Andy Kerr

Conservationist, Writer, Analyst, Operative, Agitator, Strategist, Tactitian, Schmoozer, Raconteur

Another Way to Make Money Off of Nature

Suggested Citation. Kerr, Andy. February 2000. Another Way to Make Money Off of Nature. Speech to Klamath Basin Audubon Society, Klamath Falls Oregon

by Andy Kerr

(I want to thank the Klamath Basin Audubon Society for inviting me to speak today. For the record, what I am about to say are my views and not necessarily—at least yet—those of the Klamath Basin Audubon Society.)


Oregonians and all Earthlings are engaged in the greatest evolutionary test of all time. Humans, with our large brains and opposable thumbs, have conquered the world. Humans will determine whether any species or ecosystem will live or die. At least currently, humans have no serious predators, save ourselves. To date, as a species, we have successfully out-maneuvered all the major environmental checks and balances that keep all other species within their limits. Our population continues to grow in spite of diseases like AIDS. Due to pollution in the western world, human sperm counts are down 50% in the last 30 years. What do we do about it? We don't address the underlying causes, but simply learn to make babies in test tubes.

The former president of the American Academy for the Advancement of Science, and Oregon State University professor, Jane Lubchenco said:

During the last few decades, humans have emerged as a new force of nature. We are modifying physical, chemical, and biological systems in new ways, at faster rates, and over larger spatial scales than ever recorded on Earth. Humans have unwittingly embarked on a grand experiment with our planet. The outcome of this experiment is unknown, but has profound implications for all of life on Earth. [1]

Stanford University professors Paul and Anne Erhlich have noted that:

Human beings now use or co-opt some 40 percent of the food available to all land animals and about 45 percent of the available freshwater flows. [2]

Imagine a world with, not the six billion humans we now have, but with a projected ten or twelve billion.

Humans are orders of magnitude more successful than any other species. We have for the short-term at least, transcended any limits. However, nature bats last. In the end, we humans must learn to live within our means on Earth or we won't be on Earth.

The evolutionary challenge is whether we, as a species, will evolve to have the wisdom to do something no other species has ever done or had to do—practice willful self-restraint. We must learn to live within our means, both economic and environmental.

If we do not, all bets are off.

Will we as a species learn that our long-term survival, as well as our short-term real comfort, depend upon a healthy, clean and diverse planet?

We can and restoring the Klamath River Basin is a start.

Both natural scientists and dismal scientists—also known as economists—have conservatively estimated the annual value of nature at $36 trillion. Just some of the goods and services provided by soil, forests, marshes, oceans and species include recycling nutrients, free pollination, air conditioning, and medicines.

In comparison, economists measure the current world economic product at $39 trillion.

Capitalized, nature is conservatively worth between $400-500 trillion or the equivalent of $80,000 in the bank for every person on earth. The problem, to some, is that it's in nature's bank, not their bank.

Consider Biosphere II. $200 million was spent trying to create an artificial and sustainable ecosystem for 10 people. The best available technology was used. It failed. Earth keeps six billion alive, at least for now, at no cost.

What was this Klamath Basin?

The Klamath Basin was, and still is, the "Everglades of the West." It had over 350,000 acres of shallow lakes, marshes and meadows. The skies were once darkened by the flight of pelicans, geese, swans, ducks and other birds. Beaver were abundant, as were grizzly bear. Numerous salmon stocks each year swam 254 miles from the Pacific Ocean to Upper Klamath Lake and then farther to spawn in the headwaters of numerous rivers.

The 10.5 million-acre watershed of the Klamath River Basin was, arguably, one of the most productive wildlife areas in the world.

What is this Klamath Basin Today?

Three-quarters of the Klamath Basin's wetlands have been drained and converted to agriculture. At least 113 out of 400 wildlife species known in the river basin are considered at risk. The trend for nearly all species is downward.

Gone are the chum salmon. Gone are the pink salmon. Gone are both the spring-summer and fall races of Chinook salmon in Oregon's Sprague, Williamson, Wood and Klamath Rivers. Gone is the grizzly bear. Gone is the wolf.

The smallest and darkest subspecies of Canada geese, the cacklers, were 3-4 million strong in the mid 1960's; now they are well below 100,000 birds, 12,000 or so in the Klamath Basin. What numbers might they have been in the mid 1860s?

Lower Klamath Lake is dead. Upper Klamath Lake is dying. Cattle crap entering the lake from the Wood River Valley is conservatively estimated to be the equivalent of a city of 100,000 people without a sewage treatment plant. [3]

The Qapdo ("cup-too"), C'wam ("tshuam"), bull trout and Klamath River coho salmon are four fish species on the endangered species list. The remaining Klamath steelhead runs are also on their way to federal protection. Chinook stocks are in decline.

Though the Klamath Basin landscape is in decline, it is still superlative. Even now, four-fifths of the birds on the Pacific flyway come by each year. It has the largest wild rainbow trout and the largest wintering bald eagle populations in the lower forty-eight states. The only place that yellow rails are found west of the Rockies is in the Klamath Basin and it is the mostly densely populated area for that species in North America. The basin is also great butterfly habitat.

Finally, though not high on the list of charismatic megafauna, at least 30 species of endemic freshwater mollusks are found in the basin. Klamath Lake is the oldest, intact, ancient lake in North America. Twenty million years ago, the Cascade Range wasn't there, but the lake was.

Yet despite being some of the world's best wildlife habitat, it's mostly been converted to some of the world's worst farmland. The Klamath Basin is no Central Valley, or Willamette Valley, or Iowa. Agriculture barely hangs on and only by massive federal subsidies and by subsidies from farm families who work in town to be able to continue their preferred lifestyle.

As timber cutting declined, local boosters have chased one economic development scheme after another. For awhile they thought that if only there was one more dam on the Klamath River, that economic nirvana would arrive. Now they back a ski area at Pelican Butte, a federal roadless area full of old growth forest and critical habitat for both the northern spotted owl and northern bald eagle.

Most of the money made in this basin has been by the exploitation and depletion of natural capital: trees, water, grass and soil. It is not harvest, but liquidation.

What could be this Klamath Basin?

A community can make money off nature, not by depleting its capital, but by renting out the interest. Renting it to hunters, fishers, hikers, birders, rafters and viewers.

That great conservationist Yogi Berra once said that when you reach a fork in the road, take the other. Society is at that fork for the Klamath Basin.

One fork is the continuation of the status quo. It will result not just in the ruination of nature, but of the competing agriculture as well.

The other fork is the conservation and restoration of nature. If done right, local communities can prosper economically. But to do so, they must change their attitudes toward nature. Will they learn in time that they can make money, even more money, by protecting nature, rather than destroying it?

Local government should transition to taxing hunting, fishing, birding, rafting and lodging to help pay for public services. Of course, the hunting, fishing, birding, rafting and lodging must be worth coming for.

To capture these economic benefits, a retooling of both economic infrastructure and social attitudes is vital. If there is to be farming at all, farmers must move toward farming the land organically and sustainably and away from farming the taxpayer subsidies.

My first answer to the question "does nature restoration pay?" is to pose another question: "does farming pay?"

Local citizens should move from the dying and unsustainable industries of farming, logging and livestock grazing to the growing and potentially sustainable industries of fishing, hunting, rafting, canoeing, birding, hiking, mountain biking and nature appreciation.

Income in the Klamath Basin will most likely always come from the outside. Money is money, whether it is selling someone a potato to eat at home or a bird to watch here. The true competitive economic advantage of the Klamath River Basin is in bald eagles and geese, not sugar beets and barley.

Conservation and Restoration

To conserve and restore this Everglades of the West, we need to, in no particular order:

• Retool to make more efficient, and also downsize, the Klamath Reclamation Project to reclaim some nature. For those portions of the system that are economically and environmentally justified, they must be more efficient in the use of water and less efficient in the killing of wildlife.

• Establish more national wildlife refuge lands to restore the shallow lakes, marshes, wetlands and uplands.

• Remove the antiquated, unnecessary and harmful Klamath River dams owned by Pacific—er, I mean Scottish—Power and also others like the Chiloquin Dam on the Sprague River.

• Bring back the salmon to the upper Basin.

• End commercial logging, livestock grazing and mining on public lands.

• Designate more wild and scenic rivers.

• Expand the national forests to include abused timber industry lands.

• Phase-out the use of pesticides.

• Put the falls back in Klamath Falls.

To achieve the goals of conservation and restoration, and the resultant economic benefits, we must have more public land in the Klamath Basin. Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt has noted that:

When many of the boundaries of our national parks and forests were established years ago, we didn't have the science to tell us more land was needed. Now we have the science and we need to act on it." [4]

Carl Pope, the executive director of the Sierra Club noted that:

Only public ownership can reliably, certainly, durably allow certain natural processes the room they need. [5]

Public lands are necessary to provide the goods, services and values that private sector cannot or will not provide. It is also fair and just policy that responsibilities for conservation should fall primarily on public, not private, land.

As society makes this move toward living with nature, rather than at the expense of nature, we must address the legitimate needs of those who are riding dying horses. Farmers and public land livestock permittees, for example, should be compensated at the fair market value for their financial interests in public water and grass. To my idealist friends who object to in effect paying private parties for public goods, I urge you to lighten up. It's only money. Sometimes one has to rise above principle to get the job done.

The Oregon Natural Resources Council's, and the Klamath Basin's, Wendell Wood has pointed out that the government can quite effectively write a check to a person to compensate for a loss, but it cannot do the same for a salmon.

While it is only money, the question still must be answered: "where to get the money for such an ambitious plan of conservation and restoration?"

First, redirect taxpayer subsidies now going to environmentally destructive and economically inefficient activities to environmentally beneficial and economically attractive ones.

Second, look for new sources of money. Consider that healthy and recovering forests, wetlands and grasslands can make very significant contributions to ameliorating climate change by sequestering atmospheric carbon back into the biosphere. As society works through their denial on global warming, lots of money will soon be available to address the problem.

I want to share with you ten principles of ecological restoration developed by some Scots who seek to bring back the native forests of Scotland.

1. Mimic nature wherever possible.

2. Work outward from areas of strength, where the ecosystem is closest to its natural condition.

3. Pay particular attention to "keystone" species, those that are key components of the ecosystem, and on which many other species depend.

4. Utilize pioneer species and natural succession to facilitate the restoration process.

5. Re-create ecological niches where they've been lost.

6. Re-establish ecological linkages bu reconnecting the threads in the web of life.

7. Control and/or remove introduced species.

8. Remove or mitigate the limiting factors that prevent restoration from taking place naturally.

9. Let nature do most of the work.

10. Love nurtures the life force and spirit of all being, and is a significant factor in helping to heal Earth. [6]

Both Conflict and Cooperation Both Necessary for Conservation

Ecological realities and political realities are equally real. Only ecological realities are immutable. Political realities can be changed. Al Gore has noted that:

The maximum that is political feasible, even the maximum that is politically imaginable right now, still falls short of the minimum that is scientifically and ecologically necessary. [7]

The restoration vision for the Klamath Basin is radical. It is equally rational. Over time, it will become reasonable.

It will require change. Bill Clinton once noted that "everybody is for change in general, but they are scared of it in particular." [8]

We are not new to change in the Pacific Northwest. The spotted owl was the timber worker's best friend. More money, concern and action was heaped upon displaced timber workers because of that endangered bird, than was provided to displaced textile workers in the northeast, or displaced defense workers in the southwest, or displaced autoworkers in the Midwest. It wasn't pretty, but the region is better off for having had the fight over the spotted owl.

To those that oppose change because it will change the local community, I first ask this: "Is your local community sustainable?" The evidence is clear that it is not. Therefore the question is not one of change, but of a change in direction.

Some people would rather die than change. This is why most change comes at funerals. Consider restaurants. Most only change their décor and cuisine upon a change of ownership.

It is very difficult for a person to understand something when their chosen lifestyle depends on not understanding it.

That great conservationist William Churchill advised us to "Never try to teach a pig to sing. It wastes your time and annoys the pig."

The conservation vision that many of you heard today was a panel of conservationists dreaming out loud. We know that this dream is a possible dream that can come true, because it was once true.

Remember the line from the Joanie Mitchell song: You don't know what you've got till its gone." In the Klamath Basin it's not all gone and much that is gone can be returned. If we want to.

As conservationists advocate for environmental change, we must also insist upon economic and social justice for those adversely affected by the shift toward conservation and sustainability and away from exploitation and depletion. Yet, conservationists cannot let political resistance to providing or receiving such justice prevent or slow the reaching of goals in the long-term national interest.

Democracy is a contact sport. David Brower noted that, "polite conservationists leave no mark, save the scars on the Earth that could have been prevented had they stood their ground."

The Wilderness Society, Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen's Associations, Sierra Club, Klamath Basin Audubon Society, Waterwatch, Klamath Forest Alliance, Oregon Natural Resources Council and others embark today on a new multi-year, perhaps multi-decade, crusade to conserve and restore this "Everglades of the West." We must also never forget the Klamath Tribes, who have been fighting to protect and conserve the Klamath Basin for far longer than anyone.

A catalyst in this grand crusade to someday have Americans refer to the Everglades as "the Klamath Basin of the East," is Wendell Wood of the Oregon Natural Resources Council. At the beginning of this 21st Century, he is making his mark in Oregon conservation history, as did William L. Finley, another equally aggressive Oregon politco-biologist, did at the beginning of the 20th Century. The columnist Molly Ivins has noted, "Course, there is nothin' like being prematurely right for gettin' yourself seriously disliked." [9]

Thank you, Wendell.

The great conservation areas of this nation were all controversial. Local opposition to the protection of Yellowstone, Grand Canyon, Hells Canyon, Columbia Gorge and countless others was initially fierce. After the battle was completed, in every case, local opposition turned to local support. I am glad that today's conservationists are no less committed than their predecessors.

In closing, let me remind you of a well-established historical fact: conservationists are hell to live with, but make great ancestors.


[1] Jane Lubchenco in her Presidential Address to the American Academy for the Advancement of Science, 1997

[2] Anne and Paul Erhlich, Betrayal of Science and Reason, 1996, pg. 14

[3] 50,000 head in grazing season, 1 bovine equals waste of 7 people would equal 350,000 people, but if present 2/3 of year and not all ends of in lake, but a lot does.

[4] Bruce Babbitt in the Christian Science Monitor, Sept. 14, 1999)

[5] Carl Pope, Executive Director, Sierra Club in "Downpayments on the Rewilding of America" in Wild Earth Winter 1998/99 8(4) page 37

[6] Used by Tree of Life, The Park, Findhorn Bay, Forres IV36 OTZ, Scotland, cited in International Journal of Wilderness, Volume 2, Number 3, December 1996, page 41

[7] Al Gore, early in his vice presidency as quoted by Bill McKibben in New York Times Magazine July 23, 1995

[8] Bill Clinton, quoted in Mary McGrory, Washington Post National Weekly Edition, October 13, 1994

[9] Molly Ivins, The Progressive, January 1999