Property Rights: A Rainy Day Rant

KMorrisD kmorrisd at
Fri Jan 15 22:27:41 EST 1999


In all the discussions about the adverse impacts of government regulation on
property rights, the arguments have mainly centered on the issue of unfair
takings.  For example, with the endangered species act, if you have an
endangered salamander on your property, your potential uses will be reduced and
the value of the land for those uses will be reduced.  The same may apply if
you have significant wetlands on your property.  This may constitute a public
taking of some of the economic value of your land.

On the other hand, there are forms of government regulation that increase the
value of private property.  For example, large lot requirements and
restrictions on certain nuisance uses increases the value of residential
property in neighborhoods so affected.

There is also regulation that requires standards for description and design of
private property.  By accurately describing property boundaries, registered
professional surveys avoid the risk of costly disputes over boundaries.  They
also avoid takings by adverse possession by abutters.  And they increase the
marketability of properties by clearly indicating where property lines are

By carefully designing buildings and structures, professional architectural and
engineering plans reduce the costs of maintenance and the risk of costly
structural decay or collapse.  The useful lives of buildings and structures are
increased with good design.  Good design also increases the aesthetic value of
buildings and structures.

Of course some people who want to make money by subdividing their property into
tiny lots or have nuisance uses will be unhappy with restrictive zoning. 
Builders who want to cut corners will be unhappy with design requirements.  But
the vast majority of property owners recognize that restrictive zoning and
professional design requirements are good for their property values.  It's just
plain common sense.  

Requiring that management and silvicultural plans be prepared by licensed
foresters (real forester licensing) is like zoning in that certain uses are
strongly discouraged (high-grading and degradation of wetlands).  It's also
analogous to requiring architectural and engineering design of commercial
property in that the potential for future income will be enhanced over time.
Likewise, the aesthetic appeal will be improved.
For these reasons, the issue of property rights should not enter into the
discussion of real forester licensing at all.  It's a false issue from the
point of view of the landowner.  However, forester licensing may interfere with
the short term profits of some loggers and lumber companies.  Some high-graders
and corner-cutters will have to either change their ways or go out of business.
 Also, most of the forestry bureaucrats now responsible for regulating forestry
practices will have to find other work.

Some loggers and lumber companies will lose money in the short term by not
being able to get timber quite as cheaply because it's more likely that there
will be a licensed forester between them and the landowner.  But of course if
their own loggers and foresters do good work, they should be able to overcome
that obstacle.  

The great majority of loggers will benefit by reducing the uncertainty
concerning the future timber supply due to environmental legislation and
regulation.  As it is now, there is the constant threat of stricter definitions
of wetlands aimed at curbing sloppy and exploitative logging practices of the
few that continue to mess up streams and wetlands.  To the extent that those
operators will be out of the picture, the uncertainty of future timber supply
will be reduced for the rest.  This will increase the values of their

Over the long term, the whole forest products sector of the economy will
benefit.  It will benefit from higher value timber which has more potential for
value added uses.  More value added means more jobs.  It can also mean more
profits for manufacturers.    

While the regulatory role of the service foresters over private sector forestry
will be eliminated, the record keeping role will be not.  Management plans and
silvicultural plans will still have to be filed and kept available to the
public.  But since record keeping requires less personnel and no forestry
training, this could be done by forestry clerks.

Therefore most service foresters will have to be transferred to management
roles on state forest lands.  An essential part of their new job assignment
will be to demonstrate good silvicultural, ecosystem and financial management
to private landowners.  Part of their mandate will be to demonstrate how
management and silvicultural practices designed by licensed foresters will
increase property values for private landowners.     

Like the loggers, those forestry bureaucrats who are willing to work hard
should do just fine.  But those who can't make a transition to higher
performance standards won't be able to cope.  Some of these may become forestry
clerks or forestry clerk supervisors. 

Consulting foresters will benefit from having more work.  More work will bring
more consultants into the profession.  More consultants will increase
competition and will improve and diversify the services offered by consultants.
 Professional standards will improve over time. 

Karl Davies 

NOTE:  Even landowners with very short-term financial goals will generally have
nearly as much money coming to them because they'll have to get rid of the low
grade stuff which the high-graders don't want, and they'll get paid for the low
grade.  This should help offset the value of the high grade seed trees that
they have to leave.  Also, those seed trees will be growing rapidly in value.
The same applies for the small and medium sawtimber that gets left which will
have a value for their kids or any future owners.  

With more licensed foresters available, it's more likely that these residual
and future values will be recognized by realtors in their appraisals of forest
land.  That value doesn't just disappear if you don't cut it now.  In fact, if
you thin around those small sawtimber and seed trees, they will grow quite
rapidly in value.

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