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Wednesday, May 04, 2005

Economics Can Help with Environmental and Resource Problems

From The Oregonian:

Back from the Dead, The discovery of an ivory-billed woodpecker in Arkansas is an inspiring story about wildlife habitat and hope, May 03, 2005, The Oregonian

It is a long way from the old-growth forests of Oregon to the Big Woods of Arkansas. Yet when researchers said last week that they discovered an ivory-billed woodpecker swooping over the swampland 60 years after it was declared extinct, you could stand in any forest and hear the beat of wings.

It was the sound of hope taking flight.

If this ghost of a bird can rise in the heart of the Old South, then almost anything seems possible. To share the excitement, to feel the goose bumps, you don't have to be one of those hard-core birders who sat down and sobbed after they first saw the large, red-crested woodpecker fly across the Arkansas bayou. You don't have to know an ivory-billed woodpecker from a common flicker. You just have to love wildlife.

This spectacular bird, the largest woodpecker in North America, is not from here. But the spirit and dedication that led to the protection of the Big Woods, and the rebirth of the ivory-billed, live right here in the Northwest.

This bird is, at heart, what the Northwest is struggling to protect on the Columbia and Snake rivers, in the old-growth fir forests of Western Oregon, in the big ponderosa pine country of Eastern Oregon. This woodpecker represents what Oregonians fight about, worry about, sacrifice for.

Too often, it feels like we're losing. Conservation groups publish bleak lists of species on the brink, animals around the world that are about to blink out, never to be seen again. Most of the time, it feels like all we can do is slow or delay the loss. Even the rare good news -- a big run of hatchery salmon, a single chick hatched in captivity -- seems so manipulated, so far from nature, that it is hard to celebrate.

But this is different, a bird that everyone believed had died off by the middle of the last century, suddenly soaring back into view. They had said it was gone forever. Hunters had killed the birds off for their showy red plumage. Loggers and developers had cut and dried their bottomland hardwood and swamp habitat.

Yet here it is, showing up in the middle of a forest carefully pieced back together and protected by a number of state and federal agencies, conservation groups, hunters and landowners. The Big Woods is 550,000 acres of bayous, bottomland forests and oxbow lakes. The discovery of an ivory-billed woodpecker there is powerful evidence that how we manage land and resources today can have an enormous impact on the fate of wildlife in the future.

No one yet knows how many of the birds are alive in the Big Woods, or whether there is a mating pair. More than 50 field biologists and other experts have spent more than 7,000 hours in the past year searching the Big Woods for ivory bills. They have confirmed at least 15 sightings of the woodpecker.

It is hard to imagine the rush of seeing a species come back from the dead. It is exhilarating enough to see a wild chinook salmon charge up the Columbia River, watch a bald eagle circle over Portland's Ross Island or see gray wolves lope across Yellowstone 's Lamar Valley.

In the end, you don't need binoculars or a bird book to identify what they have discovered in Arkansas' Big Woods.

It's hope for all wild creatures.

At the UO we established a Center for Environmental and Resource Economics. One of the goals of the Center is to use economics to advise environmental and resource policy decisions, something there has been far too little of in the past.

In my view, there is too much conflict between various groups trying to solve environmental and resource problems and economists are often viewed with suspicion as they weigh in on the debate. Even on campus there is difficulty getting various groups to work together to form a comprehensive cross-disciplinary environmental and resource program. It is equally difficult to do so when forming actual policy.

Economists can help to get incentives correct in achieving desired environmental and resource outcomes, and in analyzing which types of policies are likely to be cost effective in achieving those goals. The quantity of resources available to address environmental and resource problems is limited, and economists can help to enlighten policymakers about how best to allocate those scarce resources to address important environmental and resource issues.

    Posted by on Wednesday, May 4, 2005 at 12:33 AM in Economics, Environment, Oregon, Science, University of Oregon | Permalink  TrackBack (0)  Comments (0)


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