Media Release – The Private Production of Ecological Goods and Services: The rise and fall of an Alberta policy proposal for hunting

Commentary, Frontier Centre, Press Release, Rural

Calgary, 28 February 2013: The Frontier Centre for Public Policy today released Hunting for Habitat authored by Drs. Rainer Knopff and Cormack Gates.

Shortly after the 2008 Alberta election, former premier Ed Stelmach’s government shelved the Hunting for Habitat (HFH) proposal (which was part of government’s two-pronged Open Spaces Alberta (OSA) initiative) after generating controversy among the hunting population that the program aimed to help.

While the project was shelved, the study shows how the principles of harnessing private interest for the public good are still sound and worthy of consideration.

The proposal compensated private landowners for opening their lands to hunters.  Under HFH, landowners would receive an incentive for maintaining habitat for species highly valued for recreation, and whose abundance and health depend on functioning ecosystems. The program also intended to allocate wildlife tags that could be sold.

The proposal was aimed at southern Alberta where private agricultural lands, particularly privately owned native rangelands, provide critical habitat for many wildlife species and sustain the health of important watersheds. Such private land represents about 75 per cent of the agriculturally developed area of the province (known as the White Area). The policy challenge was how to stabilize ecological contributions of privately-held rural lands given extensive pressures to develop that land.

HFH pilot projects aimed at testing the idea that the opportunity to realize some return from hunting would not only diversify economic opportunities for rural landowners, thereby perhaps stabilizing otherwise marginal ranches, but would also give landowners incentives to maintain and enhance ecologically productive landscapes.

However, as the authors show, the project failed to gain the support of key constituencies. Indeed, it faced intense opposition from the very start. The critics saw in the proposal a privatization of wildlife that necessarily “favours the elite and signifies the end of democratic hunting in Alberta.” The proposal, however, was actually an attempt to balance public and private interests. Wildlife in Alberta, as elsewhere, is a public resource and the HFH did not intend to change that. “The proposed HFH program sought to achieve … a balance between private and public values by enfranchising landowners to realize some revenue from wildlife while not relinquishing public interest in wildlife as a public-public trust resource.”

The authors concede there would have been an initial reduction in public tags, but this would be temporary, as the program would create a growing tag pool and would provide public access to closed lands.

“Innovative solutions to wildlife management and public access problems on private land

can be found between the extremes of public ownership and fully privatized, profit-motivated market incentives,” the report reads.


About the authors:

Rainer Knopff is a professor in the Department Political Science and the School of Public Policy at the University of Calgary. Having written widely in the areas of public law, human rights, and Canadian political thought, he has recently broadened his research to include environmental and land use issues, particularly those affecting his avocations of hunting and fishing. Knopff’s books include The Charter Revolution and the Court Party and Charter Politics (both with F.L. Morton), Human Rights and Social Technology: The New War on Discrimination (with T.E. Flanagan), and Parameters of Power: Canada’s Political Institutions (with Keith Archer, Roger Gibbins, and Leslie A. Pal).

Cormack Gates is a professor of environmental science and planning in the Faculty of Environmental Design at the University of Calgary. He has written extensively on wildlife ecology and conservation. In recent years he has participated in a variety of applied research initiatives in support of land use planning in the northern mixed-grasslands of North America. During 2001-2011 he served as Chair of the IUCN American Bison Specialist Group, which is a network of professionals spanning jurisdictions from northern Mexico to Alaska. Recent books include Yellowstone Bison: The Science and Management of a Migratory Wildlife Population (with L. Broberg), and IUCN American Bison Status Survey and Conservation.

Download a copy of  Hunting for Habitat: The Rise and fall of an Alberta Proposal for the Private Production of Ecological Goods and Services HERE

For more information and to arrange an interview with the author, media (only) may contact:

Dr. Rainer Knopff
(403) 220-5930