Get on just about any forum on the internet that is liberty minded and chances are you will find someone talking about the Non Aggression Principle (NAP). This principle is generally considered the premise for libertarian and anarchist philosophy. The idea of the principle is so damn simple it amazes me when people have a hard time coming to grips with it. The idea is that physical violence and the threat of violence are only morally justifiable when done in self defense or the defense of someone else. Put another way, people should have the right to do whatever they want as long as it is not causing any harm to anyone else, this extends to topics such as gay marriage, owning firearms, carrying firearms, smoking weed etc. The beauty of the NAP is that people essentially live by this on a day to day basis despite the lack of a law requiring us to do so. Most people don't go around picking fights, trying to harm or steal from others, but then when someone does, we pretty much all agree that things like stealing, murder and rape are wrong.
Where the idea tends to get more complicated is when talking about the role of government and where or if the NAP is a part of that. In our current system, government is the law, and with laws come men and women with firearms ready to enforce those laws. Perhaps in internet travels readers will have seen memes stating that "Taxation is theft". The context of that meme is missing if the reader does not understand the Non Aggression Principle. So why is taxation theft? None of us have “volunteered” to pay taxes like income or property tax. People like to talk about the "social contract", but that is a nonexistent piece of paper that nobody ever gets to read and then sign. We are born into the system. So what if I don't support the things my tax dollars are funding? Endless wars, drone bombs, welfare, corporate welfare, the never ending unnecessary bullshit road construction projects in Ada County, Idaho.... What if I decide I don't want to fund these things anymore?
Try to not pay your taxes. Wages will be garnished. If you manage to float around that, eventually somebody with a gun will show up to enforce the law. Resist, and see where it goes from there… There is an underlying threat of physical violence through taxation. Some people are okay with this. Most people in the liberty movement are not. Perhaps theft is too strong a word, but extortion arguably is not.
I don't want to get into the details of what to do about general taxation. What I want to address is why I believe that hunting and fishing licenses and fees are not the same thing as general taxation and why the North American Model of conservation is not a violation of the NAP. For my libertarian/anarchist friends reading this, please take a moment and table your free market solutions to wildlife management.
Every now and then a libertarian facebook post or blog will mention the seemingly obvious absurdity of buying a fishing license in order to catch food that God put there in the first place. The problem with this thinking is that God didn’t simply put those fish in that stream or those elk in those mountains. We nearly wiped out many of the species that God provided; the North American Model of wildlife management is what ended up saving those species from extinction and bringing them back to be the sustainable renewable resources that they are today. Like it or not, that was done through the use of government agencies employing conservation officers, biologists, technicians, etc. All of these folks are paid through licensing and tag requirements, as well as through funding from programs like duck stamps and excise taxes on hunting products and fishing tackle. Unlike many other government programs, the government is actually providing a service and arguably a product in exchange for these fees and taxes. This service and product are aimed at a specific group of voluntary participants that make up roughly 5% of the population. The service, managing those wildlife so that the product, the species to hunt and fish, are still there. Animals are sometimes relocated, some of the fish even spend some of their lives in government managed hatcheries before being released by these agencies into the wild.
One thing often discussed among non-hunters is why anyone would hunt in today’s world when one can simply go to the store and purchase food. Why is this important to this conversation? Because while I prefer to get as much of my food from wild sources as possible, the fact remains that I do not HAVE to do this in order to provide for my family. There are cheaper easier ways to obtain quality protein. That makes this a voluntary activity, which means that I am volunteering to pay for the licenses. I am volunteering to pay the excise tax on my firearms and fishing tackle. Nobody is garnishing my wages if I don’t buy a hunting license or duck stamp. Nobody is threatening me with jail if I do not choose to obtain some of my family's food this way.
During Gary Johnson’s 2012 campaign for President as the Libertarian nominee, part of his platform was what is known as the Fair Tax. The Fair Tax is a nationwide sales tax on any new product, with the intention of ending the IRS and federal income taxes in general . What I liked about this plan, despite some of the arguments against it, is that it would be based on voluntary action, funding for the federal government, only if you want to buy something new. Our hunting and fishing licenses and fees are not very different from this plan which has been generally supported by a lot of Libertarians.
Another point worth mentioning here is that hunting and fishing regulations, licenses, etc. were self imposed by hunters and anglers in the early 1900s, a voluntary action in order to bolster the extremely depleted wildlife populations. Organizations such as the Boone and Crocket club played a large role in getting hunters on board. So one could argue that even the establishment of hunting and fishing licenses in general had its roots in voluntaryism from the beginning.
Lastly, if someone breaks into your house in order to steal your shit, or hurt you, morally you would be justified in the use of force per the NAP, and I would be justified as your neighbor to defend you and/or your property with the use of force. The unfortunate reality is that with nearly 8 billion people on the planet, it wouldn’t take much for the people of today to rob the people of tomorrow of wildlife and natural resources. As such, I am completely fine even as a libertarian with Game Wardens carrying guns and enforcing laws that will help ensure that my grand children can hunt and fish for some of their food as well.