Rules of the Game

Buying hunting rights.


Rather than lobby the provincial government to shut down hunting, the Raincoast Conservation Foundation in British Columbia purchased guide-outfitting rights to 20,000 square kilometers of wilderness for $1.35 million in November. The land, now off-limits to hunters, covers territory stretching from the northern tip of Vancouver Island to Princess Royal Island and is home to grizzly and black bears, wolves, cougars, mountain goats, moose, and deer.

Is this free market environmentalism in action? Sterling Burnett, a senior fellow at the National Center for Policy Analysis in Dallas, is skeptical. "Does it make some people living in the cities of British Columbia feel better because fewer bears will be shot?" he asks. "Probably yes. But let's not pretend that it's going to help wildlife." Burnett points out that there is no evidence that hunting was hurting the area's animal populations in the first place. In any case, he argues, "It's not really a free market because what they're buying is a government-granted monopoly."

Bishop Grewell, a research associate at the Property and Environment Research Center in Bozeman, Montana, counters that the foundation's tactics are preferable to regulation. After all, the foundation could have launched a legislative battle. Instead "it is putting its money where its values are," bearing the costs of the forgone opportunity to make money from hunting.

The permanence of the hunting moratorium remains in question. Wonders Grewell: "If the group faces a funding crisis in the future, will they then bring their trophy hunting rights out of retirement?" Since the foundation owns them, that will be entirely up to it.