Where the Buffalo Roam
Rewilding the American Serengeti
See, e.g., Zeynep K. Hansen and Gary D. Libecap, “The Allocation of Property Rights to Land: US Land Policy and Farm Failure in the Northern Great Plains,” Explorations in Economic History 41, no. 2 (2004):103–29; and Gary D. Libecap and Zeynep K. Hansen, “‘Rain Follows the Plow’ and Dryfarming Doctrine: The Climate Information Problem and Homestead Failure in the Upper Great Plains, 1980–1925,” The Journal of Economic History 62, no. 1 (2002):86–120.
Deborah Epstein Popper and Frank J. Popper, “The Great Plains: From Dust to Dust,” Planning, December 1987, http://www.planning.org/25anniversary/planning/1987dec.htm.
Although ranchers pay relatively low fees to graze livestock on federal lands (the fee in 2018 was $1.41 per animal unit month), the value of grazing permits is capitalized into the sale price of the private base property. When APR acquires base properties, it also receives the public grazing permits that are tied to that particular base property, and the value of those permits is reflected in the sale price.
Bryan Leonard and Shawn Regan, “Legal and Institutional Barriers to Establishing Non-Use Rights to Natural Resources,” Natural Resources Journal (in press), https://www.perc.org/2018/12/05/legal-and-institutional-barriers-to-establishing-non-use-rights-to-natural-resources/.
For a description of the “beneficial use” requirements for water rights in various western states, see Brandon Scarborough and Hertha L. Lund, Saving Our Streams: Harnessing Water Markets (Bozeman, MT: Property and Environment Research Center, 2007).
43 U.S.C. § 315b.
The outcome of this BLM change-of-use process is uncertain. Several years ago, APR received BLM permission to convert two of its public-land grazing leases from cattle to bison, but its current application to convert 18 additional leases to year-round bison grazing has drawn controversy from local ranchers and livestock groups, and the environmental review process associated with the permit change has proven to be significant and costly. See Rob Chaney, “Where the Buffalo Roam, Montana Cowboys Dig in Their Heels,” Missoulian, December 1, 2018.
Some environmental groups have tried to acquire such rights, but federal and state policies often prevent them from holding them for nonuse purposes. See Leonard and Regan, “Legal and Institutional Barriers.” See also Reed Watson, “Public Wildlife on Private Land: Unifying the Split Estate to Enhance Trust Resources,” Duke Environmental Law & Policy Forum 23: 291–321 (Spring 2013).
For decades, free-market environmentalists have been critical of heavy-handed, command-and-control-style approaches to conservation that depend entirely on government bureaucracies, regulatory restrictions, and political institutions. A more decentralized, rights-based approach to conservation first considers whether markets should be used to solve environmental problems and then asks how the transaction costs associated with using markets could be reduced, either by better defining property rights or by reforming the institutions that govern the allocation of rights in order to encourage entrepreneurial, exchange-based solutions. See, e.g., Terry L. Anderson and Dominic P. Parker, “Transaction Costs and Environmental Markets: The Role of Entrepreneurs,” Review of Environmental Economics and Policy 7, no. 2: 259–75 (2013). See also Terry L. Anderson and Gary D. Libecap, Environmental Markets: A Property Rights Approach (Cambridge University Press: 2014).