Many Montana landowners trying to lock out public hunting, while private hunting continues.
I like this editorial in the Great Falls Tribune, namely that if you post your land “no hunting,” that should mean no hunting, period. It should not mean “no hunting for the general public, but hunting for those who pay the landowner.
Landowners absolutely do not own the wildlife that live on or cross their land.
“No hunting” should mean no hunting. Editorial. Great Falls Tribune.
Dr. Ralph Maughan is professor emeritus of political science at Idaho State University. He was a Western Watersheds Project Board Member off and on for many years, and was also its President for several years. For a long time he produced Ralph Maughan's Wolf Report. He was a founder of the Greater Yellowstone Coalition. He and Jackie Johnson Maughan wrote three editions of "Hiking Idaho." He also wrote "Beyond the Tetons" and "Backpacking Wyoming's Teton and Washakie Wilderness." He created and is the administrator of The Wildlife News.
27 Responses to Many Montana landowners trying to lock out public hunting, while private hunting continues.
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My own recommendation on this matter is to charge landowners who take public wildlife commercially on their private land should be charged a hefty royalty on each license “sold” to a client.
Slowly the ways of the rest of the nation are creeping in on us,We will be just like Texas or California within a few decade if something isnt done.
One of the rights of private land ownership is the right to hunt “public” wildlife on that land. No landowner should have to pay for that right, or have that right infringed upon.
Any landowner should have the right to hunt on their private land, or be able to sell that right to others if they choose to do so.
Robert says that a landowner should now be charged a hefty “royalty” if they sell their right to hunt on their own private land to private hunters.
That’s a complete reversal of a landowner’s rights, and I am sure those rights extend far back into U.S. history. The “royalties” idea is ridiculous, and I would wager good money it would violate private property rights and be over-turned in court, anyway.
So, time to change the U.S. constitution so a landowner is forced to allow the public to hunt on their land, if the owner permits any hunting at all?
It is altogether too common of an occurrence that the public abuses the land they are hunting on, by littering and scattering trash, altering the property to suit their hunting, or whatever.
I couldn’t disagree more vociferously with Robert or Ralph on this issue.
This isn’t a wildlife issue, as much as you wish it was. It is a private property issue. A landowner has control over the hunting on their property, as they always have, and as they always should.
If they want the public out, then the public stays out. The public has no right to access my land to get at ‘public’ wildlife on it. None.
And they never will, either. You people are recommending major changes to existing law to weaken land ownership rights.
And for what? To give the public the right to what I own legally and have paid for?
What is it with you Yanks?
Private property is just that . . . PRIVATE
It entails who can do anything legal on their land. They can hunt, they can allow who ever they like to hunt. They can sell the right to hunt.
Also, if the land owner does not have a license to hunt then he/she cannot hunt “public” wildlife, even on their own property.
The Licence gives the holder the right to hunt . . . the land owner gives the right where to hunt.
Thank your comments from Austrilia, but it isn’t true that in the United Staes that “Private property is just that . . . PRIVATE.”
I doubt it is really true in Australia either. Private property is in fact a bundle of rights and obligations, that can be sold, given away, or kept, individually or all at once.
In the United States, a landowner does not own the animals on his land unless they are kept in an enclosure of some kind, such behind a fence. You might search out Robert Hoskins fine essay on this blog about the ownership of wildlife in the United States, private property, and public trust.
No one is disputing the fact that the landowner doesn’t own the wildlife. Of course they do not ‘own’ wildlife. Who has argued that?
The fact is that the landowner owns the right to HUNT wildlife on his property, in accordance with the established hunting laws. The landowner also possesses the right to exclude the public from their land, and has the right to sell those hunting rights if they wish.
That means private property IS private. Are you saying that you have the right to trespass on my land whenever you wish? That is completely false. We all know that. In fact, the U.S. has powerful rights associated with private land ownership, as well it should. You require a valid and legal reason to access my land without my permission.
If a landowner wants to restrict public hunting on their private land, that is their established legal right under private property laws.
And I hope it will always be thus. I am very alarmed at the suggestions in this thread that seem to be attempts to undermine and diminish private property rights.
I support all private property rights, and like many of my fellow Americans, comprehend how our private property rights have greatly contributed to the greatness of our country.
It’s a shame that many others on here seem believe the opposite, that these rights are capricious and without value.
So since MDOL goes onto public land to slaughter public wildlife/bison what if any implications could be made.? There has to be some angle or loophole somewhere to nail them once and for all.
There is obviously no right to trespass. I know that well having spent plenty to keep them off my property with more than one direct confrontation.
However, the article I posted said that “no hunting” should mean “no hunting of wildlife except by the landowner and their family.” There should not be a $10 access fee for the poor hunting ground and a $200 access fee where the big bulls hang out, especially if the landowner is getting some kind of public money for habitat improvement. The reason is that the landowner is then in effect pocketing public property due to favorable location and public investment is the property.
I was going to refer Smoky Mtn Man to my essay “The Curious Legal History of the Original Outlaws,” but you beat me to it. I was working other issues.
One may read the essay at:
For Chris M:
Australia and New Zealand, not to mention South Africa, more reflect the strict English perspective on private rights to hunting than is the case here. In the United States, and to a certain extent in Canada, the Public Trust reserves rights to wildlife to the commons, with private rights limited to usufructary use as defined by law.
Contrary to popular belief, as expressed by Smoky Mtn Man, in the United States a private landowner does NOT own the right to hunt on his property; hunting, known as right of venery in the medieval English common law, is a revocable privilege granted by the sovereign, which here is the people.
That’s the jurisprudence of Anglo-American wildlife law. I realize you folks down under have taken a different approach on this issue. But that’s how we do it here–at least, so far. There is tremendous political pressure from would be neo-feudal lords to do away with the Public Trust in wildlife, and it is precisely this threat to the Public trust that the above reported initiatives in Montana are designed to meet.
I must clarify my statement about hunting on one’s own property because of what Robert Hoskins wrote.
You can’t hunt wildlife on your own property except during and according to the rules set by the state.
I want to reiterate: the right to hunt is not one of the sticks in the stick-bundle of property rights. When you let someone come on your property to hunt, what you are granting is the right to trespass, not the right to hunt. That person better have a license, a grant to hunt by the sovereign, or both the property owner and the hunter have broken the law. If you are hunting your own property, you’d better have a license too.
RH and RM-
I will try not to go on too long here as I could wave my virtual arms about this topic for hours…
You are correct to differentiate between the right of access and hunting privileges granted by the state. I would also agree with you that private landowners, by virtue of having “first pick” in the 19th century, do have some built-in advantages with regard to wildlife access. Beyond that, I’m with Smoky all the way.
Probably the most important thing that needs to be written here is that these trends towards more pay-to-access hunting, increasingly powerful outfitters, and increasing game damage payments can be traced directly to the poor management of public lands and the way FG departments structure hunting seasons. If the hunt/fish quality were the same on public as private, the legs would go right out from under these guys trying to lease land for hunting/fishing. There are lots of reasons why it isn’t – ATV’s, weeds, too many hunters/anglers, drought, private land development squeezing ranges, poor age-class distribution, stocking programs, summer disturbance from hikers/bikers, etc.
I firmly believe that if public land/wildlife agencies started managing for biology and hunt quality rather than the maximum number of critters for the maximum number of guns, this privatization trend would diminish. Same goes for fishing – back in the 70’s there weren’t 200 driftboats per day on the river, so a quality fishing experience could be had in lots of places.
I have been a public land hunter and angler all my life, but over the last 15 years I’ve spent considerable personal and professional time working on private land restoration projects that involved habitat improvements for wildlife. Here’s one example (my own) of a landowner doing things for wildlife in MT:
1) stream restoration (going rate is at least $250k/mile)
2) noxious weed removal (10k to 30k $$ annually)
3) rerouting and removing roads away from streams and native rangelands
4) removing livestock from native areas, dropping livestock #’s, and instituting carefully managed rotation system
5) changing diversion points on streams to allow for greater cfs over longer portion of stream ($400 hr lawyers)
6) rebuilding ditches/headgates to more efficiently move water and allow more to remain instream.
7) remove fencing in certain areas, refence area with friendly fences.
This is only part of the list, but you get the idea. None of this was done with any public funding. Within three years of inception, we had elk, moose and deer calving on the place, and more birds (of all kinds) than you can count. It was my privilege one day to watch up-close an aerial dogfight between a pair of bald eagles and a pair of redtail hawks over a nesting site (the eagles won as I later found the hawk carcass below the nest…) These are the kinds of things that can be accomplished on private land.
When I asked to be part of the public access hunting programs in exchange for landowner family tags (at full price and not for resale), MTFWP stated “because you’re a non-resident and don’t pay taxes here, you’re ineligible” Aside from the fact that this is untrue (the tax part), it shows how much FWP is weighted against the landowners. We subsidize their game programs on the higher-elevation public land in exchange for nothing. To twist the knife a little more, note that outfitters get guaranteed tags to give to paying clients, while the rest of us have to go through the nonresident draw.
Take a look at the history of the Madison Valley Wildlife Group that has met for the last several years. To my way of thinking, FWP, most of the hunting/fishing groups, and the public go around with their hand out asking for private land access without doing a darn thing to improve public land recreation opportunity. Start managing for realistic sex ratios, stringent ORV rules, seasons that don’t run during mating season, fewer guys in orange, restrictive winter range rules and on and on…then come talk to me.
All you folks sound like the private land owner has all the advantages and none of the grief. Private land habitat is still what keeps most of our wildlife alive. That land owner has to sacrifice grazing potential, fences, water, hay stacks, and crop damage when he has large mammals on his/her land. I am not a rancher, but it seems to me that once we take away all the grazing leases, eliminate the revenue potential of private land hunting permits, and otherwise convince every rancher’s heir to sell out when the old folks die then you can have fun watching black labs run around 5 acre ranchettes instead of seeing the elk come down in the fall for winter grounds. Its a big interrelated system out there folks, nothing is all bad or all good, and everything has unintended consequences. Thats is why conservation groups are raising millions of dollars to buy conservation easements on private land…to keep the wildlife wild and alive…
I remember an incident here in Idaho where a landowner, who charged a very large fee (something like $10,000) to hunt on his property, complained that elk were destroying his crops. Essentially, during the hunting season, the elk stayed on his property because of the near total lack of hunting and ate his crops. Because he “allowed” hunting the IDFG was required to respond or give him crop damage compensation. IDFG’s response was to set a capture facility and chase the elk into it with a helicopter. It was a disaster, there were far more elk than they estimated and when they ran into the facility there wasn’t enough room for them so they trampled each other to death.
Who was the responsible party? IDFG or the landowner? I say the landowner holds a big responsibility while the IDFG should take some but a lesser responsibility.
I think this incident occurred in 2001 or 2002 near Cambridge, Idaho.
Read my essay on Aldo Leopold, Outstretched Palms, on New West at :
especially the footnotes, and then come back and tell me about all the great things that the majority of private land owners are doing for public wildlife.
I find that all too often it is the influence of landowners and commercial big game outfitters over big game management that creates the adverse impacts in big game populations that you mention above. I see it here in the Upper Wind River Valley of Wyoming with elk, for example, where outfitters have taken over the years excessive numbers of mature bulls to the point that we are bringing in very few good six points and taking excessive numbers of five points. The outfitters refuse to engage in sustainable take and the Wyoming G&F Department–for reasons due to political pressure from both landowners, who demand fewer elk, and outfitters, who demand more licenses for short term financial return–refuses to change the General license season to a Limited Quota season, as I have been advocating for years.
While it may be true a devoted landowner in the vein of Aldo Leopold himself can make the changes you refer to above, I’ve not seen much of it, and believe me, even if you don’t want to, I’ve looked. When it does happen, it almost always is for profitable ranch hunting programs, and, I notice, that such landowners are no more respectful of predators than are traditional ranchers. In essence, what I’m seeing is game ranching, which has a number of ecological, political, economic, and social ills that I’m sure you’re aware of.
Thanks for the heads-up on the article Robert. I really enjoyed it, and I’m hoping to reread it a few more times. In reading your post here, it seems we are in agreement on quotas, on the negatives of outfitting (personally I find that outfitting misses the whole point of being in the woods to begin with), on the need for cultural considerations to be given a greater role (Paul Shepard anyone?) and the lack of political will in FG departments to “manage for biology” as I put it earlier.
Your article discusses the failure of incentives, which wasn’t the thrust of my argument. My point is that FG departments (along with most hunt/fish groups pushing these initiatives) are wholly focused on access to private lands as a solution for lousy hunting due to poor public land/wildlife management. In my time as a professional conservationist, it was very rare to see public range/waterways in better condition than private lands. No wonder all the critters are there. Improved public land/wildlife management will balance that out some. Although I will grant you that no native habitat restoration is going to compete with alfalfa…
We don’t shoot preds on our place and neither do any of our neighbors. Having been brought up with the idea of taking care of where we hunt, fish and camp, I wholeheartedly agree with Leopold (and you I gather) that ultimately it’s a cultural and ethical choice to restore land. That doesn’t mean, however, that I don’t see value in allowing a landowner to charge $10k for hunting access, provided there’s some component of regular public access too. My wife has had great hunts on private lands for nothing more than the price of the tag. We’ve seen big 6×6’s and mule deer bucks so fat they look like Labradors. Lion sign everywhere. So what if I don’t get to hunt ’em? At least they are out there and we can see them while hunting.
I would also return to your original comment about royalties – what would you consider all the $$ we’ve spent on habitat work to be, given that there’s more elk uphill than there otherwise would be? They aren’t on our place during the fall that’s for sure.
I agree that private property belongs to the owner. I also agree that they pay a lot to maintain their land-usually. But the land that hosts a lot of game species is sometimes selected for purchase for that reason, and sometimes given government subsidies too.
This is not just an agrument about private property rights, I’d say, it is also about right and wrong.
We could all argue that the first anglo settlers came here to be able to have , among other things, rights to private property. But that was a different day gents. People helped each other, and there were vast open spaces, abundant wildlife, and a heck of a lot fewer folks to use it.
At some point we need to acknowledge the rights of the public too.
Yes, you can own property, but the ability to do so comes with a social and moral obligation to the society which makes that possible.
If each man did what was entirely in his own best interest, which is increasingly common, you can expect what we have here… a division of the people.
I will grant you all that your land is your land, but the country it is in is OURS-meaning the collective public. You could not have ownership of that land if the public didn’t provide you an army to protect it and the democracy to own it in. And, unless you lived just like RH- you are indebted to the public and to the industries which provide you the mowers that keep it mowed, the electricity you light your home with, and the fire fighters you would expect to help save it if it burned.
The animals hunted on private property should be managed under the same laws as those on public lands. They should hold the same tag/license fee as those elsewhere. If the land owner wants to sell their range tags, fine, but make a legal across the board fee that can be charged per hunter.
Have an economic/ecological survey done that pin points the legitimate charges incurred to allow individuals access to the property. Give the owner a portion of the sale of the license, the compensation for the use…but require a contract that mandates use of funds toward conserving/restoring the habitat used by public hunters. Let part of that contract state that any person misusing the land when hunting will permanently have their licenses revoked, and pay hefty fines to compensate owners or damages.
Otherwise, what you do is grant the land owner the right to dominate and then profit off of the use of public property(the game)…which is EXACTLY what cattlemen who graze public lands do. That always falls at the expense of the public.
Now, what if a man who owns, say 1000 acres, has a massive herd of elk that feeds in his valley every winter… and he now gets to charge for the hunts there, at will, and without any limitations…if I am that landowner, and I have the greed that seems to prevail in this idea, I am going to find a way to fence that public herd in, trap them into that area, and then charge away. Big no-no. So there most definitely is the issue of how many animals can be harvested, private land or not. There is the issue of how the game is maintained and the access the game has to come and go unmolested.
Also, the argument contradicts itself, as stated above, in that all sorts of ranchers use public land to graze, and they don’t -not ever-pay to compensate the public for the damage they do. SO this is a hugely hypocritical expectation.
Now, if we kicked all the cattle and sheep off of public lands, then I’d vote to give the private guys a larger stipend for use of their land to hunt, so long as it guaranteed that they properly maintained the habitat necessary and left the game unmolested. I’d also push to have more lands declared conservation areas.
I know there is a huge movement toward companies like Cabelas buying land to use for oraganized hunts. I also know that many land owners lure game in by planting crops designed to tempt the game, and then fatten the game up. But that could, if not properly governed, become a canned hunt scenario pretty quickly.
No real sport can be found in that.
No matter what though, I firmly believe that hunting publicly owned game should take place in proponderance, on publicly owned land.
Don’t forget too, those range tags are issue to land owners so that they can limit the damage to their crops/grazing areas. The tags are issues in accordance to the area involved and damage expected that the owner will incurr due to the game that roams there. They were issued in design to help the land owner to limit losses…not to let him make a profit off of public game.
Ralph said: “Well SmokyMtMan,
I must clarify my statement about hunting on one’s own property because of what Robert Hoskins wrote.
You can’t hunt wildlife on your own property except during and according to the rules set by the state.”
I know that, Ralph, that is why I wrote this in one of my posts above yours: “The fact is that the landowner owns the right to HUNT wildlife on his property, in accordance with the established hunting laws.”
Robert, thanks for posting your essay. I hope to find time to read it a little later this afternoon. I am always receptive to new information and ideas.
TPageCO, thanks for your input, I am happy to read your opinions.
Vicki, you make some excellent points, thanks for contributing them.
I am a firm advocate of exercising extreme reluctance to alter pre-existing rights or privileges in regard to private property rights (or any rights, for that matter). The reason is too often that impetus to alter the right in question is based upon a fallacious premise.
I don’t think the private landowner should pay the price for the decrease in quality of public lands hunting, the reduction of game herds by disease or habitat loss, or the loss of game habitat due to energy development, the loss of public land access, etc.
If hunting is suffering, then treat the problem, don’t try to open my land up to public hunting to solve a problem that originated elsewhere.
I’ve been on dozens of high-quality wildlife properties over the years and I have never seen any landowner lure game in, close off fences and charge for access. I’m not saying it couldn’t happen, but it’s not at all common, in my experience.
Lots of property owners (myself included) do not have public land grazing leases. The cows on our ground eat on private land all year round. The elk, moose, deer and others move freely in and out – most of the year our elk numbers are low – so we are definitely “subsidizing” public hunting rather than the other way round.
You might want to check out Robert’s Aldo Leopold article he linked in his above post. It’s got very useful and thorough commentary on financial incentives. Personally, I don’t think landowners should have any involvement in the selling of tags, or any ability to share in tag profits as you suggest. They should, however, have the ability to charge for access to lands that they have restored/conserved for the benefit of all species. As for licenses, I’ve only asked for equal distribution of tags among all hunters – nonresidents, do-it-yourselfers, guided incompetents, and locals. I also have no problem with allowing the public to hunt our place (with certain guidelines regarding vehicles, weapon ability, etc) provided I get a tag to hunt too. This is not currently the case in Montana.
Again though, the core issue is that public land hunting has been on the decline for the last few decades for reasons noted earlier. Without this decline, the demand for private hunting and fishing would be much much less. Politicians, FG agencies and the federal agencies are not interested in managing for high quality hunting/fishing on the public ground – they want to maximize the money coming in. They have willing partners in the outfitting business who want this to happen too.
I see what you are saying about licenses. My point was more that the landowners should be compensated fairly and not let that compensation be governed by greed.
Wether or not the land owners get money from selling their range tags-which I personally know for a fact they do at a very inflated price sometimes-or they get funds from the government for the access of their land… it should be a regulated amount.
You may not lure animals in, thanks, but I have seen it done. I have seen bears being baited, and I read magazines constantly showing how to landscape your land in a way that will lure in deer and fatten them up.
I can also tell you that I just got home from an area (North Park) where there is a rancher who has guarantedd my family members a trophy buck and bull. He has a large pasture that he clears during hunting season and then fills with alfalfa (sp?), it borders an area of the national forest where I often see elk and deer. If he doesn’t have cattle in the pasture then, why else is he placing out alfalfa.
I am sadly aware that hunting on public land has declined, but I’d say part of that is due to cattle invasively feeding in some of the area.
I agree with your statements about the government and high quality management. Perhaps some high quality hunting would be more readily available if the private landowners had a regulated monetary reason to maintain theirs? I don’t know for sure. But I do know that if you let them charge whatever they want, and what you say about a decline of huntable public lands, the soo the average working citizen will not be able to afford to hunt. You’ll see a bunch of Hemingway upper income debutants hunting, and little to no one else.
I am glad to know you’d let responsible and respectful folks hunt on your place. You are very gracious. I may look you up when I put in for tags..;) Seriously, there should be more people like you, then maybe land woners wouldn’t get such a bad rap.
Man, this is one of the craziest things I’ve ever heard of. I own my property and if you do not have written permission by me to be on my property I have the right to through you to jail! Or shoot you if I feel threatened. No I do not own the wildlife on my property; I do however, own the property they are on at this time, the wildlife does not need permission, but you as a human being do!!! I do not have to have a hunting license to hunt wildlife on my property. This is how we do things in Mississippi! Yes, you can call us backwards all you want; but step foot an my property without permission and see what happens!!!!
You know, every state is a bit different in the way people think about things like this.
Montana isn’t Mississippi and the reverse is true too.
in england all game is owned by the land owner who has the right to sell the shooting rights if they choose to.also even though the sporting rights have been let,the land owner can authorise any one to shoot vermin on their property for crop protection
“My own recommendation on this matter is to charge landowners who take public wildlife commercially on their private land should be charged a hefty royalty on each license “sold” to a client.”
He already is,, its called an INCOME TAX… how much more can we stand to tax property owners. Apparently the feeling is that there should be no private ownership, that we should just be able to wander aimlessly.
Our private property rights are what separate us from many countries and to pursue the use of that property as we see fit, there is no moral obligation to do anything. if you own it, you pay property taxes for it, and income taxes on it if it generates income, and operate it within laws and now you want to charge a wildlife tax!!!! Gosh damn people,, how much more tax can a society stand, unless of course you dont work and get your checks for free,, just a short list of taxes we are subject to now!!!
Accounts Receivable Tax
Building Permit Tax
CDL license Tax
Corporate Income Tax
Dog License Tax
Federal Income Tax
Federal Unemployment Tax (FUTA)
Fishing License Tax
Food License Tax
Fuel Permit Tax
Gasoline Tax (42 cents per gallon)
Gross Receipts Tax
Hunting License Tax
IRS Interest Charges IRS Penalties (tax on top of tax)
Marriage License Tax
Personal Property Tax
Real Estate Tax
Recreational Vehicle Tax
Service Charge Tax
Road Usage Tax
Social Security Ta x
State Income Tax
State Unemployment Tax (SUTA)
Telephone Federal Excise Tax
Telephone Federal Universal Service Fee Tax
Telephone Federal, State and Local Surcharge Taxes
Telephone Minimum Usage Surcharge Tax
Telephone Recurring and Non-recurring Charges
Telephone State and Local Tax
Telephone Usage Charge Tax
Vehicle License Registration Tax
Vehicle Sales Tax
Watercraft Registration Tax
Well Permit Tax
Workers Compensation Tax
Do we really need another tax!!!
Our tax burden when compared to other industrialized nations: http://www.urban.org/UploadedPDF/1000976_Tax_Fact_05-08-06.pdf
I’ts not about how many taxes you pay, it’s about the overall tax burden.
I agree, JB. The total tax take in the United States is relatively low. I wish more people understood that.
I wish we had more taxes to discourage “bad behavior” rather than prohibit it because prohibition is much more expensive. Illegal drugs are a classic example.
As an aside, it seems like my taxes (in total) are going down anyway. Maybe my situation does warp my perspective.