fisheries collapse today, we would
be seeing them getting healthier, even as they were supporting fishermen
and nourishing consumers. Most important, it appears that the power of
ITQs to prevent and even reverse fishery collapse applies to species and
ecosystems throughout the world.
Until now, skeptics of the property-rights approach to solving envi-
ronmental problems have argued that fisheries are profoundly different
from other resources, somehow immune to the benefits of instituting
catch shares. That argument is no longer viable. Catch shares are being
implemented in growing numbers around the world. It is now clear that