Hunting for Private Property Rights

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by Reed Watson

The November 2 election is shaping up to be an important gauge of our country's political direction. And though most of the November 3 headlines will focus on the head count of Democrats and Republicans in Congress, the results of a ballot measure in North Dakota might prove a better litmus test of where our country is headed.

Ballot Measure 2 [PDF] seeks to outlaw the hunting of privately owned game animals on enclosed private property throughout North Dakota. This non-partisan issue has made strange bedfellows of hunting purists and animal rights activists; and it implicates a core principle of our country's founding, namely, that private property rights are not subject to popularity contests.

Proponents of the measure claim the practice of raising, enclosing, then shooting trophy elk and deer offends the American notion of fair chase hunting. And they're right. As a recent Wall Street Journal article notes, the practice is offensive to many hunters who prefer to hunt free-ranging wildlife that have every opportunity to escape.

However, as the opposition to the ballot measure explains, the constitutional rights of private landowners trump the preferences of the voting public. Indeed, this priority of rights is what distinguishes our constitutional democracy from a socialist state.

As the election results come in, pay attention to the outcome of North Dakota's Ballot Measure 2. It will signal whether property rights remain more important than preferences.

Reed Watson is the executive director at PERC. He is also the Director of PERC's Enviropreneur Institute, an educational program and launchpad for environmental entrepreneurs. Watson’s research focuses on the implementation of market-based solutions to natural resource conflicts. With Terry Anderson and Brandon Scarborough, he coauthored Tapping...
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