Monday, April 18, 2005

A Week of Waste

It’s National Parks Week (apparently) so I thought I’d celebrate it by doing a little investigating.

The International Paper Company privately holds tracks of land to grow trees for production. The largest of these acreages is in the mid-South region at 1.2 million acres. While the trees grow, the company sells the use of the land for purposes of camping, hunting, fishing and hiking adding up to $5.5 million dollars (25% of revenue). That’s a huge incentive to keep the forest sustainable and the firm even cuts trees down in such a way that it maintains wildlife cover.

Some may say that this is a relatively small amount of land and nature needs more room. But if this little-known bit of forest was a national park it would be the tenth largest by acre, tied with the Grand Canyon. Privatizing national parks is most certainly a profitable and environmentally sound business opportunity.

Contrast this success story with the National Park of American Samoa: 9,000 acres of rainforest and coral. In 2003, it received over $1.2 million of taxpayer money for its operating costs. Hot Springs, the only national park smaller than American Samoa, had over 1.5 million visitors (with a budget of about $3.36 million). Black Canyon of the Gunnison (whose budget barely edges over one million) had about 165,000 visitors. So how many did American Samoa had? 200,000? 500,000?

Try 366. That’s right, just 366 people: an average of one person a day, at the cost of $3,478 per person. You can rent whole floors of hotels for less.

Assuming that a private company couldn’t cut the park’s cost (unlikely because federally funded parks have to wade through costly requirements, among other reasons) and assuming advertising wouldn’t boost attendance (also unlikely; the place is gorgeous) then this private park would probably go out of business. If this happened, environmentalists would claim this is why the park has to be national—its value is so high, it has to be preserved no matter what. Of course if they really believed that, they would have shelled out the four grand for admission.


Anonymous said...

I'm going to have to disagree with you on the Samoa attendance rate.

Unless some private company can move it out of the middle of the pacific ocean, it's probably going to stay relatively unvisited.

It is a lot easier to get to Colorado than the middle of the ocean.

From LA, it's 7300 miles to Hawaii. From Hawaii, it's 2600 miles to Samoa. If you felt like traveling almost 10,000 miles to go somewhere, visit the Black Canyon five or six times.

David said...

I thought about the isolation of the park and no doubt it drastically hurts attendence. But people travel to exotic places all the time that are even more isolated and farther away (like African safaris and desert trips). Some people, like celebrities, prefer the isolation. I can imagine the park as a high end preserve with a few buildings for a resort and the rest for hiking trails and what not. There can even be a bit for people who are traveling in the area as it is or as part of a cruise.

Chris said...

Let me add some tangental, but still relevant comments to this discussion

Not only would privatizing the National Park System go a long way towards increasing environmental preservation, it would also go a long way towards mitigating natural disasters (i.e. - wildfires) that are a common result of government mismanagement of national preserves, particularly in the Southwest. Califronia, where I live, is commonly plagued with wildfires and most of the time they occur in National Forests. Furthermore, the Forest Service is constantly delaying controlled burns and it has recently been demonstrated (ironically from the Mexican version of the Forest Service) that controlled burning is not always the best way of reducing fire risks, but rather just allowing nature to take its course.

From this we can easily conclude that if a private interst were to take possesion of the national forests they would naturally have an "monetary" incentive to preserve the forest and use the most applicable techniques available to mitigate the horrendous disasters that wildfires can incur.

David said...

Not only can we conclude, we can witness. The International Paper Company also engages in controlled burning in its forests.