By Dean Lueck
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In the United States, each state has an agency, long known as a game department, that oversees the management of wildlife. These administrative agencies, staffed by bureaucrats, are facing challenges that are forcing change. Specifically, the departments are losing their traditional reliance on hunting and fishing license revenues; they are under pressure to grant landowners more authority for wildlife management; and demand is growing to protect nongame animals.
Together these forces are altering the constituents of wildlife agencies, their funding bases, and even their jurisdictions. An economic framework for understanding these agencies can help predict the impact of these challenges.
This paper begins by describing the history of game management in the United States. It then examines the current structure of state wildlife agencies in the light of current understanding of the economics of bureaucracy. The paper presents some statistical information highlighting important differences found across the states and offers preliminary statistical analysis of state agency budgets suggesting that both economic and political forces determine the size of the budget. An appendix provides descriptions of four state wildlife agencies.
In some ways the game department is an “evolutionary ghost”ï¿½??that is, its present characteristics may be somewhat unsuited for todayï¿½??s changing conditions. The game department emerged at a time when vesting ownership of wildlife in landowners was prohibitively costly and evolved during an era when nongame wildlife had little value. Since then, the private management of wildlife has become increasingly important and the value of nongame wildlife has also grown. Furthermore, our knowledge of successful and unsuccessful wildlife policy and wildlife biology has increased tremendously. Professionals now recognize the importance of the private landowner in providing habitat and recognize that current policies may not provide sufficient incentives to encourage optimal provision.
While the game department successfully mitigates the large problem of open access to killing wildlife that emerged in the late nineteenth century, it does so in a cumbersome manner because of inherent bureaucratic incentives. The increase in private wildlife management, coupled with the recent trend toward more nongame management (often associated with more general funding), will have important effects. The paper suggests that over the (possibly distant) horizon looms a regime in which nongame wildlife becomes the responsibility of state agencies while game is largely left to private landowners.
Dean Lueck is a professor in the Department of Agricultural Economics and Economics at Montana State University. He received his B.A. in biology from Gonzaga University and his Ph.D. in economics from the University of Washington. Lueck has conducted extensive research in law and economics and natural resource economics and has published his articles in journals such as the American Economic Review, the Journal of Law and Economics, and the RAND Journal of Economics. In 1994ï¿½??95, he was a John M. Olin Faculty Fellow in Law and Economics at Yale Law School. Before his appointment at Montana State, he was an associate professor in the Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics at North Carolina State University. His current projects include wildlife management, the economics of agricultural organization and contracts, endangered species regulations, conservation easements, and womenï¿½??s rights.
“An Economic Guide to State Wildlife Management” by Dean Lueck is the second in a new series of studies that expand the outreach of the Political Economy Research Center (PERC). Research for this paper was supported by the D & D Foundation. Nick Parker provided research assistance. PERC Research Studies, written by PERC fellows, associates, and colleagues, are designed to give scholars and policy analysts background for understanding todayï¿½??s environmental policy issues. More academic than our PERC Policy Series papers, these studies illustrate PERCï¿½??s ongoing commitment to high-quality, policy-relevant research. PERC Research Studies are edited by Janes S. Shaw and produced by Dianna Rienhart.