Perspectives from the Property and Environment Research Center Enviropreneur Institute near Bozeman, Montana

Brett Howell is attending the Property and Environment Research Center Enviropreneur Institute (known as PEI) program taking place in the Bozeman, Montana area from June 25th to July 8th. Below we are posting some time-delayed blogs that Brett wrote while at Ted Turner’s remote Flying D Ranch where there was no internet access. In addition to reading Brett’s blogs, please follow his tweets @BrettWHowell which are being retweeted through @gaiaendeavors.


Ted Turner’s Flying D Ranch and Wolf Conservation

I’m sitting by a stream at Ted Turner’s Flying D Ranch as I ponder my first experiences with the Property and Environment Research Center (PERC) Enviropreneur Institute (known as PEI). I’ve been in Montana since Sunday, June 25th for PEI. We have an incredibly diverse group from across the US, Israel, the Galapagos, and South Africa. Each of us was selected through a highly competitive application process so that we could gain hands-on training in free-market environmentalism (FME). PERC’s version of FME is “dedicated to improving environmental quality through property rights and markets,” focusing on the creation of property rights to make markets work so that entrepreneurs can step in to solve environmental challenges.

On Monday, June 27th, we drove approximately 45 minutes from Bozeman to The Flying D Ranch, a 116,000 acre property that Ted Turner purchased 20 years ago. We are staying in rustic cabins alongside a small creek. From here we can see snow-covered peaks, beautiful green rolling hills, and perhaps most stunning, thousands of buffalo (also called bison).

This morning we heard from Danny Johnson, the Flying D’s ranch manger. I now know more about bison farming than I ever thought possible. Ted Turner, a name originally synonymous with CNN, is well known in Montana and throughout the US for his bison herds. He owns more than 54,000 head of bison throughout the US, approximately 5,600 of which are somewhere on the ranch where I’m currently sitting. Bison meat prices dropped in the mid 90s. To help create a market and drive demand, Ted’s Montana Grill was created to help introduce people to bison meat and provide a distribution channel through which his Turner’s meat could be sold.

Along with being a media entrepreneur and rancher, Turner is a committed conservationist. He controls more land holdings than the total size of Yellowstone National Park, and he has committed to putting conservation easements on every property he owns so that the natural state can be protected in perpetuity. Turner also supports a pack of 25 wolves (18 adults, 7 pups) that moved onto Flying D Ranch recently despite significant impacts on ranch operations. Turner’s decision to maintain wolves on his property is in sharp contrast to the wolf debate raging on public lands where farmers, hunters, environmentalists, and the park service, among others, are deliberating about the predators’ future in Montana.

The decision to allow wolves on the property has a clear impact on Flying D’s bottom line. For example, approximately 30 bison have been killed by wolves so far this year at Flying D Ranch, despite the fact that the wolves primarily feast on elk. Each bull bison sells for approximately $2,300. Elk hunting costs $14,500 for four and half days on Flying D Ranch. Given wolf impact on elk populations, the number of permitted elk hunters is being reduced to 24 from 30 for the upcoming season. Flying D has also hired a full-time wolf biologist to keep an eye on the pack.

The experience at Flying D Ranch has been an incredible opportunity to get out of the city and really connect with fellow PEI participants and see a model of FME at work. Our discussions are wide-ranging and truly inspiring!

Short Insights and Quotes from the first three days of PEI

  • There is no silver bullet yet for why biodiversity is important to markets
  • Property rights can help you create markets vs. moral persuasion
  • If you put a price on something, at what point are social norms holding us back from a market?
  • “But for analysis” – where would people be today, but for an incident that created the harm
  • Do fish have rights (e.g. under the US Endangered Species Act)?
  • Is a product that accounts for the cost of production externalities (e.g. polluting a stream) really a luxury good vs. the same product that is priced to ignore such externality costs?
  • “Sustainability is risk management”

Wildlife Tour on Flying D Ranch

The PEI Fellows woke up at 4:45am on Wednesday, June 29th, for an early morning tour of the Flying D Ranch. In three hours we had the incredible opportunity to see bear, moose, bald eagle, golden eagle, elk, white tail deer, coyote, beaver, and of course, farmed buffalo. At almost three times the size of my current home, the District of Columbia, the 116,000 acre ranch is a vast expanse that we barely began to explore on our drive.

Everything I learned about the Galapagos while in Montana from PEI Fellow Jorge Ramirez

I have always dreamed of SCUBA diving the Galapagos, a biologically diverse set of islands off the coast of Ecuador. The Galapagos became famous because of explorer and biologist Charles Darwin. I have read numerous articles about the islands, but I have not yet had the opportunity to visit them. A highly informative conversation with PEI Fellow Jorge Ramirez provided insights about his experience working with World Wildlife Fund (WWF) in the Galapagos. Some key points from the discussion are below.

  • Approximately 20,000 people live on the Galapagos. While there are four villages, one consists of only 200 people, so there are really only three main population centers on the island.
  • 400 people make their living through fishing. The three most important fisheries are sea cucumber, lobster and bony fish. Sea cucumber and lobster have both been overfished and are now degraded. Tuna and wahoo are also fished, but are less significant. All other marine species are protected through the Galapagos Marine Protected Area (MPA). Sea cucumbers are cooked into a sandwich-like patty which is sold for human consumption in Asia. Lobsters are eaten on the island and also exported.
  • Ten years ago a co-management scheme was put in place with fishing sector, tourism, science government and NGOs to develop a fisheries restoration plan. Since that time fisheries have degraded further, rather than recovering. Locals and government now want the government to take back exclusive control.
  • There are too many fishermen, but because of the close-knit community, no one wants to tell the other that they can no longer fish. Attempts to convert fishermen to tourism operators have failed because there are no more tourism operational licenses, and fishermen want to be just that, fishermen. Solutions, such as paying fishermen not to fish (an approach used elsewhere in the world to reduce fishing pressure) would likely not work because fishermen do not understand that such payments would be made with the intent of teaching them a new skill instead of a long-term handout.
  • Ecuador recently created a new constitution, which recognizes the rights of nature, called “Pachamama.” This is a first-ever recognition anywhere in the world that nature has tangible rights. Now, it is important to help Ecuador figure out how to create the rules that will implement these rights. Currently, justices do not have the necessary knowledge to be effective (e.g. the difference between a shark and a ray). Sea Shepherd Conservation Society and other NGOs are helping to educate Ecuadorian justices about how to implement the new structure.
  • Any Ecuadorian can claim that a company has violated the rules of nature. This creates the opportunity for unlimited claimants with uncertain rules.

Trash and Treasure

“One person’s trash can be another’s treasure.” This has never been more true than today. We live in a world that is overflowing with trash, yet we also face resource scarcity, environmental degradation, and decision-paralysis regarding how to address the trash that we are so quickly generating. Fortunately, technologies, communication, and collaboration are rapidly expanding the capacity for creating solutions.

The trash that is piling up around the world is affecting everything from biodiversity to economic efficiency to once beautiful land and seascapes. What if we took a market-based approach to addressing trash, using it as a resource base? There is a great deal of effort being expended to develop methods for turning trash into treasure, but there is still a great deal of work to be done. Here are some links, please add to the conversation:


Happy World Oceans Day!

There are many environmental challenges facing the oceans worldwide. Sometimes it can be difficult to get people enthusiastic about contributing to ocean preservation. One of our favorite stories about small actions making a meaningful impact is The Starfish Story.

The original version of the story apparently appeared in The Star Thrower, a collection of essays by the naturalist and writer Loren Eiseley. The story quickly entered the popular culture and variations have appeared in other books and on many websites. One version appears below. No matter how small your actions may seem, even a small change in behavior can have an incredibly positive impact. Oceans represent a critical source of biodiversity and life for our planet. Especially today, please take at least one step that contributes to protecting our oceans!

The Starfish Story adapted from The Star Thrower by Loren Eiseley 1907 – 1977

Once upon a time, there was a wise man who used to go to the ocean to do his writing. He had a habit of walking on the beach before he began his work.

One day, as he was walking along the shore, he looked down the beach and saw a human figure moving like a dancer. He smiled to himself at the thought of someone who would dance to the day, and so, he walked faster to catch up.

As he got closer, he noticed that the figure was that of a young man, and that what he was doing was not dancing at all. The young man was reaching down to the shore, picking up small objects, and throwing them into the ocean.

He came closer still and called out “Good morning! May I ask what it is that you are doing?”

The young man paused, looked up, and replied “Throwing starfish into the ocean.”

“I must ask, then, why are you throwing starfish into the ocean?” asked the somewhat startled wise man.

To this, the young man replied, “The sun is up and the tide is going out. If I don’t throw them in, they’ll die.”

Upon hearing this, the wise man commented, “But, young man, do you not realize that there are miles and miles of beach and there are starfish all along every mile? You can’t possibly make a difference!”

At this, the young man bent down, picked up yet another starfish, and threw it into the ocean. As it met the water, he said, “I made a difference to that one!”

An aquarist’s personal reflection on the saltwater aquarium industry

As a longtime friend of Marine Earth Capital’s (MEC) founders, I am honored to contribute to the Gaia Endeavors blog.  Brett is the reason behind my SCUBA certification, Arya and I have been longtime school mates and travel companions. I took an immediate interest in MEC given my current hobby, keeping a saltwater aquarium. As life took over, I found less time for SCUBA diving. I can’t remember how it happened, but late one night I had the insatiable urge to put a piece of the reef in my apartment. After loads of research, some trial and error, and encouragement from my wife, I took the plunge. I have successfully kept a wide range of fish, soft corals, large polyp stony corals, small-polyp stony corals, and marine invertebrates over the last three years. It did not take long to realize how my hobby is dependent on healthy reef habitat and the immense potential for captive bred endeavors.

Saltwater aquarists currently rely on obtaining fish specimens that are wild-caught. Unlike the freshwater industry where 90% of fish are captive-raised, some estimate only 10% of saltwater fish are captive-raised. Slightly more than 1,000 different species of reef fish are collected for the aquarium industry, the majority taken from reefs in Southeast Asia. Only recently have some countries banned the use of reef-harming chemicals to stun and capture fish. Enforcement remains a challenge. A UN Environmental Program report in 2002 estimated that 27 million specimens were caught each year for the saltwater aquarium industry.

The market for corals enjoys a much more robust aquaculture presence. The community has created a diverse coral trade/buy/sell market, and a number of retail operations are successful thanks to aquaculture philosophy. Advances in equipment, technology, and the spread of knowledge via Internet communities have made large-scale coral propagation a reality.

Efforts are currently underway to create a sustainable market for live stock. Oceans Reefs and Aquariums (ORA) operates a large-scale facility in Florida and the Marshall Islands. ORA has an industry reputation for beautiful coral morphs and has captive-bred numerous species of fish for the industry. Dr. Mac at PacificEast Aquaculture has established a number of relationships with local villages in Indonesia and the Philippines. A growing number of communities, realizing the need to begin sustainable practices, have stopped harsh capture methods in favor of captive-raised ones.

The community is not yet well informed regarding fish appropriate to keep in a captive system. Lots of fish, while beautiful, are not suitable. Many fish do not live in harmony with corals in a closed system. The physical constraints of an aquarium tank make it difficult for some species to live healthy captive lives.

Saltwater aquariums are beautiful, and through them we can gain insight into brilliant and diverse underwater ecosystems. However, the hobby should not contribute to the decline of healthy reefs, which face enough man-created hardships. It is my hope that hobbyists and entrepreneurs can create sustainable endeavors to keep our hobby thriving and to keep information flowing freely so we do not decimate populations of wildlife we should not be keeping in our living rooms.

Becoming an Enviropreneur™

“Enviropreneur™” – a person who finds creative or insightful ways to turn environmental problems into assets.

As the Ocean Conservancy calendar in my office notes, only 4% of the earth’s oceans are free from human impact. Our global economic model relentlessly pursues growth, going farther and farther, deeper and deeper, into ever more hostile environments to extract natural resources. It is my goal to encourage marine conservation/stewardship by applying business concepts to make special places, such as coral reefs, economically valuable and therefore worth preserving because they contribute to, rather than hinder, global economic growth.

From my earliest childhood, I have been passionate about environmental issues. My first fascination was with rainforests, but from the moment I started SCUBA diving at age 14, I fell in love with the underwater world and became committed to protecting the fragile marine environment. In the 15 years since my first underwater adventure, I have pursued what Frans Johansson, author of The Medici Effect, has characterized as “intersectional experiences.” Johansson suggests that the best opportunities for innovation are created at “intersections” – the, “mixing of disciplines, cultures, and domains in which one can specialize through education, work, hobbies, traditions, or other life experiences.”

Creating such “intersections” has been the hallmark of my educational, professional, and personal experience. My undergraduate studies were in environmental planning, public relations, political science, and marketing, I have an MBA in real estate and sustainability, and I have worked on consulting projects across real estate, engineering, and environmental issues. Additionally, as a Professional Association of Diving Professionals (PADI) Divemaster, I have completed hundreds of SCUBA dives across remote areas of the world.

These “intersectional experiences” helped me develop a proposed approach to apply the financial and property rights concept “Marine Payments for Ecosystem Services” (MPES) to put a value on marine resources, such as coral reefs (asset) and invasive lionfish (liability), and provide a source of sustainable income for local communities by either enhancing the assets through active management or converting the liabilities into assets. Based on this concept, I was accepted to the Property & Environment Research Center’s (PERC) Enviropreneur™ Institute in beautiful Bozeman, Montana. PERC is a non-profit, environmental think seeking market solutions to environmental problems. PERC’s Enviropreneur™ Institute focuses on how business, property rights and economic principles can be applied to environmental problems. Through training and interaction with experts in the field of free market environmentalism, the Enviroprenuer™ Institute, “provides environmental leaders with a basic understanding of economics, finance, contracting, marketing and management so that the leaders can pursue specific projects for improving environmental quality through contracts, property rights and markets” (Columbia News Service, They turn conservation into profit by Michael Dang, 5/22/2007).

For two weeks I will be working with 15 other Enviropreneurs™ to create sustainable business models that can make a lasting positive impact on the environment (please see for a list of participants). Upon graduation from the program, I will join the ranks of 150+ other Enviropreneurs™ worldwide allowing me to more successfully pursue my passion of enhancing marine conservation through the application of business concepts. Please join me in the experience of becoming an Enviropreneur™ (when Internet connections in remote parts of Montana permit) by following me on Twitter @BrettWHowell from June 26th -July 10th. My Twitter feed will also be retweeted @gaiaendeavors.

Water, water everywhere

I was walking through the water aisle at the grocery store a few days ago and I thought to myself, what has happened (and is happening) to our global water supplies?   When water bottles and other “not-from-the-home-tap” water first appeared on store shelves, marketing was primarily focused on the portability and convenience of water bottles and the “elegance” of importing water.   Now, it seems to me, the marketing implication is that previously potable and/or usable water has become quite possibly too dirty to drink and/or use.  To learn more, I conducted an Internet search to see what some members of the worldwide community are doing to contribute to solving water-related challenges.  The good news is there are already a lot of good ideas out there!  Below are some of the ideas and data that I thought would be interesting for you too.

As with everything on the Internet (or anywhere else, for that matter), please help us verify the claims made and/or data provided on the links.   While we have no reason to doubt the accuracy of the links, the nature of the Internet does not always allow for proper peer review prior to publication.  As entrepreneurs continue developing solutions to worldwide environmental challenges, we are all going to be confronted with a host of “first draft” material.  This kind of material, in my experience, is usually filled with brilliant ideas, but it also may contain an occasional oversight (hence: “first draft”).  As such, please help us verify, think up, and implement new and existing solutions. :-)

Finally, please help make Gaia Endeavors as interactive as possible by adding more links and continuing the discussion in the comments section!  By the way, we are still constructing exciting, useful and robust functionality to the website.  Thanks for your support!


An alternative Mother’s Day bouquet, thanks to the hard work of Coral Restoration Foundation

Happy (belated) Mother’s Day! It is tradition, no matter where we are in the world, for my brother and me to get our Mother, Julie, a bouquet of flowers to celebrate her special day. This year, in the spirit of advancing organizations working to solve environmental problems, instead of simply buying another dozen roses, we decided to adopt a coral from the Coral Restoration Foundation (CRF). For being such an incredible Mother, Julie helped to support the maintenance of Staghorn Nubbin K2-143 growing in CRF’s Ken Line Nursery in the Florida Keys. Over the next year she can login to to check on the status of her nubbin (photo below).

CRF, led by Ken Nedimyer, is a non-profit conservation organization dedicated to restoring coral reefs. They have taken the pioneering approach of “growing” coral in nurseries throughout the Florida Keys, which are then transplanted onto reefs as part of restoration activities. CRF owns and operates the largest offshore coral nursery in the United States, including three separate nurseries in the Florida Keys. CRF has transplanted corals to 22 different reef areas in the Upper Keys, and has recently received a permit for a landscape scale restoration project at Molasses Reef off Key Largo, Florida that will initially involve transplanting 1200 corals from the nursery to the reef. The goal of each restoration project is to re-establish genetically diverse thickets of coral and nurture them to maturity so they can spawn and repopulate downstream reef areas.

Ken, a longtime aquarist, came up with the idea of growing and transplanting corals after noticing that corals were propagating on live rock on his aquaculture lease area in the Florida Keys. However, rather than applying the technology purely for a profit, which Ken could have easily done, he took the path less traveled by establishing a foundation dedicated to long-term reef restoration.

In late March 2011, I had the opportunity to meet Ken Nedimyer, CRF President, and Kevin Gaines, CRF Operations Manager, during a site visit to one of the nurseries with the Alex C. Walker Foundation and Georgia Aquarium. During two truly breathtaking dives, I first saw one of CRF’s nurseries, which had over 7,000 corals at the time, and then dove on one of CRF’s main restoration sites, Molasses Reef. Ken and his team are an amazing example of environmental social entrepreneurs. The approaches that CRF is pioneering have the potential to restore reefs to approximately their original biodiversity and stability worldwide.

While the opportunity to adopt a coral for Mother’s Day has passed, coral adoptions and donations are accepted year round. Please consider visiting CRF by clicking here, a great organization with a big heart for restoring the biodiversity of Florida’s reefs.

Welcome to Gaia Endeavors

Welcome to our blog, Gaia Endeavors! The Internet has fostered and helped develop an abundance of good ideas, forever changing the worldwide economy, while bringing those ideas to a wider, more accessible audience than ever before. We believe that the Internet and social media have the potential to make a substantial, meaningful impact on solving the world’s environmental and social problems, so we decided to join the conversation.

Gaia was the Greek goddess personifying Earth, effectively the Greek representation of “Mother Nature.” Our blog carries the name of Gaia with the hope that our interactions and conversations can help to speed solutions to Earth’s many challenges. We thought it particularly appropriate to launch Gaia Endeavors the week after Mother’s Day to highlight the drive for positive, sustainable growth.

Earth provides an abundance of resources for sustenance and healthy development if we are careful stewards. One of our goals is to encourage innovative ideas and approaches that will contribute to sustainable development. Thus far, the best approach that we have found for addressing environmental challenges is through diverse, well-informed discussion and practical, effective implementation. We have created these platforms to contribute to the conversation. Please join us!

Brett Howell & Arya Mazdyasni