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This Article develops a comparative institutions approach to wildlife governance by examining the property rights to the habitat and the stocks of wild populations. The approach is based on the transaction cost and property rights approach and lies primarily in the traditions of Coase, Barzel, Ostrom, and Williamson. The approach recognizes the often-extreme costs of delineation and enforcement of property rights to wild populations and their habitats; thus, all systems are notably imperfect compared to the typical neoclassical economics approach. These costs arise because wildlife habitat and wildlife populations are part of the land which has many attributes and uses—most notably, residential and agricultural uses. In turn, the optimal ownership sizes (and shapes) vary across land uses (e.g., farming, urban, ranching, wildlife, parks). The organizations that govern wildlife tend to be ridden with transaction costs and imperfect property rights, and the most efficient system is one that maximizes the total value of the package less the enforcement and administrative costs. This Article develops a framework for considering different governance regimes for both the wild stocks and the habitats they require. A series of cases—focused especially on bison and caribou—show the range of governance regimes that have been used and how those governance regimes depend on history and on law.



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