Policy

Bisonomics

|

bison skulls

Time magazine recently noted: "Sometimes you have to eat an animal to save it."

Admire the giant pile of bison skulls circa 1870 at right, then read a neat essay from this month's PERC reports on what drove the near-extinction of the buffalo, and how Ted Turner and his bison-burger restaurants are saving them:

Western orthodoxy suggests the white man's irresistible drive for wealth led to the bison genocide. Reality, however, proved more complicated. Their near extinction was due to a host of factors ranging from adverse climate issues, introduction of the transcontinental railroad, emergence of a horse culture on the plains bringing more efficient hunting, the advent of the Sharp's rifle known for its deadly accuracy and distance, as well as government policy that promoted the end of the bison as a means of calming hostilities with the Native Americans.

One underlying factor, however, may have contributed more than any other. The tragedy of the bison was one of the starkest examples of the tragedy of the commons. No one owned the bison. Those who were not the first to capture the economic benefits of a bison lost those benefits to someone else. This created a race to the finish—a bison derby. Recreation magazine captured the essence of the situation in 1901: "A wild buffalo is looked on as a small fortune walking around without an owner."

Also included in the profile, an interview with a boutique bison outfit:

"If buffalo are going to make a comeback, they are going to have to pay their own way," says [Dan O'Brien, owner of 300 bison and a company called Wild Idea Buffalo].

More on killing animals to save them here.