The University of Arizona

Opportunity costs related to feral horses: a Wyoming case study.

C.T. Bastian, L.W. Van Tassell, A.C. Cotton, M.A. Smith


Concern over the humane treatment and diminishing numbers of feral horses (Equus caballus) led to their protection under the Wild Free-Roaming Horse and Burro Act of 1971. The potential for rapid population growth coupled with management constraints of the 1971 Act have increased the likelihood of excessive feral horse densities in important public rangeland habitats. Excessive densities can lead to deterioration of the range resource, smaller populations of wildlife and reduced stocking rates for domestic livestock. Consequently, the potential for conflicts between wild horse and burro advocates, wildlife agencies, recreationists and livestock producers is increased. Research concerning wild horses has largely focused on biological and behavioral aspects such as habitat and dietary requirements. Limited economic research concerning wild horses is available to aid public agencies in allocating federal lands in a multiple use context. A case study was used in this analysis to estimate opportunity costs associated with foregone wildlife and domestic livestock due to wild horses on an existing allotment in Wyoming. Results indicate the marginal opportunity costs associated with horse numbers beyond the median target level specified in the allotment management plan are greater than $1,900 per horse. Forage consumption estimates indicate the range resource could face deterioration at higher wild horse population levels. These results suggest the objectives of multiple use, sustained yield and maintaining viable wild horse populations may be met if government agencies are able to remove wild horses in a timely fashion. It is not possible to say, however, that lower wild horse levels represent a more economically efficient allocation of the range resources without estimating the total economic benefits associated with wild horses.


opportunity costs;feral herds;wildlife;horses;linear models;stocking rate;sward destruction;species differences;forbs;steers;Wyoming;grazing intensity;shrubs;range management;grasses

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