Sunday, January 20, 2008

More Unintended Consequences

Stephen Dubner and Steve Levitt write about how landowners respond to well-intentioned policies to save endangered species and their habitat by clearing land and thus making it unsuitable for the species in question.

Do we have something similar happening closer home?

One possibility is what happened with sandalwood (Santalum album).

Since for all practical purposes the government owns all trees, controls the manner of its harvesting and puts onerous reporting burden on whose land it grows the response of people has been not to let saplings thrive, in fact uproot them as soon as possible.

An added negative, of course, is that the criminals too covet the valuable trees.

The consequence is that sandalwood has nearly disappeared from private land and on public land it survives precariously.

In most cities of India cutting a tree (irrespective of the species) even on private land requires justification and prior permission. Those who violate the law face prosecution. So people cut trees on the sly, on weekends and on national holidays or let the tree die (pour cement around it or not take care of a parasite attack). I also wonder if people increasingly are reluctant to plant trees instead making do with shrubs and bamboos and creepers. They get the greenery without the hassle.

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