Tag Archives: coastal conservation

The Public’s Property Rights in Drakes Bay

There’s a risk, when coming to an issue that’s been festering for years, of missing some of the nuance that make the issue so difficult. But I’m finding that the Drakes Bay Oyster Co. dispute is much clearer without any extra local-colorful details. When the 9th Circuit denied an injunction this week, it seemed to me to be the most obvious result to the most simple of problems.

At the very basic, the case it most understandable. In 1972 the United States purchased the site for permanent protection, which was conferred as part of the Point Reyes Wilderness Act in 1976. To ease the transition, the U.S. granted a 40-year lease to the ongoing oyster company business. In 2004 — more than 32 years into a 40 year lease — a new owner takes over, undoubtedly aware of the pending expiration date.

As the Court describes it:

In letting the permit lapse, the Secretary emphasized the importance of the long-term environmental impact of the decision on Drakes Estero, which is located in an area designated as potential wilderness. He also underscored that, when Drakes Bay purchased the property in 2005, it did so with eyes wide open to the fact that the permit acquired from its predecessor owner was set to expire just seven years later, in 2012.

Now, a whole lot of other stuff happened, and a lot of other law was invoked (dealt with by the majority opinion in 37 pdf pages), but none of it changed the fundamental legal nature of the problem. When the U.S. declined to renew the lease, at the discretion of the Secretary of the Interior, consistent with a wilderness designation by Congress in 1976, it shouldn’t have been to anyone’s surprise.  And certainly not to anyone’s property rights expectation. As a general rule of property, leases are up when leases are up.

Cross-posted at Coastal Conservation Network.


The Problem With Climate Deniers


via Peter Gleick.

There’s always something in the data. There’s always a caveat, a preface, some qualification, some uncertainty. There’s an explanation. It’s all a hoax.

Do you engage with climate deniers or ignore them? Are they legitimately questioning science, or are they merely trolling? As long as politicians pay attention to them, I suppose we probably need to push back. It just seems so ridiculous sometimes.

And now there’s this, from U.S. Congressman Dana Rohrabacher:

ROHRABACHER: Just so you know, global warming is a total fraud and it is being designed by—what you’ve got is you’ve got liberals who get elected at the local level want state government to do the work and let them make the decisions. Then, at the state level, they want the federal government to do it. And at the federal government, they want to create global government to control all of our lives. That’s what the game plan is. It’s step by step by step, more and bigger control over our lives by higher levels of government. And global warming is that strategy in spades.… Our freedom to make our choices on transportation and everything else? No, that’s gotta be done by a government official who, by the way, probably comes from Nigeria because he’s a UN government official, not a US government official.

Rep. Rohrabacher is a senior member of the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology. Seriously.



Who’s Organizing the Ocean Organizers?

Admittedly, I’m only a few months into conserving coasts, but I can completely relate to this essay on the seemingly directionless ocean conservation movement. Although I’d quibble a bit around the edges, the main message appears to be spot on. Smiley-faced, donor-oriented, put-a-shark-on-it ocean campaigning dominates when a tougher, more urgent, and more coordinated effort is necessary. I’m sure that there are very smart people thinking about all of this, but I’m just not seeing it coming out of very many NGOs dedicated to the oceans cause.


Fires and Floods

Moving from the urban environment of Baltimore to the wilds of North Idaho meant learning a lot of new environmental issues. And moving from the inland northwest to the SoCal coast brings yet another set of learning curves. A lot of things are the same — the need for non-profit fundraising, for example, is universal — but there are issue similarities that I hadn’t expected. The intersection of climate change impacts and local land use regulation is remarkably similar in communities that couldn’t be more different.

In North Idaho, and throughout the forested Rockies, climate-induced wildfire is an increasing threat to rural residents. Fires are larger, more frequent and more intense, and costs to  governments, property owners and their insurers are mounting. Meanwhile, along the coasts, extreme-weather storms, with damaging wind and rain and storm surge, are also larger, more frequent and more intense. And costs to governments, property owners and their insurers are also mounting.

And interestingly, both locations could stand to learn from one another.  For example. as coastal communities consider “managed retreat” from the increasingly problematic proximity to rising sea levels, so too should rural communities reconsider isolated development in the fire-dangerous wildland urban interface.

The excellent Bozeman-based Headwaters Economics research organization came up with some good advice to western communities worried about fire that could be just as useful to coastal communities worried about storms. According to Headwaters Economics, “Addressing the issue of ever-escalating fire suppression expenses could achieve a number of related public policy goals: increasing fiscal responsibility, introducing a fairer and more equitable distribution of those costs among those benefiting from wildfire protection, and improving the safety of future homeowners and wildland firefighters.” Change “fire suppression” to “storm surge mitigation,” change “wildfire protection” to “flood protection” and “wildland firefighters” to a more general “first responders” and the similarities are clear.

A Headwaters report (pdf) offers ten ideas for controlling the rising cost of protecting homes from wildland fires. Most are entirely applicable to coastal communities dealing with storm-related flooding:

  1. Mapping: Publish Maps Identifying Areas with High Probability of Wildland Fires.

  2. Education: Increase Awareness of the Financial Consequences of Home Building in Fire-Prone Areas.

  3. Redirecting Federal Aid towards Land Use Planning: Provide Technical Assistance and Financial Incentives to Help Local Governments Direct Future Development Away from the Wildland-Urban Interface.

  4. Cost Share Agreements: Add Incentives for Counties to Sign Agreements that Share the Costs of Wildland Firefighting between Local and Federal Entities.

  5. Land Acquisition: Purchase Lands or Easements on Lands that are Fire-Prone and at Risk of Conversion to Development.

  6. A National Fire Insurance and Mortgage Program: Apply Lessons from Efforts to Prevent Development in Floodplains.

  7. Insurance: Allow Insurance Companies to Charge Higher Premiums in Fire-Prone Areas.

  8. Zoning: Limit Development in the Wildland-Urban Interface with Local Planning and Zoning Ordinances.

  9. Eliminate Mortgage Interest Deductions:Eliminate Home Interest Mortgage Deductions for New Homes in the Wildland-Urban Interface.

  10. Reduce Federal Firefighting Budgets: Induce Federal Land Managers to Shift More of the Cost of Wildland Firefighting to Local Governments.

Again, by just swapping out a few words and phrases, this could be an impressively robust agenda for coasts. As we develop a work plan for coastal development issues at Coastal Conservation Network, this list might be an interesting starting point.


Newest Best Argument for Taking Action on Climate Change Is Now Climate Change

An interesting article in the New York Times makes the claim that compared to the frequent and vague “green jobs” argument, “the stronger argument for a major government response to climate change is the more obvious argument: climate change.” The piece concludes that, “In the end, the strongest economic argument for an aggressive response to climate change is not the much trumpeted windfall of green jobs. It’s the fact that the economy won’t function very well in a world full of droughts, hurricanes and heat waves.”

As a comprehensive cap-and-trade approach seems less likely, and more direct carbon pollution regulation by EPA seems more likely, the change in argument seems not only natural but necessary.  For one thing, the cost-benefit calculations are becoming increasingly clear even without a jobs and economic development hook.


Communicators Communicating About Climate

With a few weeks of more intensive on-the-job attention being paid to climate and coastal impacts under my belt, I am more aware of the communications issues involved.  I would tend to agree with recent scholarly discussions about the science of science communications that concrete coastal adaptation issues will get more traction than abstract and politicized  issues of  international carbon pollution policy and global warming temperature math.

So yes:

Because being out of step with one’s cultural group in struggles over the nation’s “soul” can carry devastating personal consequences, and because nothing a person believes or does as an individual voter or consumer can affect the risks that climate change pose for him or anyone else, it is perfectly predictable—perfectly rational even—for people to engage the issue of climate change as a purely symbolic or expressive issue.

In contrast, from Florida to Arizona, from New York to Colorado and California, ongoing political deliberations over adaptation are affecting people not as members of warring cultural factions but as property owners, resource consumers, insurance policy holders, and tax payers — identities they all share. The people who are furnishing them with pertinent scientific evidence about the risks they face and how to abate them are not the national representatives of competing political brands but rather their municipal representatives, their neighbors, and even their local utility companies.

What’s more, the sorts of issues they are addressing—damage to property and infrastructure from flooding, reduced access to scarce water supplies, diminished farming yields as a result of drought—are matters they deal with all the time. They are the issues they have always dealt with as members of the regions in which they live; they have a natural shared vocabulary for thinking and talking about these issues, the use of which reinforces their sense of linked fate and reassures them they are working with others whose interests are aligned with theirs.

The challenge, of course, is how those of us “environmentalists” — burdened with a brand identity associated with warring cultural factions — further “the ongoing political deliberations over adaptation.” Our very existence at a round table discussion has the potential of polluting potentially productive communications and deliberations.

The problem is, I don’t think this conclusion:

In this communication environment, people of diverse values are much more likely to converge on, rather than become confused about, the scientific evidence most relevant to securing the welfare of all.

follows necessarily. Certainly not without some sort of advocacy somewhere along the line. Property owners, resource consumers, insurance policy holders, and tax payers may understand the evidence if the evidence is served up to them by less problematic communicators, but they aren’t going to act necessarily. Or act quickly enough.  It’s an interesting advocacy challenge, to be sure, but I think there’s more to addressing climate change than waging some sort of proxy battle.


Traditionalist or Modernist?

There has been another upswell of a theoretical critique of environmentalism that I find both fascinating and frustrating. The relatively new eco-pragmatist / modernist critics say, “conservation is losing the war to protect nature despite winning one of its hardest fought battles — the fight to create parks, game preserves, and wilderness areas.” Instead of preserving the increasingly rare pristine landscapes, the pragmatists say we need to work with what’s left — working with development, not against it, focusing on sustainability in a changing world. The pragmatists promote a sort of glorified global gardening as a better way forward.

As someone who has been involved with the environmental movement in several states, covering a wide range of environmental issues, usually in close proximity to genuine grassroots, I’d generally concur with critics of the critique, captured by a twitter post characterizing the pro-pragmatist position as “all wooly thinking, strawman arguments, gross simplifications.” Indeed, to broadly characterize such a large and diverse “traditionalist” movement as strictly preservation-based, seems to neglect to acknowledge a number of different strains of traditional environmentalism. Moreover, to call preservation-based approaches ineffective, the pragmatist-theorists diminish what has indeed been preserved.

Nevertheless,  I’d also agree that in some instances, a more pragmatic approach could be worthwhile.  As I start a new position in a new organization, I expect the tension between traditional and modernist approaches will be in the forefront of my work. Coastal conservation in a time of climate change and rising sea levels, must necessarily be a mix of preservation, mitigation, restoration, and adaptation.  Hardening a coastline against future storm surges, for example, may actually be most efficiently accomplished through softer preservation of wetlands, dunes, and buffers.  Traditional environmental approaches may actually be the most pragmatic. On the other hand, coastal conservation needs to be especially pragmatic as coastlines are redrawn while climate change goes essentially unaddressed.

Having been on the job for only a day or two, I’ve obviously got a lot to learn. But I expect that I’ll have a lot more to say about all of this in the coming months.