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Market Solutions Come for Elk Population Management

It is easy to talk about market-based solutions for many environmental issues. Renewable energy, carbon removal, green funding, and more clearly highlight innovation’s power. But managing animal populations can be a bit more tricky. Now, thanks to an innovative new tool, the power of the market is coming for elk population management. 

>>>READ: PERC Report Finds Pathway to Peace Between Eagles and Wind Turbines

The Property and Environment Research Center (PERC) has launched the Paradise Valley Brucellosis Compensation Fund. This new tool is designed to support ranchers in Montana’s Paradise Valley who own prime elk habitat. But to understand why this tool is so essential, one must know a little about brucellosis (also known as contagious abortion or Bang’s disease), which used to plague animals across the nation but is now concentrated in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem.

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Brucellosis is prevalent in elk and bison. When elk mix in the same space as cattle, there is a higher risk of passing this disease from the wild animal to the raised animal. The impact can be devastating. The disease can make cattle spontaneously abort their unborn calves, and requires expensive and lengthy quarantining procedures. Such a situation is stressful for ranchers and may spell out their financial ruin. 

The most simple solution would be to prohibit commingling. But in the American West, that decision has environmental consequences. Thousands of elk come to graze on the ranchlands in Montana’s Paradise Valley every year and may spend roughly 80 percent of their winters on privately owned property. The elk need this land, but the potential financial risk for ranchers may make the property owners less willing to let them stay. 

That’s where the Paradise Valley Brucellosis Compensation Fund comes in. The fund is designed to be a three-year pilot program built from a partnership between PERC and a coalition of conservation and ranching partners. Money from the fund is available to any of the cattle ranchers in Paradise Valley, Montana, who have quarantine-related costs following an outbreak of brucellosis. 

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The fund covers 50 to 75 percent of quarantine-related costs to encourage ranchers to still remain proactive in disease prevention. Hay costs can also be covered up to 75 percent of the estimated loss, and the maximum payout of the initial fund size is 50 percent for any single quarantine event. If the pilot is successful, there is some discussion of expanding the size and scope of funding. 

“There is a significant opportunity for conservationists to privately fund and protect open space that migrating elk depend on in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem,” said PERC CEO Brian Yablonski. “If these ranches were to be carved up and developed, it would be devastating for elk herds and everyone who loves them. The Brucellosis Compensation Fund is a creative market solution that allows conservationists to help reduce a major source of concern for the private stewards of elk habitat.”

With innovative solutions, elk populations and Montana’s ranchers may be able to happily coexist. And, it is happening without heavy-handed government regulation. That is the power of the free market at work.

Kelvey Vander Hart is a native Iowan, a member of the American Conservation Coalition, and a communications specialist at Reason Foundation.

The views and opinions expressed are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of C3.

Copyright © 2020 Conservative Coalition for Climate Solutions

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