Friday, October 29, 2010

Annotation: Opportunity Costs Related to Feral Horses: A Wyoming Case Study

Bastian, Chris T., Larry W. Van Tussell, Anne C. Cotton, Michael A. Smith. (1999). Opportunity Costs Related to Feral Horses: A Wyoming Case Study. Journal of Range Management, 52(2). 104-112.

Bastian, Van Tussell, Cotton, & Smith's paper addressed the issue of opportunity costs of foregone wildlife and grazing due to high populations of wild horses as proposed by W.F. Hyde in his 1978 paper: Wild horses and the allocation of public resources.  The authors conducted a study in Wyoming in the Whiskey Peak allotment complex in the Green Mountain Wild Horse Herd Area where the primary recreational use is hunting.  Many important habitats like the Green Mountain complex have high densities of wild horses because of rapid population growth and removal constraints (judicial actions brought on by animal rights’ activists).  Since the Public Range Improvement Act in 1978, research has been conducted on forage allocation between wild horses, big game species, and cattle. However, there is very little economic research on feral horses.  The authors hoped that this study would stimulate further research of wild horses along the lines of allocation of public rangelands.
With the Green Mountain complex being the best area in central Wyoming for hunting mule deer, elk, and antelope, Bastian found their forage amounts, as well as the forage amounts for cattle in order to calculate foregone opportunities if there were more horses.  Between 700 and 900 antelope, 300 and 830 mule deer, and a minimum of 300 elk were assumed for this analysis to be able to graze the forage.  AUMs for domestic cattle were specified between 4000 and 8427. These, along with a 50% or less utilization of forage, were the constraints to estimate the tradeoffs between wild horses, big game, and cattle.
            Opportunity costs were defined in this study as the foregone net benefits of reduced wildlife and livestock numbers associated with the benefits of wildlife hunting and livestock grazing as wild horse numbers increased.
            Five scenarios were estimated: no horses, 128 head (minimum), 184 head (median), 196 head, and 241 head (maximum).  The authors' results found that there was an increasing opportunity cost for foregone wildlife and livestock grazing as horse populations reached maximum. The increased number of horses had greater impact on wildlife than on cattle due to the assumptions Bastian et al made about the grazing season.  The assumption that was made that cattle were out grazing three summer months and one fall month.
            The authors argued that animals forced off the allotment for forage because of increased horse numbers might provide an externality for private land owners. Maximum horse numbers also put the range at high risk for deterioration. Finally, high horse numbers comes at the expense of the native wildlife in the complex, and also the forage productivity.

Thursday, October 14, 2010


In talking to another graduate student today, I was told that I was a rational human being.  We were discussing the amounts of some animals that have no where to go.  In my interest of wild horses, they cannot all stay out on the rangeland.   They must be rounded up.  But what's to do with them?  Long-term holding pens?  Sanctuaries?  Horse rescue associations?  Yes, some can be adopted, and sold.  But for those not under government care, slaughter is also an option.  Not all horses can be saved, and unless someone steps to the plate to take care of these horses, there has to be an alternative.  In an article regarding the Pacific Northwest tribal horses, they spoke of the free-roaming herds as livestock, and sometimes with livestock you have to cull some to trim the herd.  Looking at it rationally, I should think that is a viable option for the horses that must be removed, but cannot be placed in a home, or rescue.

I used to believe that the mustang of the American West was a truly wild, magnificent, perfect creature. I believed that rounding them up was unnecessary. Why not let nature kill off the weak, sick, dumb? When they ran out of food or water, they would die. The strongest would survive, and the herd would go on. It was my idea of nature's perfect system of checks and balances.

That was six years ago.

During my undergraduate studies, I wrote paper after paper about wild horse management. Slowly, one by one, they took on a more rational view of the wild horse on our public rangelands. I left my emotions behind, opened my eyes to more than the wild horse, and enveloped the entire scope of things. Rangeland degradation, overgrazing, cattle, salmon, pronghorn, elk, big horn sheep. I took a step back and saw the impacts that wild horses can have all the way down to the fish that live in streams.  They share the landscape with a variety of flora and fauna, humans included.

My knowledge continues to grow with every article and book that I read. Though I read the newspaper articles, they are too skewed one way or the other for my taste. I take little from them.  Recently, however, I did read in an opinion piece that the American wild horse is managed by emotions, not science. Since reading that, I personally try to quiet my love for horses so that I can see them and understand their impacts  rationally. It will do them better in the long run.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Wild Horses Escape a Roundup


Wild horses, feral horses, mustangs are viewed as pests, legends, symbols of American freedom, and the old west. They were brought here by the Spanish in the 15th century, left to fend for themselves. In a short time, they effectively repopulated the North Americas. Few of these Spanish descendents remain in isolated herds on public rangelands – the Kigers in Oregon, the Pyors in Montana, and the Sulpher herd in Utah. Most wild horses on today's rangelands, however, are descendents of ranch horses – they are draft horses and cow ponies turned loose or escaped. Wild horses may have been North American residents for a few hundred years, but in the time scheme of ecosystem adaptions, they are anything but native and must be actively managed to protect the stability of rangelands.

Though, 14,000 years ago, they were native. It is believed that a mixture of excessive hunting and climate change contributed to their extinction. And now they've returned in much larger form than their predecessors. No longer do they live peaceably on the landscape, within the ecosystem. The land evolved without them so it can no longer sustain their high numbers. Their large hooves compact the soil. Their upper incisor teeth allow them to graze the grasses until there's nothing left. Their grazing patterns, because of an inefficient digestive system, means that they eat a lot more than other ungulates. All these impacts are new to the landscape and it struggles to thrive under their ever growing populations. With few predators – cougars, wolves, bears – their population grows at as much as twenty percent each year. What natural kills do occur is not enough to naturally manage these creatures.

In order to maintain a balance between these introduced species, the native flora and fauna, and other uses of the rangelands, wild horses must be managed. My goal for the next two years is to learn, first hand, what impacts these creatures have on the landscape, what can be done to prevent further degradation, and repair overused areas. I do not do it to argue that they do not belong. I do not do it to argue that cattle have more right to the landscape than wild horses, for they do as much damage. I do it because I want to see these horses remain. Even though they are not native species, they are a piece of American history.

I want to help manage them to coexist on the landscape with native flora and fauna, cattle, and human uses.