From colonial times until the mid-twentieth century, governments paid bounties to extirpate wolves, mountain lions, and other ecologically important wild animals. Clearing the wild was a sustained legislative project. I argue that these bounty statutes have implications for the history and theory of property. The statutes, in their intent and effect, selected among land uses. For more than three centuries, they encouraged livestock. By removing wild animals, the statutes made raising livestock a more cost-effective use of land than it otherwise would have been for landowners. And by removing ecologically important species, they changed the character of land in ways that diminished the value of wilder uses.
The statutes also had a deeper consequence, encouraging private property in land. Predation on livestock is the kind of “large event” that, on an influential theory, makes collectively owned land valuable. By acting to remove the threat of wild animal predation, public law weighted the scale toward privately owned, fee-simple land regimes. This discovery raises questions for a popular normative justification for private property in land.
The Article finally seeks to develop ideas for why animal eradication was such a pronounced public policy. The phenomenon suggests the influence of cultural preferences on property regimes.
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