[Tweeters] monetizing a stakeout [Gary Bletsch]

Thomas M Leschine tml at uw.edu
Fri Apr 1 11:48:38 PDT 2022

Dear Tweets,
It is not often that Tweeters presents opportunity for policy discussion but today it seemingly does, thanks to Gary’s posting. So here goes.

To my way of thinking, while it may not quite make economic sense to pay to see a bird that randomly appears in someone’s backyard, it does make sense to reward people who create and maintain bird-friendly habitat on land they own. This is a version of what economists call “payment for ecological services”. If you want there to be mountain gorillas in Rwanda then figure out a way to get money into the hands of the people in Rwanda who most need to be persuaded to keep the gorillas and their habitat intact. Maybe it comes in the form of tourism dollars. In theory at least, such payments incentivize not only the individual receiving the payments for the protection they offer but possibly their neighbors to do the same.

Of course, there’s a downside, though one that arguably exists even without such financial incentivizing. The neighbors may not feel the same way, experiencing instead what those same economists would call negative externalities. They may see having a bunch of birders showing up at all hours to wander around with binoculars as mostly a pain in the you-know-what. But the properly incentivized private property owner might even feel incentivized to take on managing that problem, as Nancy Morrison so ably did with her recent bluetail visitor.

For what it’s worth, we have an example much closer to home than Texas. When the snowy owl set up in a West Queen Anne neighborhood in late 2019, an enterprising little girl who lived across the alley from one of the owl’s favorite rooftops set up, with the assistance of her father, an “owl observatory”. It featured a hand-printed sign and a money collection jar on a kitchen chair with a little sign that said, “Donations appreciated”. I thought it was just about the cutest thing I ever saw. I remember joking with the dad that it was a great way to start a college fund. But it didn’t take long for someone to steal the jar!

Seriously though, most of the birds we’re going to see are likely spending major portions of their lives on private, not public land. It would be great if more private landowners were to think about their surroundings as habitat, not just their yard, so to my mind it’s worth our thinking about what it takes to get to such a place.

Tom Leschine

More information about the Tweeters mailing list