A piece in the Daily Standard yesterday critiques moves to transfer management authority for national widlife refuges to Indian tribes. This may or may not be a bad idea — I don’t know — but the article ends with a highly questionable bottom line: “If national parks, refuges, and, most important, their wildlife are to flourish, they need to be subject to an overarching and consistent national system of management, not the whims of numerous independent tribes.” The history of federal land and wildlife management shows just the opposite.
National Parks are consistently underfunded, subject to maintenance backlogs and mismanaged resources. National Forests lose money on timber sales while creating tinder boxes that ignite nearly every summer. Yet while federal lands suffer, state and private lands thrive, despite the fact that they governed independently, rather than by “an overarching and consistent” national plan. Indeed, because of that fact local managers can respond to local conditions — a key component to effective ecological management. There is one last irony in the piece, which focuses on a bison refuge. Most, if not all, of the bison on federal lands today are descended from private herds — herds created on independent whims at a time when the federal government was indifferent, if not hostile, the bison’s survival. Federal “management” helped bring bison to the verge of extinction; it was independent conservationists that saved bison from the brink.