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What makes wildlife wild? How identity may shape the public trust versus wildlife privatization debate

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Wildlife conservation policy discussions in the United States and Canada often revolve around historical accounts of the success of wildlife management grounded in the public trust doctrine. We suggest that the usefulness of these discussions is partially limited by failure to consider the importance of wildlife “identity” rooted in freedom (i.e., how humans socially construct the “wildness” dimension of wild animals). To demonstrate the interrelations between identity and freedom, we explain that the class of subjects people care most about—partners, children, and people in general—typically should not be privately owned (i.e., chattel) because freedom (as opposed to slavery) is generally accepted as central to human identity, and its abrogation therefore degrades human identity. The degree to which this ethical argument applies to privatization of wildlife depends upon the relationship between freedom and the identity of wildlife as perceived by society. Thus, we suggest policy decisions regarding privatization of wildlife will be more accurately deliberated if society and wildlife professionals more completely considered the degree to which freedom is essential to a wild species’ identity and the degree to which that identity is inviolable.
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Emerging Issues
What Makes Wildlife Wild? How Identity
May Shape the Public Trust versus Wildlife
Privatization Debate
MARKUS J. PETERSON,
1
Department of Biological Sciences, University of Texas at El Paso, El Paso, TX 79968, USA
M. NILS PETERSON, Fisheries and Wildlife Sciences Program, Department of Forestry, North Carolina State University, Box 7646, Raleigh, NC
27695-7646, USA
TARLA RAI PETERSON, Department of Communication, University of Texas at El Paso, El Paso, TX 79968, USA
ABSTRACT Wildlife conservation policy discussions in the United States and Canada often revolve around
historical accounts of the success of wildlife management grounded in the public trust doctrine. We suggest
that the usefulness of these discussions is partially limited by failure to consider the importance of wildlife
“identity” rooted in freedom (i.e., how humans socially construct the “wildness” dimension of wild animals).
To demonstrate the interrelations between identity and freedom, we explain that the class of subjects people
care most about—partners, children, and people in general—typically should not be privately owned (i.e.,
chattel) because freedom (as opposed to slavery) is generally accepted as central to human identity, and its
abrogation therefore degrades human identity. The degree to which this ethical argument applies to
privatization of wildlife depends upon the relationship between freedom and the identity of wildlife as
perceived by society. Thus, we suggest policy decisions regarding privatization of wildlife will be more
accurately deliberated if society and wildlife professionals more completely considered the degree to which
freedom is essential to a wild species’ identity and the degree to which that identity is inviolable. Ó2016 The
Wildlife Society.
KEY WORDS argumentation, ethics, freedom, hunting, identity, law, neoliberalism, public trust doctrine, slavery,
wildlife commodification, wildlife privatization.
Western governments have long relied on what often is
called the “public trust doctrine” (PTD) as authority for
protecting and managing certain classes of natural resources
for public benefit (Sax 1970, Horner 2000, Kahneman 2011).
Considerable legal scholarship and debate regarding the
importance and role of the PTD coincided with the
environmental movement of the 1960s and early 1970s.
Although the primary emphasis of the PTD has been aquatic
ecosystems and related organisms, it also is important to
terrestrial wildlife conservation efforts in North America,
where Geist (1988, 1995) considered its application a
resounding success. In recent decades, however, the
ascendency of neoliberal economic logic (Harvey 2005;
Peterson et al. 2010a,b) as applied to wildlife conservation
shifted the debate. Under neoliberal policies, wild animal
species became important economic assets for private
landowners in some contexts, while the same or different
species became economic liabilities in other contexts.
Neoliberalism reflects neoclassical economic ideals whereby
people are assumed to act as rational, self-interested benefit
maximizers and interact with each other primarily through
markets (Harvey 2005). Neoliberalism differs from classical
liberalism in that it goes beyond assuming the market will
ensure optimal distribution of resources, to demanding state
interference and control to protect the sanctity of the free
market. Several scholars highlight flaws with this model.
First, people seldom behave as economically rational actors
(Kahneman 2011). Further, in conservation contexts,
neoliberalism requires converting everything into alienable
property (commodification), and establishing a strong state
to secure that property and entitlements to it (commerciali-
zation; Peterson et al. 2010a,b).
Contemporary critics of the PTD, such as Huffman (1989,
2007), maintain that public control of wildlife and other
natural resources is detrimental to biodiversity conservation
because of potential tragedies of the commons scenarios
(Hardin 1968). Huffman (1989, 2007) also argues that the
doctrine primarily supports public rather than private
ownership of natural resources (or easements to such
resources) and thus should be interpreted as a special case
of property law rather than a distinct area of legal scholarship.
Not surprisingly, the ascendency of neoliberalism has
supported efforts to reframe wild animal species previously
Received: 12 May 2015; Accepted: 23 April 2016
Published: 8 July 2016
1
E-mail: mjpeterson@utep.edu
Wildlife Society Bulletin 40(3):428–435; 2016; DOI: 10.1002/wsb.674
428 Wildlife Society Bulletin 40(3)
held by state governments in trust for the public as privately
held commodities to be traded in the marketplace
(Anonymous 1988, Benson 1992, Freese and Trauger 2000).
The relative merits of wildlife privatization versus govern-
ments holding wildlife in trust for the people under the PTD
as the preferred basis for effective wildlife conservation policy
have been argued from economic (Geist 1988, 1994; Kreuter
and Workman 1997), historical, legal (Sax 1970, Horner
2000, Redmond 2009, Sagarin and Turnipseed 2012), and
political perspectives (Geist 1995, Davis 2001, Geist et al.
2001), but the ethical dimensions of this debate have been
neglected (Nelson et al. 2011). Our objective is to begin
addressing this deficit by exploring the role of freedom—
including related behavioral traits humans find important,
such as wildness—as a critical component of how society
individually or collectively identifies wildlife (hereafter,
wildlife identity), and the concomitant ethical implications
for the PTD and wildlife privatization. We emphasize the
situation in the United States and Canada because much of
the current controversy surrounding wildlife commodifica-
tion and the public trust revolves around whether the North
American model of wildlife conservation (Geist 1988, 1995;
Geist et al. 2001), which traditionally was grounded in the
PTD, provides an appropriate framework for conservation
efforts elsewhere, such as Europe, Australia, and the
developing world. We begin by briefly summarizing the
origins of the PTD, how it has been applied to wildlife
conservation efforts historically, and the rationales behind
recent efforts to privatize wildlife. We then discuss ethical
considerations linked to identity, which we find critical when
deciding whether wildlife privatization is appropriate. Lastly,
we discuss the implications of our argument for those tasked
with developing and implementing wildlife conservation
policy as well as for other stakeholders concerned with
wildlife conservation.
THE PUBLIC TRUST DOCTRINE,
WILDLIFE, AND CURRENT
CHALLENGES
Wildlife and the Public Trust
Governments worldwide have claimed authority over such
entities as air, water, landscapes, wildlife, and the ocean and
its shores for public benefit since at least the Roman Institutes
of Justinian (533 A.D.; Sax 1970, Caspersen 1996, Horner
2000). This legal tradition, as embodied in English common
law, was reiterated in the fledgling United States in the
Northwest Ordinance of 1787, which declared that navigable
waters of the Mississippi River “shall be common highways
and forever free ... to the citizens of the United States” (1
Stat. 50, Art. 4). In Martin v. Waddell (41 U.S. 367 [1842]),
the U.S. Supreme Court held that the State of New Jersey
not only held rivers and bays in trust for the public good, but
also the lands under these waters and the fisheries (i.e.,
wildlife) therein. The U.S. Supreme Court upheld the
importance of state governments controlling lands under
public waters in Illinois Central Railroad Company v. Illinois
(146 U.S. 387 [1892]) in what became the lodestar of U.S.
public trust law (Sax 1970). Also during this period, the U.S.
Supreme Court held in a chain of cases culminating in Geer v.
Connecticut (161 U.S. 519 [1896]:529) that the states held
wildlife “as a trust for the benefit of the people” (the cases
leading to Geer v. Connecticut were Martin v. Waddell
[41 U.S. 367 (1842)], Smith v. Maryland [59 U.S. 71 (1855)],
McCready v. Virginia [94 U.S. 391 (1876)], and Manchester v.
Massachusetts [139 U.S. 240 (1890)]; Goble and Freyfogle
2002). By 1900, the PTD was firmly established in U.S. case
law and it was explicitly extended to many natural resources,
including both aquatic and terrestrial wildlife.
In Canada, public lands, wildlife, and other publically held
entities are considered assets of the Crown, which in modern
times is construed as being held in trust for the people
(Batcheller et al. 2010). However, as Henquinet and Dobson
(2006:368) asserted, the PTD in Canada “is an austere
announcement of the public right to navigate and fish in
navigable waters. It is a dormant doctrine to say the least.
There are very few cases that deal with public trust issues and
almost none of which actually articulate a public trust
doctrine.” In their legal reviews, Hunt (1981) and Elwell and
Dyck (2002) reached similar conclusions. Perhaps because of
the dormant nature of the PTD in Canadian jurisprudence,
greater than half of the provinces and territories have
incorporated language identifying wildlife as publically held
entities in their environmental statutes (Batcheller et al.
2010). That provincial law and policies have explicitly
specified this relationship indicates intent to treat wildlife as
public trust resources regardless of the rudimentary nature of
the PTD at the national level.
The PTD applied to wildlife includes 4 essential elements:
1) the object of the trust that cannot be owned by individuals
(wildlife), 2) the trustee responsible for acting in the trust’s
best interest (the state), 3) the beneficiary who holds title to
the trust (the public), and 4) the settlor who creates the trust
(scholars and advocates of the PTD typically leave the
character of the settlor open, suggesting entities such as God,
Mother Nature, or Natural Law as creator of the trust;
Caspersen 1996, Horner 2000). In the late 1800s and early
1900s, governments in the United States and Canada began
protecting and restoring North America’s devastated wildlife
populations under the auspices of the PTD (Geist et al.
2001). As established by Geer v. Connecticut, the PTD gave
the states, as trustees, the legal basis to enact statutes that in
turn gave regulatory agencies authority to promulgate
regulations that eliminated most market hunting, controlled
other wildlife harvest, and allowed the states to acquire
wildlife management areas, conduct wildlife research, and
implement various other procedures required for protecting
and restoring species considered valuable by the public—the
beneficiaries of the trust. Successful wildlife management
based in part on PTD principles led to dramatic recoveries of
several North American game species including white-tailed
deer (Odocoileus virginianus), elk (Cervus canadensis),
pronghorn (Antilocapra americana), black bear (Ursus
americanus), wild turkey (Meleagris gallopavo), and wood
duck (Aix sponsa). Similarly, the PTD was used by the states
Peterson et al. What Makes Wildlife Wild? 429
as authority for efforts to conserve nongame wildlife and
restore populations of species at risk of extinction.
The Challenge from Wildlife Privatization
Sax (1970) argued that, from a legal perspective, the PTD
was the single most powerful tool for addressing natural
resource management available under U.S. law. This
groundbreaking review began an ongoing debate among
environmental law scholars regarding the breadth and
applicability of the PTD (Ruhl and Salzman 2006). At
the same time, emerging markets for wildlife (e.g., sale of
privately owned wild ungulates by game ranchers, sale of
access to private lands for hunting or birdwatching)
converted some wild animal species into economically
valuable assets for landowners (Teer and Forrest 1968,
Burger and Teer 1981, Geist 1988). In other cases, the U.S.
Endangered Species Act of 1973 (ESA; 16 U.S.C. §§
1531–1544) sometimes resulted in wild species becoming
economic liabilities for landowners as a result of regulatory
limitations on property use (Mittermeier et al. 2003). For
example, without the ESA, there would have been few
economic concerns regarding a host of rather benign wild
species, such as the spotted owl (Strix occidentalis), Houston
toad (Anaxyrus houstonensis), or Florida Key deer (O.
virginianus clavium), whose existence constrains human
development projects by virtue of their listing under the ESA
(Freudenburg et al. 1998; Peterson et al. 2002, 2004, 2006).
As wildlife accrued significant positive and negative
economic values for landowners and other publics, the
PTD became increasingly controversial as grounding for
wildlife conservation policy and practice (Geist 1988, 1995;
Geist et al. 2001) and efforts to reframe wild animal species
as privately held commodities to be traded in the marketplace
began in earnest (Anonymous 1988, Benson 1992, Freese
and Trauger 2000).
Arguments supporting privatization of wildlife employed
the same neoliberal economic logic as did arguments
for privatizing other natural resources. That is, wildlife
populations will be destroyed in tragedies of the commons
scenarios unless 1) cumbersome and expensive command and
control governance is used, or 2) resources are privatized and
turned over to the efficient and inexpensive invisible hand of
the market (Aune 2001, Mansfield 2004, Robertson 2004,
Harvey 2005). Essentially, supporters of wildlife privatiza-
tion assume that as landowners manage for populations and
habitats of economically valuable species, these changes will
provide trickle-down benefits for all other wild species of
interest sharing the landscape.
AN IDENTITY-BASED ARGUMENT
AGAINST WILDLIFE PRIVATIZATION
Moral philosophy suggests a certain class of subjects defies
the conventional neoliberal wisdom that people have no
incentive to care for anything other than commodities they
personally own or control (Kant 1909 [1788], Donagan
1981, Aune 2001). This special class includes the subjects
humans tend to care about most, including partners,
children, and people in general. Leopold (1949) noted in
The Land Ethic that although people were privatized,
commodified as slaves, and treated as ordinary property in
the days of Odysseus, social evolution had largely erased the
practice. Although metaphysical references to slavery may
describe an array of human conditions where freedom is
restricted, here we use the term in the literal sense to refer to
the state of a person who is chattel of another. For greater
depth regarding this interpretation of slavery, how it relates
to freedom, and its degrading influence on both master and
slave, see Lincoln’s (1953 [1859]) letter to Henry L. Pierce
and others (online Supporting Information). Evidence of
slavery thus defined can be found on nearly all continents
(Turley 2000); it was not that long ago when large groups of
children, women, and certain ethnic groups were the
property of other persons, companies, or governments in
North America and lands controlled by many western
European nations. Indeed, the practice of slavery persists
today in many parts of the world and has been reinvigorated
in some regions (Bales 2004).
Although sound economic reasoning may motivate some
masters to treat slaves humanely, this does not translate into
widespread contemporary support for slavery as an institu-
tion. Similarly, empirical arguments about appropriate
conditions for slaveholding exist, but play a secondary role
to ethical arguments regarding the morality of slavery.
Likewise, whereas supporters of women’s rights and child
labor laws claimed that fair treatment in the labor market
would reduce violence against women and children, the more
powerful arguments were ethical (Storrs 2000, Miller 2008).
Although numerous ethical arguments have been levied
against privatization and commodification of people (i.e.,
slavery), perhaps the most relevant to the debate surrounding
the merits of using public trust management versus
privatization as the basis for wildlife conservation relate to
“identity,” or the process of recognizing subjects as unique
and individual. These arguments posit “freedom” as an
essential element of human identity that should not be
abrogated under any circumstance (Lincoln 1953 [1859],
Smith 1995). Because slavery denies one’s identity, it cannot
be tolerated at any price (Appiah and Bunzl 2007). Slavery
still would be intolerable, for instance, even if it were
expected to alleviate war, disease, and poverty.
These arguments are essentially the same as those used to
justify freeing the slave in Hegel’s (1977 [1807]) master–
slave dialectic (Brennan 2007). Hegel (1977 [1807]) began
Phenomenology of Spirit by describing 2 newly formed humans
happening upon each other for the first time. A fight ensues
largely because encountering another sentient being like
themselves threatens each individual’s self-identity. The
person who wins the fight decides to enslave rather than kill
the other consciousness because s/he now realizes one cannot
exist as a person without being recognized as such by others.
Over time, the master becomes dependent on the slave for
recognition, whereas the slave becomes more independent
because s/he is forced to develop skills to support both slave
and master. The master then faces a dilemma: s/he desires
recognition as a person by the slave, but this recognition is of
low value by virtue of the slave’s inferior position. In the last
430 Wildlife Society Bulletin 40(3)
stage, the master frees the slave and the two become
cooperative equals because only by being independent and
equal can the former master and former slave secure their
personal identities.
Brennan (2007) argued that Hegel’s master–slave dialectic
explains humanity’s relationship with nature over time.
Brennan (2007) described early peoples’ relationship with
nature as typically one of animistic equality, where nature was
not perceived as fundamentally different from humanity. At
some point, arising with the growth of agriculture and
strengthened by the growth of industry, society began to
perceive nature as something to be conquered, and
aggressively set out to do so, creating a master–slave
relationship. Over time, many in the developed world found
mastery of nature dissatisfying for various reasons and
desired to “free the slave,” which enables development of a
caring and cooperative relationship with nature during a
postmastery social stage.
This dialectic suggests that the degree to which ethical
arguments grounded in freedom and identity applies to
wildlife privatization can be partially assessed by examining
the following questions: 1) is freedom an important
component of wildlife’s identity; and 2) is wildlife’s identity
inviolable? If the answer to both questions is “yes,” wildlife
privatization is not ethically acceptable regardless of price.
Instead, as Brennan (2007) argued, wildlife should be freed,
and a more caring and cooperative relationship with the
natural world developed in a postdomination era. From this
ethical perspective, neoliberal economic arguments for
wildlife privatization only become relevant if society’s answer
to one or both of the above questions is “no.”
PUBLIC TRUST AND WILDLIFE
PRIVATIZATION AS AN ETHICAL
DILEMMA
Our focus on identity should not be construed as an
argument for intrinsic value, or the value that a thing has in
itself, or for its own sake (Rolston 1982, 1994). Instead,
identity develops via relationships, rather than in isolation
(Ricoeur 1992). Moreover, given the lack of any wilderness
completely isolated from human impacts, we do not advocate
a fundamentalist approach to wildlife’s identity as forming in
isolation from human influences. For these reasons, neither
holding wildlife publically under the PTD nor private
ownership of wildlife is likely to be absolute. Ultimately, the
beneficiaries of the trust will decide the circumstances where
wildlife should retain their freedom and related wildness
under public trust management and other circumstances
where they deem privatization and commodification more
appropriate.
There are myriad important relationships that exist
between various segments of human society and wild species
or groups of wild species that influence whether these
beneficiaries deem wildlife privatization suitable. In the
United States, for example, we expect that privatization of
bald eagles (U.S. national bird and national emblem;
Haliaeetus leucocephalus) would be perceived by society as
much more problematic than privatization of dwarf wedge
mussels (Alasmidonta heterodon) because freedom is more
closely associated with the identity of an eagle than a mussel.
Similarly, freedom is likely to be perceived as critically
important to the identity of species closely related to humans,
such as common chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes), bonobos (P.
paniscus), and other great apes. The perceived centrality of
freedom to species that are similar to humans contributed to
the discontinuation of medical research on chimpanzees in
all nations except Gabon and United States, and is part of the
ethical argument the U.S. National Institutes of Health used
for phasing out medical research on chimpanzees (National
Institute of Health Council of Councils 2013), while
continuing to allow use of small mammals and relatively
charismatic species such as dogs (Canis lupus familiaris) for
such purposes.
Several wildlife biologists have written essays critical of
wildlife privatization, wildlife farming and ranching, fee-
based hunting, or selling land access rights for hunting or
wildlife viewing (e.g., Geist 1985, 1988, 1995; Peterson
2004; Brown and Cooper 2006). We propose that much of
the impetus for these perspectives is relational and grounded
in the connection between freedom and identity for both the
wild species being discussed and the authors. We suggest that
for the segment of human society that frequently interacts
with free-roaming wildlife—such as birdwatchers, fishers,
hunters, other types of nature aficionados, and wildlife
biologists—wildlife’s identity is closely interrelated with
these individuals’ personal identities (Ricoeur 1992, Clayton
and Opotow 2003). The moment wildlife become domesti-
cated livestock (Peterson 2004, Brown and Cooper 2006),
these wildlife-associated people lose a portion of their
personal identity as well. Leopold (1991 [1932]:169), for
example, described shooting pen-reared ring-necked pheas-
ants (Phasianus colchicus) as “a good show,” but hunting wild
northern bobwhites (Colinus virginianus) or greater prairie-
chickens (Tympanuchus cupido) as a “grand opera.” Thus, we
suggest these individuals have the same interest in fighting
wildlife privatization and commodification as immigrant
groups have in fighting forced cultural assimilation (Bhatia
and Ram 2009, Craciun 2013, Wimmer and Soehl 2014).
Just as many immigrants perceive forced assimilation into the
broader culture as destroying their personal identity, wildlife
biologists, and others closely connected to free-roaming
wildlife, may perceive wildlife privatization and commodifi-
cation as destructive to their personal identity because both
forced cultural assimilation and wildlife privatization and
commodification deny members of these respective groups
the freedom to construct their own identity.
The degree to which privatization symbolically and
materially robs wild species of their identity, as socially
constructed by humans, will depend upon what privatization
entails. Currently, the continuum of private ownership
ranges from essentially free-living white-tailed deer in high-
fenced pastures larger than 5,000 ha to scenarios where
bottle-fed white-tailed deer fawns are reared in playpens
built for human infants, then fed in troughs, subjected to
controlled breeding (including artificial insemination), sold
at auction, and otherwise treated as domestic livestock
Peterson et al. What Makes Wildlife Wild? 431
(Peterson 2004, Brown and Cooper 2006). We expect the
first scenario would be more palatable than the second for
many people because of the marked differential in the
curtailment of freedom and perceived wildness represented
by these extremes (Peterson et al. 2010b, Chitwood et al.
2015).
In the United States, and the Western world generally,
property owners only have rights given to them by the society
in which they live, making property a political rather than a
moral right (Smith 1995, Peterson and Liu 2008). For
example, planning and zoning ordinances constrain how
landowners can use their property, the sorts of structures they
can build on their land, and, in some cases, whether trees can
be planted or removed. Governments also can confiscate
private property for public purposes (e.g., private lands for
public roadways or shopping centers that generate high tax
revenue) using eminent domain as-long-as the landowners
are paid fair market value for these regulatory takings
(Peterson et al. 2013b). Moreover, the U.S. Supreme Court
(based on several cases) announced 2 “categorical takings
tests” to clarify and supplement their ruling in Penn Central
Transportation Co. v. New York City (1978). These tests are
that regulations constitute takings of private property and
require compensation only 1) if they interfere with the
property owner’s core right to exclude other people from
their property, or 2) otherwise authorize a permanent
physical occupation of their property by others (Salzman and
Thompson 2010). A few years later, the Supreme Court, in
Lucas v. South Carolina Coastal Council (1992), held that a
regulation constitutes a taking if it deprives a landowner of all
economically viable property use. It is difficult to conceive of
situations where the ESA, section 404 of the Clean Water
Act of 1972, or other environmental statutes and related
regulations are likely to eliminate all economic use of a tract
of land, result in a permanent public occupation, or preclude
a landowner from excluding trespassers. Not surprisingly
then, landowners rarely are compensated for the quite real
limitations on property use caused by these environmental
statutes and related regulations. In sum, the “bundle of
rights” associated with private property, including privatized
wildlife, can be constituted in various ways through the
political process and the courts (Varner 1994); the sticks
in the bundle ultimately will dictate, at least in part, the
impact of privatization and commodification on wildlife’s
identity.
IMPLICATIONS FOR WILDLIFE
CONSERVATION
Recently, several publications by wildlife conservationists
voiced concerns regarding the future of public trust
management of wildlife in North America and offered
potential solutions to these problems. For example, although
there are ethical, cultural, and social values associated with
hunting (Peterson 2004, Peterson et al. 2010b), state wildlife
agencies will be more effective if they move beyond an almost
exclusive dependence upon hunters for funding and political
support (Jacobson et al. 2010). A group of wildlife
professionals assembled by The Wildlife Society were
sufficiently concerned about the future of public trust
wildlife management that they recommended state and
provincial governments use their authority to specifically
include principles of the PTD in their constitutions or
statutes so public trust management of wildlife does not rely
completely on case law (Batcheller et al. 2010). Other
concerns included the need to increase the inclusiveness,
openness, fairness, transparency, and accountability of public
trust management (Peterson et al. 2011, Smith 2011, Decker
et al. 2014, Feldpausch-Parker et al. 2016a), and the need for
state wildlife agency professionals to focus on their role as
trust managers, while differentiating this role from that of
elected and appointed governmental officials who act as
trustees under the PTD (Smith 2011, Decker et al. 2014).
We expect that certain aspects of these concerns about the
future of public trust management of wildlife relate to the
commonly held assumption that neoliberal economics should
continue to drive wildlife conservation (Peterson et al. 2010a,
Buscher et al. 2012).
In our experience, members of The Wildlife Society
and wildlife professionals generally consider wildlife to
be property (i.e., chattel) owned in some manner by the
public. However, contrary to neoliberal economic dogma
(Anonymous 1988, Aune 2001, Harvey 2005, Buscher et al.
2012), it is not necessary to define wildlife as property of any
sort. Although legal scholars with expertise in the PTD
generally describe public lands as owned by the public, they
use terms such as public access, interest, good, purpose, use,
and benefit when writing about trust entities such as air,
rivers, lakes, and oceans (Sax 1970, Turnipseed et al. 2009,
Sagarin and Turnipseed 2012). We assert that one of the
relatively unexplored advantages of using the PTD as
grounding for wildlife conservation is that it could help
wildlife professionals move beyond the contrived dichotomy
that wildlife are either publically or privately owned chattel,
which ensures the ascendency of neoliberal economics.
Instead, under the PTD, wildlife are held in trust by states for
the beneficiaries of the trust—the public, where debate
regarding what benefits and uses are in the public interest can
and should occur among trust beneficiaries (Jacobson et al.
2010, Decker et al. 2014). From this perspective, debate may
revolve around whether wildlife should be owned, rather
than around who should own them.
Despite what some Marxist critics might argue (Aune
1994), making human slavery illegal does more than
rearrange masters and slaves; it completely replaces the
master–slave relationship with a new relationship between
relatively equal individuals. Similarly, when we contemplate
removing wildlife from public trust management and making
them private property, we are considering a much more
fundamental change in the relationship between, and
identity of, both wildlife and humans than when we consider
transferring wildlife from public to private ownership. We
expect this increased protection from commodification
would be perceived positively by numerous publics who
closely relate with free-roaming wildlife, including bird-
watchers, fishers, hunters, other nature lovers, and wildlife
biologists.
432 Wildlife Society Bulletin 40(3)
Systematically including wildlife identity during debates
regarding replacing public trust management with wildlife
privatization and commodification may slow wildlife privati-
zation by highlighting how the process impacts the identity
people associate with wildlife. The degree to which ethical
arguments grounded in freedom as an essential component of
wildlife’s identity apply to wildlife privatization can be assessed
by determining how important freedom and related wildness is
to the identity of a given species, and whether that identity is
inviolable. As stakeholders deliberate these considerations, we
expect decisions about wildlife privatization will depend on 1)
relationships between human societies and the wild species
under consideration, 2) the degree to which privatization robs
wild species of their freedom and thus identity, and 3) political
contexts and power structures.
Public debate aswell as careful empirical researchare essential
for making sound wildlife-conservation decisions (Peterson
et al. 2005, 2013a), including those relevant to shifting from
the historical emphasis on public trust management to
privatization as the basis for wildlife conservation. When
privatization of wildlife is judged ethically acceptable by
society, claims about its efficacy for conservation goals should
be held to the same rigorous standards as any other empirical
claim made by conservationists.
Although there is nothing inherently wrong with preaching
either the merits of public trust management or wildlife
privatization as a belief system to promote conservation, a
more open dialog among disputants will facilitate reasoned
argumentation rather than faith-based claims (Peterson et al.
2007, Nelson et al. 2011). We do not seek to squelch
arguments for wildlife privatization. Instead, we encourage a
multitude of arguments addressing ethical claims as well as
new research that addresses empirical claims associated with
relationships among public trust management, wildlife
privatization, wildlife commodification, and conservation.
Research by wildlife conservationists could contribute to the
quality of such discussions by giving careful attention to the
language used when debating specific wildlife conservation
issues (e.g., Parker and Feldpausch-Parker 2013), further
exploring identity in wildlife-related contexts (e.g., Chit-
wood et al. 2011), learning how various ethnic groups
perceive wildlife ownership (e.g., Peterson et al. 2011),
examining the ideological foundations of North American
approaches to conservation (e.g., Feldpausch-Parker et al.
2016b), and exploring how wildlife identity may shape illegal
hunting (e.g., von Essen and Allen 2016). Such research
should enable conservationists to more effectively contribute
to debates about wildlife privatization.
ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
The University of Texas at El Paso and North Carolina State
University supported this project. S. J. Riley and 3
anonymous reviewers provided constructive criticism of
earlier drafts that improved this essay.
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Peterson et al. What Makes Wildlife Wild? 435
... Alternatively, they hoped preserving hunting and other culturally embedded traditions through each passing generation would imbue value in a way of life they described as central to their identities, as well as fostering a love of the sport and the birds themselves. Thus, these cultural ramifications helped define the identity of focus group participants and how they perceive bobwhites and other wildlife (Peterson et al. 2016). ...
... As discussed previously, focus group participants believed that community efforts to preserve the bobwhite-hunting heritage in Texas involve instilling conservation practices in youth. This heritage, the, helps form the identity of future generations as conservationists, and influences how they identity bobwhites and other grassland birds (Peterson et al. 2016). Participants maintained this societal influence is critical for conservation, as a message shared through community-oriented channels will have a great influence for many generations to come. ...
Technical Report
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A vast body of ecological research addressing northern bobwhites (Colinus virginianus) exists across this species’ range. State wildlife agencies have regulated bobwhite hunting for a century or more in most states where the species is hunted, and in some cases have expended considerable treasure on bobwhite conservation. Moreover, wildlife conservationists actively manage numerous private and public properties specifically to benefit bobwhites, and have done so for decades. Yet despite all this activity, northern bobwhite abundance has declined across this species’ range for roughly a century, declines are well documented since the 1960s, and this trend continues even in states where the species is most common, such as Texas. Abundance of other grassland bird species show similar trajectories. Although numerous factors may be proximate causes of declining bobwhite abundance, most bobwhite ecologists agree the ultimate cause of these declines is landscape scale loss of suitable habitat that can support all bobwhite life requisites through time. In Texas, these losses primarily are related to (1) lack of fire in modern landscapes, (2) grazing practices, (3) invasive exotic vegetation, and (4) habitat fragmentation due to the previous three factors as well as land ownership fragmentation, suburbanization, and changes to cultivated croplands. Unfortunately, most habitat management tends to occur at a finer spatial scale, and harvest management at a broader spatial scale, than is relevant to bobwhite populations (many Texas properties intensively managed for bobwhite hunting are an exception to this second generalization). Regardless, considering the vast amount of biological data already available addressing bobwhite ecology, more such data are unlikely to lead to changes in the trajectories of bobwhite populations. Instead, any hope of halting or reversing this decline in abundance requires social science that focuses on societal factors underlying conservation policy, because private land management is critical to bobwhite conservation as most bobwhites occur on private lands. We narrowed this gap by completing a two-phase social science study of private land managers in Texas. The first phase used focus groups to discover how primary stakeholders experience and think about northern bobwhites and other grassland bird conservation in Texas. The second phase of the study used the results of the thematic analysis of focus group data to refine questions for a survey instrument, which then was implemented and the data evaluated.
... Donaldson and Kymlicka (2011) provide a tripartite frame work by contending domestic animals ought to be treated in much the same way as co-citizens, liminal animals as deni zens, and wild animals as sovereigns. Hence, duties toward sovereigns involve protecting their autonomy (i.e., wildness; Peterson et al. 2016) without exploitative or paternalistic in terference, such as sustained feeding of wild.life that could condition long-term dependence and loss of natural foraging abilities (van Essen and Allen 2016a). Not all intervention in the lives of sovereigns is negative, however, if it is consistent with promoting their autonomy in nature and species good. ...
... We chose the term wild-harvested meat instead of game meat because the former more clearly defines the source (i.e., wildlife) and the means of procurement (i.e., hunters). We define wild-harvested meat as meat obtained through legal hunting of free-ranging wildlife (Food Law 2000;Peterson, Peterson, & Peterson, 2016). For our purposes, meat refers broadly to the meat of mammals, birds, reptiles and amphibians, but not fish or shellfish. ...
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... Under the Public Trust Doctrine, state wildlife agencies have jurisdiction over resident wildlife including wild bobwhite with the responsibility of managing the species to benefit all the state's citizens (Decker et al. 2015). Peterson et al. (2016) point out that interpretation of the merits of species conservation via privatization (e.g., translocation managed by private entities) has been constantly evolving. Following the Public Trust Doctrine, some coordinators answering the NBCI survey emphasized that translocation of bobwhites out of their state must provide a clear benefit to the citizens and hunters of that state. ...
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