Does the government really own all the wild animals?

15Feb11

I’ve read several articles lately that mention how the federal and state governments “own” all the wild animals that live within their borders. On some level, this makes sense, since animals might be considered a natural resource that is subject to public or private ownership. However, there’s a key element missing from this equation: control. In other words, it’s hard to claim that you own something if you have no way of controlling it.

Does the government control birds and other wild animals? Hardly. Birds can just fly away whenever they feel like it, crossing state and national borders in the process. Needless to say, they don’t pass through customs. With such broad freedom of travel, it’s quite clear that wild birds — along with many other wild animals — can’t be subject to ownership claims, at least not from a practical perspective.

Perhaps there is a less obvious reason that various branches of government keep reminding the press that they own all the wildlife. Maybe an estimate of the number of animals in each region, multiplied by some wacky per-animal value, is used in accounting and asset calculations. Whatever the cause, the staff members who make statements regarding government ownership of wild animals should think a little bit about how absurd this premise is in the first place, and tone down their rhetoric accordingly.



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