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.

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