Well, this is a real honor to be at Carol's annual National Property Rights Conference, and I am especially flattered that Carol liked my work enough that she has invited me back. This is, I think, the third time I have given a presentation at the conference, and now I finally made the top of the greasy pole, by delivering the keynote. Thank you, Carol.
I would like to briefly tell you a little bit about what the Center for Private Conservation is about and what we are trying to do. Later this afternoon you will have a chance to hear my associate, Brian Seasholes. Wave your hand, Brian. What we are trying to do at the Center for Private Conservation is essentially to tell the nation and the world the good news about private property, private land ownership, private conservation, and private stewardship. What we do here is to let people know that private land owners and private associations are, in fact, almost always better stewards of the land, better stewards of the resources, better stewards of wildlife than government coercion and government forces; and that there are a lot of good reasons for this. What we try to do is tell about them in a gentle way, in sort of a touchy-feeling kind of way, so we're telling positive stories, and we're not viewed by the public and we're not viewed by the media as being anti-environment. This is because usually if you do anything to criticize what environmental organizations are doing on the land or what the government is doing on the land, you are viewed automatically as being anti-environmentalist, and we certainly don't consider ourselves such.
Since I was that high, and that had to be a long time ago, I have been roaming the country and a lot of other countries with my hobby, bird watching. Brian Seasholes has spent time in Africa looking at game ranching and rhinos and elephants and so on, and we think there is a better way to protect the environment while we maintain our freedom. And that is through private conservation and private stewardship. So that is what we try to do.
One of the problems we have, of course, is that private property rights are not well understood in this country. They are certainly not taught anywhere. They are not taught in schools, they are not taught in universities, and interestingly enough, they don't seem to be taught in law schools either, which is very sad.
Many of you may know some of the attorneys with the environmental groups. Last year in April I was up in Canada testifying before the Canadian Parliament and the House of Commons. They are about to pass their first Endangered Species Act up there. One of the other witnesses was the Vice President for Litigation of Defenders of Wildlife in Washington, D.C. It is interesting that he is not vice president of saving anything. He is vice president of litigating, which tells you something about the greens. He is also the counsel for something called the Endangered Species Coalition to make the Endangered Species Act even more cumbersome and more difficult and more of a threat to freedom than it is now. When he was giving his testimony, at one point he turned to the chairman of the committee and pleaded with him, he said, one thing that I ask you on behalf of Americans is whatever you do in creating this act, please do not give compensation to land owners whose land you take. Please do not do this, sir. He said, you can't do this. He said you should not make property rights an "entitlement," and you should not pay people to obey the law. This shows what the environmental community thinks. Needless to say, I immediately objected and butted in, and the chairman had to sort of gavel me down, but I was telling him that this is a rather bazaar view of what Americans think about property rights and, you know, as the major determinant of individual liberty and individual freedom and that there are good reasons why we have compensation because that is how you protect a free society.
But also we have an urbanized nation increasingly and so fewer and fewer people grow up on the land, and especially kids, and really understand the land and understand how you can work with nature on the land. People also don't understand really...you ask almost anybody. When we came in our cab last night, we got in this interesting discussion with the cab driver and another passenger in the cab who came to this hotel, but she sure as heck wasn't coming to this conference, I'll tell you. And they automatically assumed that if only it weren't for the government there would be no wildlife, no trees, no land, no parks, no nothing. With everybody, this just seems to be an article of faith. It is surprising, because most people, just looking through introspection, you realize that the self-interest that an owner has, he has a very different attitude toward what he owns, the land he owns, a tree farm he owns, the forest he owns, than a government bureaucrat does. If you own it, that's all you have and you are there 24 hour a day, 365 days a year, and you want to not only have this for yourself today, tomorrow, and ten years from now, but you want to pass it on to your children and your grandchildren. So you have every incentive to take care of it and not to make mistakes on it.
But a government bureaucrat, as enlightened as he is, is still a bureaucrat. He is there from 9:00 in the morning until 5:00 in the afternoon. He is going to return soon, the next day, and then he'll be retiring after 20 years and so on. If he makes a mistake, well, you know, it's tough. I mean if he burns down, if his national forest burns down, well, he gets transferred to another forest or he gets early retirement. If the private landowner burns down his forest, he goes bankrupt. And if it burns down his neighbor's land, he can be in jail because he is liable for that. If you own something, you have incentives to take care of it. If you don't own something, you don't.
Of course, another thing about the private sector in a free society, is that you have millions of individual visions. Everyone has their own vision of how to do things better and how not to make mistakes and how to find a unique way to take care of something or preserve something. But when you go into a government bureaucracy, there is a book and it tells you, here is the one way, here is the way you manage all forests in the nation, here is the way you manage all wildlife refuges in the nation, and few, if any, bureaucrats are ever going to risk stepping out of that mold. There is only one vision. That's the one they enforce, and you are usually penalized for having new ideas. Then when they make a mistake, when all the forests burn down, there is nothing that can be done about it.
Another thing we have in this country which many of you may know about, when the first colonists came here, America was one of the most unbelievable bounties of wildlife that the world had ever seen. It was like an Eden. The skies were filled with birds, three billion passenger pigeons flying over in flocks, a hundred million buffalo on the Great Plains. The passenger pigeon, it's vanished, it's gone, it's extinct. There were three billion of them, and the hundred million buffalo, they very nearly went the same way. A few hundred were saved at the last moment.
Most people think that it's because since we live in a free society, that it was free enterprise that caused these things to disappear. When we really look at that whole history it is not what we are going to get into in this talk, but I'll be happy to talk to anybody about it or give you citations on that and so on , the reason those species disappeared was because in America we did not allow people to own wildlife, so therefore it was not valuable to them. Compare this is many other parts of the world where people did own the wildlife on the land. They had very strong incentives to take care of that wildlife and they did so. Their wildlife are still thriving and have not gone extinct as much of ours did. But people still have this idea that all these things vanished because we lived in a free society.
What I would like to tell you about is a little bit of the history of private conservation in America. As far as we know, the first example of private conservation in the United States actually occurred before there was a United States. There is a magnificent national monument down in southern Virginia called Natural Bridge of Virginia. Many of you may have seen it. It is a great big towering high limestone bridge across a deep canyon. It is higher than Niagara Falls. It is considered one of the seven natural wonders of the world. Thomas Jefferson saw this very early on in his life, and he was so impressed with it, he was so awe struck, that he said, this is one of the most awesome of nature's creations, of the Creator's creations, and he wanted to find a way to save it and preserve it for all time. What Jefferson did, the great believer in private property rights, is he went out and purchased it in fee simple. In 1774 before we were even a nation, he went to King George III and for 20 shillings purchased Natural Bridge of Virginia. He and his family owned it for 50 years and it is still owned privately today. It is still a magnificent example of private stewardship.
One of the things that we have been trying to do with our Center for Private Conservation to increase the awareness of the American people, particularly children, of the significance of private property, private land ownership, and private conservation is to create something called Private Conservation Day as an alternative to Earth Day. We have had three such annual Private Conservation Days. We hold them on April 13, which is Thomas Jefferson's birthday. We are hoping that we will eventually, perhaps in the Bush Administration, be able to successfully achieve getting that officially recognized as National Private Conservation Day.
It also stands in contra-distinction, as many of you know, to another day. Just nine days later on April 22 comes Earth Day. Some of you may know what birthday April 22 is. It is Lenin's birthday. This was not an accident, not a coincidence. If you knew the young radical environmentalist, who in the 1960s created it and remember they were burying Cadillacs in the ground and things like this because they knew the capitalists were destroying the planet. This year for our third annual Private Conservation Day we had the event on Jefferson's birthday actually down at Natural Bridge of Virginia, about a four-hour drive south of Washington, D.C. We were honored to have the Secretary of the Interior, Gale Norton, and the Under Secretary of Agriculture, Mark Rey, make the eight hour drive, four hours down in the morning and four hours back, to be there to help celebrate that day and present our award carving of the wood duck to the current owners, Mr. and Mrs. Angelo Pagrisi.
Gale Norton sort of summed up the whole idea of the thing. She went out early that morning before the event and walked all the length of the canyon underneath Mr. Jefferson's bridge before anyone else was down there. When she came back and gave her talk, she said that one of the great strengths of the private sector is nobody had to be out there with a hammer or a club to force the owners to take care of this. Nobody had to pass a law to tell the owners to keep all those gorgeous wildflowers on the mountain slopes, to protect those on the side of the canyon because it was in the self-interest or the best interest of the owners to do so. That's what made this place beautiful. And, of course, if Jefferson came back today, with the exception of a concrete path instead of an old gravel and rock path, he would recognize it simply as he left it.
One of the interesting things about America's unique approach to private conservation and private stewardship grows out of the intention by Americans to undertake and form voluntary associations. Some of you who remember your college reading probably remember Alexis de Tocqueville. In his book Democracy in America, he singled out this characteristic of the American people as one of the most striking things that separated them from the people of the Old World.
DeTocqueville observed, "In no country in the world has the principle of associations been more successfully used or applied to a greater multitude of objects than in America. Americans of all ages, all conditions, and all dispositions constantly form associations to give entertainment, to found seminaries, to build inns, to construct churches, to diffuse books, and to send missionaries to the Antilles. In this manner they found hospitals, prisons, and schools." He concluded, "If it is supposed to implicate some truth or to foster some feeling by the encouragement of the great example, they form a society. Wherever the head of some new undertaking, you see the government in France or see the man of rank in England, in the United States you will be sure to find an association."
De Tocqueville was writing in the 1830s and the reason he didn't mention associations that save birds or animals or wild places is that it was still another 50 years, a half a century, until the 1880's, that Americans began to recognize the conservation crisis and then began to form voluntary associations to resolve that crisis.
The first such association, which is still is around with us today, is familiar. There were lots of them formed in those days, and an interesting thing is that a vast majority of them came from outdoorsmen and particularly from hunters. With all the denigration you get about hunting and the hunting community in the environmental movement today, it was the hunters who were out in the field who saw that things were being destroyed and saw that things were vanishing, that habitat was vanishing, and they were the first ones to create voluntary associations to save what we had. The first such organization was the National Association of Audubon Societies, which was created in 1905 to save birds and particularly to save the plume birds, the egrets with their great big snowy plumes which women wore on all their hats. The millinery trade in those days was very prominent in the late 1800's and early 1900's for people to wear, for example you see these movies from what the 50's or 60's with Carmen Miranda with all these fruits, bananas and apples, on her head, women used to have a whole row of robins, and then a row of cardinals and then maybe a sparrow sitting on top, and so on.
But they had these gorgeous plumes of egrets. Those plumes are only produced on the birds during the nesting season and the way you get them is to go to a nesting colony when the adults are coming in to either sit on the eggs or feed the young. These colonies are extremely dense with thousands of nests on a tiny little island of a few mango trees. The adults are so geared in by instinct to keep coming back to the birds, the young and the eggs, that you just sit therein your boat or stand there and just slaughter them with shotguns one after another after another after another and kill all these birds, pluck out the plumes and go back to New York City and put them on women's hats. And, of course, this was doubly disastrous for egret populations because all the young birds starve and the eggs are never hatched and so on. They were rapidly going extinct. This was one of the things that the Audubon Society was founded on. From 1885 to 1905 there were a series of Audubon organizations and they finally merged into one as the National Association in 1905.
They did a number of phenomenal things, voluntary things. The first thing they did related to a long tradition in the northeastern part of the United States coming from England. During the Christmas holidays they have something called a side hunt when people would all come to the farm or some house out in the country for the holidays. You would break up the room into teams of people and they would all have shotguns and rifles and they would go out in the woods and the fields and shoot everything they could find a crow, a robin, a fox, a muskrat, whatever, and then they would all bring them back to the house in the evening and put them in piles and whoever had the biggest pile was the winner. Perhaps that might have been necessary in the 1600's or 1700's when you couldn't go to McDonalds and you couldn't go to frying Purdue chickens or something, but it certainly wasn't necessary at the turn of the century and everything was disappearing. The Audubon societies came up with the idea that instead of killing things, instead of killing most of the day, they would start something called the annual Christmas Bird Count. They'd send people out to count the highest number of species of birds and the highest numbers of each species in a fifteen-mile diameter circle during a 24-hour period. And that tradition is still carried on today. It is a huge event across the nation. There are thousands of counts, with tens of thousands of people involved. That is the longest data set that we have of wildlife population, I think, bird populations, in the world.
Another thing the leaders of the Audubon Society tried to do in 1902, something you will be hearing about later this year, was also an important beginning. There was a famous island off the east coast of Florida called Pelican Island which one of the last big nesting populations of brown pelicans and other birds. These were being killed by fishermen who claimed that it wasn't their nets that were over-fishing, but that it was the few pelicans that were there that were over-fishing. This island, for some reason or other, was in the hands of the federal government. But it wasn't being protected or anything. Everything on there was being slaughtered. So the Audubon people went to Teddy Roosevelt and said, we want to buy this island and set it up as our first national preserve. Roosevelt said, wonderful, at last some people will take care of it. But unfortunately Roosevelt was not able to find a way in those days, because there wasn't much of a privatization program going on to transfer this from government ownership to private ownership. So he just decided that he would declare this an agricultural preserve, and that is what is now recognized as the first federal wildlife refuge in America. You will probably be hearing about this history this year as the National Wildlife Refuge System celebrates its first hundred years.
But we came within that close, perhaps. Perhaps if Audubon had been able to purchase that, then we probably never would have had this massive system of government land ownership of all these kind of things, because it would have been recognized instantly that Audubon can do it and do it better.
And Audubon did. They have done it all over the country. They have this whole system. They went out and found the last colony where these egrets nested, and they would purchase it in fee simple or they would lease it from people and so on, and they would post them and then they would put their own private wardens on those islands to protect the birds there from the poachers. In fact, the first wildlife warden to be killed in American history was not, as you would think, somebody out saving the last grizzly bear in a government refuge or something in Alaska, but it was a private wildlife warden down in the Florida Keys by the name of Guy Bradley who was murdered by plume hunters in 1905. In 1908 two more Audubon wardens were murdered in the line of duty.
This began to help change some of the tide, too, of the public feeling toward people using bird feathers and using birds on their hats and clothing and so on. Audubon was always out pamphleteering, leafleting on the steps of the churches on Easter Sunday saying, "Madam, you may have white plumes on our head but you have red blood on your hands." Rather dramatic. But it certainly mattered more after Guy Bradley was murdered. Essentially they have hundreds of thousands of acres of private lands across the country. Frosty Anderson, who was the head of their sanctuary system, was quoted as saying that if it had not been for Audubon system and sanctuaries for wildlife, much of our wildlife today would not have survived, would not have been around to even be put on the current Endangered Species Act list.
You need to know something about two refuges in particular. One of their biggest refuges is in coastal Louisiana. It is called the Roney Refuge out in the coastal marshes. And it is famous for the hundreds of thousands of snow geese that winter there every year. They think it is so sensitive for the importance of snow geese that they don't even let the public come on the refuge when you offer to pay because they want the snow geese to know they will always be safe there. The other thing you will find on the refuge and which has been found for half a century is one of the largest natural gas producing fields in America. It has been there for 50 years, and from it they have gotten tens of millions of dollars in royalties.
They have another interesting refuge, that the Michigan Audubon Society owns, called the Baker Sanctuary, where you will go to find sandhill crane, those giant five foot tall very easily disturbed and sensitive cranes, some of which nest there and many of which migrate through there and stop in migration. What you will also have found there was a productive oil field for ten years or twelve years, one of the most productive oil fields in that part of Michigan. Audubon earns so much money from that oil field that they actually joined the Chamber of Commerce because they wanted to know what you did with all this money, how businessmen behaved. Just this fall they counted 4,475 sandhill cranes in one day on the Baker Refuge, which is a new record for the entire state of Michigan.
If you notice anything peculiar here, what we have is oil and wildlife thriving side by side on environmentalist property. Now, what have you been hearing and reading in all the newspapers and TV ads and on and on and on for the last 20 years is that if you drill one well for oil in Anwar, all of the wildlife will vanish. Environmentalists know better; particularly Audubon knows better. It is interesting that one of the reasons that environmentalists warn everybody about that you can't drill for oil in Alaska is because there is snow geese up there. There are about 20,000 or 30,000 snow geese that gather there in the winter before moving south. However, Audubon has between 200,000 and 500,000 snow geese that winter on their refuge and they are drilling like mad. Why is it that drilling just one hole up there would cause them all to go extinct?
What it tells you is something very important. There is a big difference between private and public lands. On private lands the owner can weigh all the pros and cons, figure things out, and come in with oil production that will not do any harm to the environment, and they get all the royalties and they use those royalties to improve their refuge, put dikes and impoundments around it, create artificial nesting houses, put more and more building in the sand and all this kind of thing. But if it were on public lands Audubon can't get any money. There are no royalties out of it. The only way Audubon can get money on public land is by sending out a scary little fund raising letter saying, hey, if you don't send us $50 or $100 by tomorrow, the last great place will be gone and all the snow geese on the planet will disappear, even though they know better. That is one of the things that you get from private ownership. You can balance these kinds of things for which there is unbelievable continuous confrontation on the public lands.
Another very interesting thing was the creation of the Hawk Mountain Association Sanctuary in 1934. There was an area on the Appalachian Mountains in Pennsylvania where in the fall time when birds of prey hawks and eagles and falcons and so on are migrating south, they all pass this one knob because of the way the winds blow and so on. Hawks need to eat. They are big heavy birds and burn a lot of energy flapping their wings. In those days birds of prey were thought to be evil. They were bad birds because they ate good birds. They ate birds like quail and ducks and grouse and so on that hunters wanted, and they ate pretty birds. So governments all around the country were paying bounties to encourage citizens to go out and slaughter, to kill every eagle that was out there, every owl that was out there, every hawk that was out there.
Hawk Mountain was one place where the shooters gathered, because it was near Philadelphia. People could get there in a day. There was actually a road up on top of this mountain. There weren't many roads up in the Appalachians in those days. They would gather there from first light. From the first birds that moved by to the end of the day until darkness came, they were shooting every hawk and eagle and falcon out of the sky. There would be thousands of them littering the ground. In fact, they shot so many shells that some of the poor local farmers would come up and gather the spent shells and take the brass to turn it in and get a little money that way. Well one of the early conservationists was a woman by the name of Rosalie Edge. She was also early suffragette, and she was shocked and outraged at this slaughter and she went out and lobbied against it. She wrote letters to the editors and nothing happened. In fact, people were very suspicious of her. They didn't like her. Not only did they consider her a scold and a busybody, but this was during the '30s; we were in between one war with the Germans and we might be facing another war and people said she was probably un-American. Red-blooded American boys need lots of practice at moving targets and what better than to shoot these worthless, evil hawks flying by. Well, with all of her pleas falling on deaf ears, one of the things she did, which proved one of the important issues about private conservation, is she went out and found out who owned the mountain. She found out someone owned it. There is 1,398 acres. She very quietly raised $3,500 and bought the damn mountain. There! She sat up the world's first sanctuary, first preserve, for birds of prey. And now you can go up there on a day in the fall and you will find 20,000 bird watchers and photographers up there watching and oohing and aahing as a big red-tailed hawk or a peregrine falcon or an eagle flies by almost at arm's length from you, on some of the spots. She helped change the whole philosophy in the nation on how we look at birds of prey.
The lesson here is that, one, this was the government that caused the problem. The government was paying the bounties to kill these things, and, two, when you couldn't have saved them in those days politically. How could you get 51 percent of the Congress to vote to stop the slaughter of birds of prey when government itself is paying the bounties and government biologists told you these were evil birds that needed to be gotten rid of? But, living in a free society with private property, one little woman with a vision and a little bit of money that she went out and raised was able to turn the tide.
To a large degree, the same was true with the buffalo. This was when the buffalo were killed off with the American government's deliberate policy to get the Indians off the Plains, to find a solution to the Indian problems that killed all the buffalo, they encouraged everyone, they gave free rifles, they gave free ammunition and wanted everybody to go out and do it. Then, when the buffalo herds went from a hundred million down to a few thousand, some individual farmers and ranchers and a few Indians around the West went and purchased the last few and saved them. They brought them in and put them on their land and protected them. Those couple of hundred were the ones that are the source for the numbers that now exist. Plus, there were a few in some isolated places like Yellowstone and Wood Buffalo Park in Canada. But it was private individuals, rather than government, that helped save them.
Another very interesting history here is Sea Lion Caves on the coast of Oregon. It is a magnificent point peninsula that goes out into the Pacific Ocean. The caverns there are considered on the par with the Blue Grotto on the Island of Capri, just unbelievably stunning caverns with a hole in the rock and some light that comes in. It has been a great gathering place for marine mammals and sea birds. Steller sea lions, which are on the endangered species list. It is the only known mainland rookery of Steller sea lions in America. California sea lions are there, harbor seals. It has the world's largest known rookery of Brandt's Cormorant, dark birds that are fishing birds.
The people who bought it in 1927 thought that this would be a great place to own and protect. They thought that maybe they could get some tourists coming there because particularly they knew that the famous Route 101 up the Pacific Coast was going to be opened in 1930, and so they opened Sea Lion Caves to the public in 1932. They built a 1500-foot long trail on the cliffs and a 135-step tower down to the beautiful caves and in 1961 they replaced that with a 215-foot elevator. What was also going on in those days was everyone hated seals and sea lions because they ate fish and fishermen don't like somebody else eating the fish before they catch them or try to catch them. The government was paying bounties to kill all the seals and sea lions on the West Coast and particularly in Oregon. They paid up to $2.50 per carcass that you'd bring in. In 1921, dating back that far, there were at least eight hunters who earned over $5,000 in a single year. That was a staggering amount of money in those days, and you can gather the magnitude of the slaughter. Of course, this was a direct threat to the owners of Sea Lion Caves and their hopes to make a living from that eco-tourism or just from regular tourism they didn't call it eco-tourism then , and they went out and actually protected their land, protected Sea Lion Caves and the peninsula and the wildlife there from poachers and actually got into shootouts. They would be there shooting at the poachers who were coming in trying to kill them off and get in and get their game. The bounty slaughter continued until 1971, but the owners' efforts to save these stocks saved enough stock so that when the Marine Mammal Act finally got into play there were enough marine mammals left on the West Coast to re-populate Oregon, Washington, and northern California. This again was due to the vision and the self-interest that private landowners and private conservationists had.
Of course, there is another example you may all know about that occurred roughly in that same time, in 1937, when the West and Midwest was all blowing away in the great Dust Bowl. All the wetlands were being dried up from plowing and so on, and there were government subsidies to drain wetlands and so on. As the wetlands went, the duck populations in North America plummeted from maybe a hundred million or more down to 30 million or whatever. So duck hunters decided to form a voluntary association, Ducks Unlimited. Nobody had to join it and only people who cared about ducks. They raised money voluntarily and then they saved things through conservation efforts, they did it the old fashioned way. They went out and paid landowners to protect their wetlands, rather than drain them. They didn't go to the government and say, take this guy's wetlands away from them, don't let him use his wetlands for something like this. No, they went out and did things the old fashioned way, and helped turn the tide. Now there are Ducks Unlimited groups all over the world and they are saving the wetlands. They saved wetlands because they want to kill more ducks, yes, and some people say, well, who would join such an organization? Or, they say, lots of people would benefit without joining it, it's a free rider program. They said, any institutions that have free rider programs can't work. But it has worked. Duck hunters just want to kill more ducks. They don't care if there are more ducks for photographers to photograph or birdwatchers like me to watch or whether there are more frogs or more fish or more mosquitoes or anything else that are in wetlands. They just use their own self-interest and their own voluntary association to save wetlands.
We have covered a couple of examples from looking at farmers and ranchers around the country. A few of you may know the Roney family out in California. Billy Jean Redemeyer has been at a lot of these property rights conferences. She is now Mrs. Roney. And they have a 3,100-acre basic ranch in the Vina Plains in Chico, California, about an hour north of Sacramento. They are fifth generation ranchers and this is an area of Vina Plains where there is very, very little soil a very thin layer of soil, very rough and poor soil. Right underneath that there is a clay pan and so you really can't plow it and you really can't use it for agriculture. About the only thing you can do is raise cattle on it. If you have been there five or six generations, you learn how not to overgraze, when to move your cattle, and so on. Remember, in California the rains only come in the wintertime and then it doesn't rain again for the rest of the year. One of the things they have there is they have things called vernal pools. These are little depressions just above the clay pan and when you get the heavy rains that come in the wintertime and early spring, these pools fill up all of a sudden, and they can't drain because there is clay underneath them. All of a sudden, zillions of little invertebrates begin to hatch out in there. These are the famous fairy shrimp you have probably heard about, or if your kid read comic books, you may remember the little sea monkey things. It is a little almost translucent thing about the size of fingernail clippings and they are in there, there is just a soup of these things. The Greens and the federal government and the state government put the fairy shrimp on the endangered species list. There is something in there called tadpole shrimp. Around the pool, as the pool slowly dries up from the evaporation after the rain stops, you get concentric rings of different colored flowers around it. It is really gorgeous. You have a ring of yellow flowers and a ring of white and a ring of blue and so on. Almost of those vernal pool flowers are endangered. They are all disappearing, so the government has listed all these things as endangered. Incidentally, in any pond you find, if you find an old rubber tire by the side of the road or a tire track baked in the mud, as soon as rains come in that, tens of thousands, maybe millions of little fairy shrimp would hatch out of that. It is probably the only endangered species on the planet whose population numbers in the billions. That might give you some food for thought about what they are trying to do.
What is interesting here is that The Nature Conservancy has decided, we must save these pools. So they bought a ranch right adjacent a few miles north of the Roney Land Cattle Company and they called it the Vina Plains Reserve and in their own little book they say it is a "vernal splendor." Well, it is interesting to go visit it. I compared the two, at the peak of the rains and the flowers and so on, two years in a row. Now, The Nature Conservancy knows, as all good environmentalists do, that cattle are evil, that cattle are hoofed locusts and that cattle destroy the land. So they eliminated all cattle ranching when they took over. There was no cattle ranching for, like, nine years. One of the things that has happened in California is this whole area of all the central valley of California evolved since the last ice age as natural omnivores. There were elk that came down in there. There were antelope there. Deer would come down. All kinds of things were constantly eating all the vegetation, so it was a very low horizon of vegetation. In the springtime, when the rain would come and these vernal pools were there, these special little vernal pool plants would grow up that were very short plants. They weren't tall. So this was always sort of grazed over. Well, The Nature Conservancy eliminated cattle and so for almost a decade everything started growing up and wherever you had a vernal pool, because it was wet, all kinds of weed seeds would come in and you would get all these invasive weeds and plants that would grow in and they would grow up very tall. They would choke out the endangered species. You couldn't see these endangered plants. Nothing was grazing, and you can't burn anything in California anymore, so there are no fires and so on. So all these mats of vegetation were beginning to turn into soil and the vernal pools just began to shrink and disappear and vanish. So the one thing they were trying to save was going away. The Nature Conservancy was obviously doing a worse job than the ranchers, because the ranchers lived on the land and knew the land. Than The Nature Conservancy decided, well, we have to get some cattle back on the land. They didn't announce that they had made a mistake. They just said, we are going to change our policy. What did they do? They put out a competition for a lease and they put out a one- year lease. Well, if you know anything about ownership, you know that somebody who owns something has a longer time horizon than someone who is leasing it for a year. The cattlemen who came in and leased it for a year tried to eat every blade of grass and every blade of vegetation that came out and it made the situation even worse. The last time I was there, they went up to a four-year lease but that is still not like a hundred-year ownership. The place now looked like a pool table.
I will skip over other things and tell you something about an example we did on forestry. One of the case studies we did on forestry is a small tree farmer down in South Carolina, a guy who is a dentist, he owns something called Cypress Bay Plantation. He bought a 1000-acre tree farm. Actually, what he did was he bought an old burned-out tobacco farm where it had just all gone to seed, because he couldn't afford anything else. Another example is when private people make mistakes, they usually go bankrupt. Somebody else comes and buys the land and restores it. Well, they did fantastic restoration, and they planted over 120,000 trees, mostly pine trees. That is what they are going to harvest. That is the native tree of that area, the loblolly pine and the short leaf pine. Greens always argue that, oh, we can't have plantation forestry because a plantation is not a forest. Well, what they also did down there you should go down and see their forest they also planted oak trees, nut bearing trees, all these things. Why? Because they wanted to produce mast. They created a wildlife habitat, planted fruit crops, cover, shelter belts, and created ponds, all in the middle of this tree farm. Why? Well, you have to pay for such an operation and tree farming is a weird kind of farming, any of you people know that are foresters. Most farmers plant their crop in the spring and they harvest it in the fall. And there are costs and benefits involved. The tree farmer plants his crop in the spring and he harvests it 30 years later. It is very expensive. You can go broke by the time you harvest your trees. You've got to manage them every year and thin them out and have prescribed burns and spray and all this kind of stuff to take care of them. So how do you pay for this operation? You lease out your land for hunters for quail hunting, for wild turkey hunting, for white tail deer hunting, and so on. They need food, they need shelter, they need habitat, and so on; so you are creating all this habitat for them. Of course, if you create habitat for game species, which people will pay for, you also at the same time create habitat for non-game species, which all the bird watchers and Audubon Society want to watch but they won't pay for. And so we went all the way around. It is a win-win situation.
The other interesting thing you also hear Greens saying is, we have to have massive government regulation and ownership because in the private sector there is always a race to the bottom. Everybody is trying, is so interested in making a profit, they are always cutting edges, and everything in the private sector gets worse all the time. We have to regulate everything. Well, the American Tree Farm System is unique because it has developed a method of creating a race to the top. What they do with a hundred thousand or so, 80,000 to 100,000 it depends each year, because they have a very strict test to see if you qualify to be a member of the American Tree Farm System. They come and inspect your land and see what you are doing. They have a contest every year to see who can be in the state of South Carolina the best tree farmer in South Carolina. There is an annual award. Then there are all the guys who won in the Southeast who compete the following year for best regional tree farmer from the Southeast and then once a year those four regional guys get together to be National Tree Farmer of the Year. This is a huge honor to these people. They get big signs which they put up by the side of the road, they are on television and on radio and everything, and they take great pride in this. And they all know each other and they all learn from each other. Well, how do you do this, or how did you manage to get this thing on your land, or what did you do to increase wood duck populations on your land, or what kind of trees are you planting? They are all learning from each other, each trying to be a better steward than their neighbor and none of this being by the way the Greens do it and the government does it by force or by regulation, doing it because it is in their own self-interest.
One other important thing came out of that. Many of you know one of the greatest property rights defenders we have had in the last few decades in the U.S. Congress was Helen Chenoweth. When she was in the House of Representatives, one of the last things she did in the fall of 2000, September 2000, was she had some hearings on private conservation and what the nation can learn from private conservation. As far as we know, those are the only hearings in the history of the U.S. Congress on such things, on the importance of private conservation and private property rights.
Steve Burroughs, who owns the Cypress Bay Plantation and Tree Farm, was up there and testified. At the end of his testimony, Rep. Chenoweth said, well, now I understand, Mr. Burroughs, in your southern pine forests you have to have prescribed burns. Now, this is the year of 2000 when the federal land managers had managed to burn down 8-½ million acres of their government forests, she said, I understand, or government forests, excuse me, and she said to him, I understand you have to have prescribed burns in your forests. He said, oh yeah, we manage our private forests. I burn about a third of them each year. I have to do this to keep the forest healthy and keep out insects and undergrowth and so on. She said, well, when you have your prescribed burns, do you wait until you have a huge buildup of fuel load on the ground and until we are at the end of a long drought or a period of very, very hot temperatures and low humidity and high winds?
People started to giggle all over this Congressional office, and he is looking at her and noticed she is going somewhere with it. He said, well no, why did you ask that? It would be insane to do that. And she said, but that is how the government manages all of our federal lands. He said, yes, but I'm not the government. This is all I own in the world. This is all my children will inherit and my grandchildren. I can't afford to destroy it. And in the process of having this controlled burn to the last second I am on the phone with the weather people to make sure nothing is changing, that there is no front coming in or a thunderstorm or something like that because if you have a fire that gets out of control and goes off my land and burns down my neighbor's land and his house, I am personally liable. I have to pay for it. The taxpayers don't pay for it as the government bureaucrat that you have mentioned.
We can talk about what developers have done on forests. Many of you know the North Maine Woods Association. There are 3 million acres of mixed ownership, with these producing forest products and at the same time providing recreation, hunting, fishing, camping, canoeing, and so on. Interesting to compare to the prices and so on for adjacent Baxter State Park. We have got developers around the country who are doing fantastic things. We have got people protecting estuaries in Washington State because it is the only state in the nation that allows property rights in the tidal zone and so the oyster farmers then have maintained that as the cleanest bay in America because they can't afford pollution of their oysters. They go out and police all sorts of pollution much better than the government does.
We have wineries in California. I have one of our old brochures in which wineries have created wetlands on their property and then they were rewarded by the government by being penalized because they say creating a wetland also constituted filling a wetland, so they are in violation of Section 404 of the Clean Water Act.
One of the things that I want to visit while I am here is Howe Caverns, which is nearby. There is a magnificent system of privately owned caves across the country that in general are better managed than the federal government's caves that occur in the National Parks and for obvious reasons.
What I want to conclude with is that, as the stories that we keep documenting demonstrate, most of our environmental laws don't help, but instead punish good stewardship and private conservation. If we created positive incentives instead of penalizing good land ownership, America would be far better off, because one of the things you will learn is landowners in America are not afraid of having wildlife on their land, not afraid at all. But they are afraid of having the feds on their land and, unfortunately, the way our environmental laws work if you are a good steward, it brings the feds on the land and the better steward you are, the more likely you are to be penalized. If you work your land and protect your land so you have endangered species on it, you are going to be shut down. So instead of sending a federal agent to every landowner with a gun in his hand, if we started sending one there with a check in his hand or at least with a plaque in his hand or an award in his hand, we would all be a lot better off.
One of the things you will see on our publications is an emblem of the wood duck, and the reason we selected the wood duck, as many of you know, as most of our wildlife was at the turn of the century, this beautiful little wood duck was rapidly vanishing. One of the reasons it was vanishing was it is one of the few ducks that nest in a hole in a tree. Most ducks nest on the ground. But our bird was nesting in a hole in a tree and once you cut down all the southern forests mostly because there was government incentives to do this, to clear land, and so on and the Army Corps of Engineers and some of the other programs, it is hard to get that duck to come back. Just passing laws, as the government does, that say you can't hurt any doesn't help it. If there is a duck that nests on the ground, there is plenty of ground to nest on, but if it nests in the holes and the holes are gone, it can't do anything. So, again, a voluntary association, Friends of the Wood Duck, went around the country and many of you have probably been involved in these programs or know people who have and put up hundreds of thousands of wood duck nesting boxes all over America to make an artificial box that this bird can nest in better than they could in a natural cavity in a tree. And they have recovered and the wood duck is now the second most common duck in the eastern United States.
Now compare this to what the government approach has been. The government saw spotted owls disappearing. So the government said, if you have a spotted owl on your land, you cannot do anything within a quarter of a mile and sometimes up to a half mile radius of that tree or it is a fine of up to $100,000 and a penalty of up to a year in jail for harming an endangered species. Well, if that is what you do, how many tree farmers do you think are out there putting up nesting boxes to help spotted owls recover? I mean nobody! Nobody in their right mind would do that, because as soon as you achieve what you wanted to do, you put up the spotted owl box and a spotted owl comes in, you would lose millions of dollars in timber that you couldn't harvest. So we have to find ways to use positive incentives to encourage people to do good things and the American landowners and the American people do want to do that.
We think that with the approach that we are taking it will be possible in the future that all Americans will be able to have a free and prosperous society at the same time that we have a sound and healthy environment. All we need to do is for the government to get out of the way and let people do it.
This afternoon Brian Seasholes is going to talk about how this has even worked in countries in Africa, in Zimbabwe, and so on. The only place that the rhinos and elephants are safe is on private lands. Thank you.