- The Washington Times - Monday, June 11, 2001

Interior Secretary Gale Norton has repeatedly suggested that property owners are often the best stewards of their own land, and she recently asked Congress for $60 million in the fiscal year 2002 budget to fund two innovative private stewardship programs, which will provide those landowners positive incentives to preserve the habitats of endangered species.
More than 80 percent of the money will go towards establishing a "Landowner Incentive Program," which will be awarded on a competitive basis to private landowners attempting to protect and manage land on which endangered or at-risk species are found, providing both technical and financial assistance. The remaining money will go towards a "Private Stewardship" grant program, which will also provide financial incentives to individuals and groups voluntarily attempting to preserve endangered and at-risk species on private lands.
Mrs. Nortons proposals should go to the head of the class (or at least, the Congress), for the simple reason that positive incentives tend to work. Currently, if a property owner stumbles across an endangered critter (say a Shenandoah salamander) on his property, he has three unhappy options: Squash the critter and hope no one finds out; sell the land before anyone does find out; or wait for the government to find out and plan on being squashed when that land can neither be used nor sold.
Is there any wonder that property owners head for the hills when they find Shenandoah salamanders on their land? It seems reasonable to suspect that happier endings could be had if the landowner was provided with incentives to preserve the salamanders habitat and technical assistance in how to do so.
Since all critters, endangered or no, are tied, at least to a certain degree, to their habitats, Mrs. Nortons proposals make sense from an ecological standpoint as well. Programs that focus solely on protecting individual species would have better luck simply sticking the critters in a formaldehyde-drenched box. Better preservation usually results from the preservation of admittedly always fluxing species habitats.
Just as significantly, Mrs. Nortons proposals allow room for adaptation by both landowners and the critters thereon. As Mrs. Norton has proclaimed, "I believe that we can be creative and innovative that we can have a healthy environment and utilize it, too." Shes right. Individuals who spend time enjoying the wilderness al fresco will find numerous examples of how wildlife has adapted to, and in many cases, taken advantage of, the presence of Homo sapiens. For instance, most birds living on the Mall have good reason to believe that there is such a thing as a free lunch.
While the same cant be said for Mrs. Nortons programs, which after all, will be paid for with taxpayer money, far too much money has been squandered on similarly sounding programs that served to fatten bureaucrats and fuel radicals. Mrs. Nortons mix of positive incentives, species preservation and respect for private ownership deserve good stewardship by the members of Congress.

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