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Eli Lehrer - Protect Sensitive and Disaster-Prone Natural Areas

Eli Lehrer - Protect Sensitive and Disaster-Prone Natural Areas

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Published by: Competitive Enterprise Institute on Dec 21, 2010
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202-331-1010 www.cei.org Competitive Enterprise Institue
Protect Sensitive and Disaster-ProneNatural Areas
Overdevelopment of wetlands, barrier is-lands, old growth forests, mountainsides andother disaster-prone areas often leads to exac-erbating losses from natural disasters. Buildingon or near mountainsides, for example, cancause landslides and flooding. Such areas—often the most physically beautiful—also pro-vide important wildlife habitat and key areasfor recreation. While some of the benefits of conservation are clearly “soft”—appreciationfor the beauty of nature, preservation of wild-life—there are also concrete, hard benefits topreserving such areas.Wetlands, for example, play an enormousrole in moderating the storm surges from allbut the largest hurricanes and slowing hurri-canes on their way inland. Conserving these re-sources and protecting the nation from disastersrequires three policy changes: an appreciationthat private property typically provides the bestprotection of these areas, a withdrawal of im-plicit and explicit development subsidies frommany areas, and a determination to maximizepublic benefit from whatever land the federalgovernment holds.
 Allow private conservation
. Private prop-erty owners have the best incentives to preserveland and federal policy should recognize that.A company with a deeded fee-simple interest inforest land, for example, will almost never de-cide to clear-cut it simply because clear-cuttingprovides such a poor return on a long-term in-vestment. On the other hand, a company leas-ing land from the government can maximize itsprofits if it clear-cuts that land.Trusts and other non-profit charitable bod-ies often have a better incentive structure thanthe government to make sure that it remainspreserved. A government must manage a num-ber of competing interests and may find that adesire for economic development, tax revenue,or a favor to a powerful group overrides itsdesire for conservation. A private conservationtrust, on the other hand, exists only to preservethe land and can be trusted to do so in the longterm. Thus, to the extent possible, the federalgovernment should transfer environmentallysensitive land to private owners—charitableand for-profit—that will do a better job man-aging it.
 End policies that encourage people tolive in disaster-prone areas
. Congress shouldwithdraw all subsidies from truly environmen-tally sensitive areas. For the most part, federallaw and regulatory policy already restrict newdevelopment in heavily flood-prone areasand no
explicit 
federal subsidies exist. Con-gress should also withdraw all
implicit 
federalsubsidies for development in these areas. If adeveloper wants to build over wetlands or on

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