This man owns the best salmon groundsIf you are exhausted with the sell-out, every-public-good-has-its price culture of the George W. Bush administration, meet Peter Power.
Power is an Englishman who has leased some two million acres of Arctic wilderness from the Russian government. Why? To preserve the best salmon fishing grounds in the world. By the way, Power also owns six homes on six salmon rivers in northern Europe.
James Prosek's cameo of Power in the sports section of The New York Times of Oct. 19 succeeds on many levels. Prosek depicts an obscure person of great wealth and eccentricity. He also writes about the human quest for meaning, and he makes a certain point about how the world works, which is perhaps its most compelling feature.
In every nation, well beneath the level of law and regulation, there are informal systems of behavior that are far more interesting and effective than the formal ones. For instance, the way in which cultures police themselves on an informal basis is far more interesting and revealing than its prisons. And if there is no informal system, that signals a civilization in decline.
Peter Power is not the first person to take environmentalism into his own hands. Consider also the examples of John Yeon and Dwight Eisenhower. Yeon was renowned as a Portland architect. He was also an eccentric environmentalist, well before that word was coined. Yeon purchased land in Cannon Beach with idea of preserving it. He did the same in the Columbia River Gorge.
"Eisenhower an environmentalist?" you ask. When Ike left the White House, his attention turned to the farm at Gettysburg. The general said that improving the fertility of a patch of ground was as important a contribution as anyone could make to civilization.
On a much larger scale, notes Prosek, "As long as there has been a hierarchy among men, Informal systems of behavior are far more interesting than formal ones.the strongest or the wealthiest have possessed and protected the best land. In ideal situations, this land has eventually ended up in the hands of the people." He cites the Rockefellers, who preserved a number of treasures. He also mentions the Spanish dictator Francisco Franco "who kept entire streams at the headwaters of the Duero to himself...." And the Yugoslavian dictator Marshal Tito who did a similar thing.
"Whether they intend to or not, the powerful individuals of today may end up as the stewards of the world's last great wildernesses."
A lot of men who have made great piles of money look around and ask "What next?" The answer to that question often doesn't move beyond endless rounds of golf and bridge.
In finding meaning after middle age and a personal fortune, Power created an informal system of regulation that is a boon to a global ecosystem. "Basically, I saved the Russians' land from themselves," Power told Prosek. "I mean, another four years and they would have destroyed it."
Seeing the Atlantic salmon rivers of the Kola Peninsula, east of Finland on the Barents Sea, exhausted with poaching, Power approached the chief poacher with a job offer. Essentially, Power showed that man and other poachers how they could earn more money working for him, preserving the salmon habitat. Those who want to fish the rivers of the Kola pay Power for the opportunity. Reports Prosek, "All profits from the camps go to environmental and social causes."
Peter Power's venture is well beyond the magnitude the rest of us can imagine. But the basic concept of taking ownership of the land is valid on any level.
The most destructive aspect of the George W. Bush approach to the land is to view it as an element of cash flow. Implicit in all of the Bush giveaways is a disavowal of stewardship or ownership.
Peter Power and George W. Bush are both rich guys. Unlike Bush, Power thinks about the consequences of his actions toward the world.