Hunt Farms

Quick, why do you call left-wing environmentalists watermelons? Because while they are green on the outside, they are also red on the inside.

No better illustration of this political mindset can be seen in the present controversy involving hunt farms in Canada. In these game ranches — now legal only in Alberta, Saskatchewan and Quebec, they have just been banned in neighboring Montana — fees are charged to customers who shoot deer, elk and sometimes other such trophy animals.

But the watermelons are livid at the prospect. A spokesman for the International Fund for Animal Welfare is trying to ban these enterprises in Alberta, now, and Saskatchewan is his next target. The group People for the (so-called) Ethical Treatment of Animals considers these game farm practices cruel and immoral. Other left wing environmentalists characterize them as lacking any challenge, akin to shooting fish in a barrel.

But what is it with this emphasis on sportsmanship, of all things? Cows, chickens, sheep and pigs are not given a "fair chance" to escape from the "hunt" for them in the stockyards of the nation. If hunters want a sure thing, why should this be of any concern to those claiming to be advocates for the environment?

Are these watermelons in favor of playing games by the rules or preserving endangered species? If the former, then they should cease and desist all further fund raising activities, for these are intrinsically fraudulent. In any case, all hunting, whether on game farms or in the wild, is necessarily unfair, at least when done with guns. To make it a real sporting event, even bows and arrows give the humans too great an advantage. In athletic games, the goal is to achieve competition between at least rough equals, so that no one knows, beforehand, who will win. To attain this level of an even playing field, the homo sapiens should be allowed no more than short knives with wolves and bears, and animals of their ilk, and nothing more powerful than, say, a baseball bat or a spear with deer and elk. Then, as back in the cave man days, the animals would have a "sporting" chance.

If the latter, then very much to the contrary of their practice, the interest of those presumptively concerned with the environment should be to protect animals. Thus, the question to be asked is not how big must the private game preserve be so as to allow adequate cover and protection for the animals, but rather whether this process will reduce, or enhance, the chances of survival for these at risk species.

When put in this manner, there can be little doubt of the effect of these enterprises on the long-term survival probability of deer and elk. They will be positive, very much so. For the prices these farmers can charge the hunters will give them every incentive to make sure that their meal tickets never vanish. The going rate for a medium sized elk is $7,500; for a large one, up to $15,000; and for an exceptional bull, no less than $35,000. If there were any farmer foolish enough to allow his "seed corn" to vanish in an orgy of greed for present profits, he would soon enough be forced into bankruptcy. Survival in this industry means, above all, not allowing young female animals, particularly pregnant ones, to be harmed. As in the case of domestic animals, those most at risk are females past child rearing ages, and almost all males. This, in sharp contrast to the hunt for animals in the wild, where just about anything goes.

The free market environmentalist (not an oxymoron) point is that if you want to preserve species, benevolence, even coupled with wise government regulations (when is the last time you saw one of those?) is not enough. If you want to get the job done, as Adam Smith saw over 200 years ago, you have to make in the financial self-interest of entrepreneurs that this be done.

Nor should this insight on species survival be limited to deer and elk. Not even to bears, wolves and lions. More exotic animals can also be helped out through the magic of the market, including rhinoceroses and elephants. Yes, the barnyard in these cases might have to be a bit bigger, and the surrounding fences a lot stronger and probably electrified to boot, but game farms for them, too, are the only guarantee we shall continue to have them available to us.

Whales and other fish present a bit of a greater intellectual challenge. But any species that can land one of the own on the moon can surely come up with electrified fences and other aqueous counterparts of barbed wire, to keep a bunch of fish in their places. Only then can private owners of the denizens of the deep have the financial incentive to protect them — at a profit.

With this bit of economic analysis under our belt, what can we make of the efforts of so-called "environmentalists" to oppose hunt farms, a program so clearly in the interest of endangered species survival? In a word, it is hypocritical. It would appear that their hatred for capitalism is stronger than their desire to protect deer and elk. They ostentatiously attempt to hold high the green flag, but their actions belie this, and instead bespeak their internal true red colors.

August 3, 2001