There’s a market solution to land use

Here's a good story about how the African trophy hunting industry works:

On Sept. 22, many ranchers, government officials and energy executives breathed a sigh of relief when the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) announced it would not add the sage grouse to the endangered species list.

“Due to new information and the variety of regulatory and conservation efforts we have determined that the sage grouse is not in danger of extinction,” the FWS announced.

FWS is referring to the Western States’ frantic efforts to preserve the sage grouse not just because it is a wonderful little bird but because it fears the government takeover of great swatches of Western land if the FWS took control.

The reaction from the green left was swift and predictable. The Western Watersheds Project issued a press release saying the FWS decision had “doomed” the sage grouse in favor of energy developers and callous ranchers’ herds of omnivorous cattle. Worse, Interior Secretary Sally Jewell was an “adept businessperson” whose goal was to make extractive industry happy. Writing in the Nation magazine, Jimmy Tobias wrings his hands over the future of public lands because this decision will give unfettered access to ranchers, developers and oil magnates to western resources and threaten the Endangered Species Act’s (ESA) existence.

If only. The green left’s naive ideological belief in bureaucratic management of public resources reflects their refusal to see the tremendous price that comes with government power to achieve even good ends. And it is not just oil and gas development that is at risk if the sage grouse were listed. Washoe County and the Nevada Legislature were equally concerned that land use limitations imposed by the FWS would serious impact the development of alternative wind and solar energy to fulfill Nevada’s self-imposed mandates for green power.

Not all environmentalists take the same top-down, anti-private property approach to wildlife management. The World Wildlife Fund for example through purchases of private lands and permanent leasing of public lands is building an immense private preserve in Montana that is as large as the state of Connecticut. The American Prairie Reserve (APR) uses such adept business practices as economic incentives rather than heavy handed rules and draconian fines to create a wild and free space for bison, antelope, sage grouse, prairie dogs, even someday wolves and bears, to roam the prairie as free as they did during the days of Lewis and Clark. Ranchers gladly cooperate because they get a premium price for ecologically friendly beef.

The unfortunate killing of Cecil the Lion by an American dentist in Zimbabwe caused a firestorm of protest in America. But trophy hunting done properly is an important means of preserving endangered wildlife. Zimbabwe is an economic basket case with an autocratic government, nearly 80 percent unemployment, and hyperinflation reducing the value of its currency to next to nothing. If only Jimmy Fallon would shed a tear for the people of Zimbabwe as he did for poor Cecil!

Botswana and a few other African countries recently banned trophy hunting because of pressure from environmentalists. The result has been hard on the poor as they lost much needed money from the hunting fees and livestock lost to increasing lion predation. Most African countries understand how trophy hunting has helped their people and wildlife. When people have an economic stake in wildlife preservation instead of a fear of government reprisals, both the people and the environment benefit.