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United States Department of Agriculture

Agricultural Research Service

Research Project: Economics of Annual Grass Invasion

Location: Range and Meadow Forage Management Research

2011 Annual Report

1a.Objectives (from AD-416)
To conduct an economic analysis of efforts to reduce the risk of invasive annual grasses on selected Great Basin watersheds.

1b.Approach (from AD-416)
Watershed management strategies are assessed according to the expected value of their long-term outcomes relative to the cost of implementation. The types of outcomes we will investigate include changes in the costs of fire suppression, changes in flows of values from ecological goods and services,and changes in productivity for livestock and wildlife, as these affect human populations today and in the future. The expected outcome from a decision to "do nothing" for a given watershed is taken as a baseline. Expected outcomes from treatment alternatives, as those outcomes are expected to unfold over time, are described as differences from that baseline. In order to predict how benefits and costs would unfold over time, team ecologists will be consulted for their expertise in interpreting the expected ranges of ecological outcomes from management strategies modeled for predicting outcomes of the ecologically-based invasive plant management (EBIPM). Methods and data collection will focus on the expected differences from the baselines induced by management decisions. Differences that can be shown to induce a corresponding change in social welfare are identified as candidates for inclusion in the economic analysis. While these will likely vary by watershed and demonstration site, general methods will be developed for replication at any site in the Great Basin. Some ecological differences may not affect social and economic values directly. But if any indirect effects are significant, these will be indicated as values to measure and include in the economic analysis. Changes in values that are identified to be included in analysis must be quantified. Methods for quantifying these changes will depend in part on the nature of these values. For changes that can be measured as market-valued changes in expenditures, or revenues, standard economic approaches can be used that rely on data collection and econometric modeling. For changes that are not easily valued with market data (such as the value of a loss of 200 big game hunting days per years, or the value of losing habitat that would result in half as many sagegrouse in the watershed), non-market valuation methods will be used. Ultimately, the value of a management strategy will be expressed as the expected value of these measured differences in values from the baselines. An optimal management strategy is defined as one that achieves the highest present valued expected net benefits to society.

3.Progress Report

Ranch-Level Dynamic-Programming Model. A dynamic model of ranching behavior has been developed that captures how a rancher’s decision-making concerning herd size and land treatments is influenced by current economic and ecological conditions as well as by their expectation of future economic and ecological conditions. A journal article has been submitted for publication that examines how the presence of stochastic wildfire influences rancher’s herd management and fuels removal decisions. This article was revised in FY 2011 and will be resubmitted for publication in FY 2012. A second paper that expands the model to incorporate transitions between ecological states and irreversible ecological change was developed in FY 2011. Wildfire Cost Model. A wildfire cost model has been developed that uses data on the cost of wildfire suppression by federal and state agencies for large wildfires in the Great Basin to estimated expected benefits of fuel management treatments in terms of wildfire suppression costs averted. A manuscript based on this model is in the final stages of preparation and will be ready for journal submission in FY 2012. Public Lands and the Regulation of Ranching in the West. We are analyzing how a rancher’s decision-making is influenced by existing regulation and the complex private/public land ownership arrangements in the west. A theoretical paper entitled “Regulatory Policy Design for Agroecosystem Management on Public Rangelands” examines institutional and information constraints to efficient regulation on public rangelands. A second paper is underway examining the regulation of ranching on public rangelands in the context of a dynamic model with ecological change and irreversible ecological thresholds. Dynamic Modeling of Ecological Thresholds. In FY 2011 work was begun into the dynamics of rangeland management in the presence of ecological thresholds. This work emphasizes the difference between ecological and economic thresholds in rangeland ecosystems. In FY 2011, this work has resulted in the master’s thesis “Optimal Rangeland Management of Great Basin in the Presence of a Reversible Threshold” by a scientist in the Department of Resource Economics, University of Nevada, Reno. Economic Flow Model for Western Rangelands. In FY 2011, substantial progress has been made towards developing a directional flow-model to help rangeland managers incorporate information on the economic benefits and costs of land management treatments on western rangelands into their decision-making by guiding them through the steps of performing a benefit-cost analysis. Methods of project monitoring included meetings, e-mails, and phone calls.

Last Modified: 4/16/2014
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