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Every Day is Arbor Day for Private Conservationists by Casey Lartigue, Jr. (April 25, 2008)

Do we want more trees or more moralizing about trees?

Today, in Washington, D.C. and other parts of the country, Americans will plant a tree. Coming on the heels of the political brow-beating of earlier this week that has become synonymous with Earth Day, the Arbor Day festival - celebrated since 1872 - is a low-key, quaint and practical event by comparison.

According to the Arbor Day Foundation, its members planted 8.5 million trees last year. Additionally, Enterprise-Rent-A-Car has pledged, in partnership with the Arbor Day Foundation, to plant a million trees a year for the next 50 years. Internationally, the United Nations Environment Programme recently celebrated the nearing of its goal of a billion trees planted for its Plant for the Planet campaign. A number of corporations such as Ebay, the Yves Rocher Group and Bayer Corporation have also joined the effort, launched in 2006 by 2004 Nobel Peace Prize winner Wangari Maathai, pledging to plant trees.

These tree-planting campaigns generate nice news coverage for the organizations, but they pale in comparison to what private landowners and companies do on a regular basis not only to plant trees but also to nurture them for future use.

According to the Engineered Wood Association, American landowners plant more than two billion trees annually. Participants in the industry-backed Sustainable Forestry Initiative plant 1.7 million seedlings daily. The SFI program, started in the mid-1990s by members of American Forest and Paper Association and developed by landowners, professional foresters, conservationists and scientists to sustainably manage forestlands, has resulted in participants planting almost five billion trees.

It isn't surprising. It's the miracle of private property ownership and stewardship.

After all, people don't typically burn their own homes, land or money. The razing of lands typically comes about because of the problem known as the tragedy of the commons. When no one - or the government - owns property, it is more likely that people will abuse it. Forest landowners and timber companies have the incentive to replant a tree they cut down. Often, they replant several trees for every one they take. But because these people go about this as a matter of doing business and not as a charitable act, they don't get the headlines that the smaller efforts do.

While organized alarmists make it seem that we're running out of trees, the reality is that there are 12 million more acres of forests in the U.S. today than there were in 1987. According to the United States Forest Service, the United States has more forest land now - 749 million acres - than the 735 million acres it had in 1920. That's even though the population has more than tripled (along with increased needs for forest-related products) during that same period.

It isn't just with trees and forests that we are better off with private ownership. As private conservationists prove on a daily basis, we can have more of an animal or species when they are put under private control. The duck population will continue to increase as long as Ducks Unlimited is allowed to raise ducks so they can shoot them. We'll never run out of cows or pigs as long as people are allowed to eat them. But if we all become vegans, you might want to invest in vegetables rather than farm animals.
Casey Lartigue is a policy analyst at the National Center for Public Policy Research (2008)
Original National Center for Public Policy Research link

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