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The Anatomy, Physiology, Psychology and Economics of Desert Destruction and Restoration


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Title: The Anatomy, Physiology, Psychology and Economics of Desert Destruction and Restoration

The Anatomy, Physiology, Psychology and Economics
of Desert Destruction and Restoration
  • David A. BainbridgeAssociate Professor,
    Sustainable ManagementAlliant International
    UniversitySan Diego, CA
    (858) 635-4616

Play time!
  • Desert degradation is usually caused by a set of
    interlocking factors
  • These include the fragility of the desert
    environment, flawed economics, weak laws and
    regulations, and human "needs" for immediate
  • A doctor can't cure many diseases without
    treating the causes, neither can we

  • The desert remains under unprecedented assault
    from development, infrastructure, air pollution,
    nitrogen deposition, invasive species, military
    operations, mining, and OHV activity
  • OHV activity is the least necessary, very
    extensive and very damaging
  • The full extent of OHV damage remains unknown

Hill climb damage
  • Plant communities are disrupted by direct
    impacts, crushing, and damage to roots
  • Weed invasions are may make desert ecosystems
    much more vulnerable to fire
  • Compaction is often severe in heavily used areas
    and infiltration can be very limited
  • Water flow changes and erosion increases
  • Reduced levels of hyphae and bacteria are found

Change in water flow
Damage is extensive
  • The most apparent level of OHV damage is total
    destruction of all vegetation in high use areas
  • Even in areas of moderate use the damage is quite
    extensive, although to the untrained eye it may
    appear less severe if the larger shrubs are still
  • Extensive use of desert washes for OHVs has been
    a disaster for wash ecosystems

Dove Springs
Fence line
  • Understanding the allure of OHV operation is not
    difficult its fun
  • OHV exploration (the more sedate part of the
    population) enables families to discover new
    areas and enjoy the beauty of the desert
  • It makes it easy to reach remote areas for camping

OHV play areas
  • OHV play is noisy, involves speed and power,
    danger, and requires intense concentration
  • A small percentage of the OHV population needs
    the added "kick" of outlaw behavior
  • Flouting route restrictions, damage of
    undisturbed areas, vandalizing gates, signs, and
    displays, smashing plants

Hill climbs
Extremely difficult and costly to repair
Failed education
  • The OHV community, like most Americans, have
    "affluenza", falling prey to relentless and
    sophisticated advertising, "If I just have more,
    I'll be happy"
  • Poorly educated by a failed school system, they
    also have no concept of Nature's Services",
    Natural Capital", and "sustainability"

Economics Its the economy, stupid
  • The OHV community of manufacturers, retailers,
    and suppliers and their advertising agencies and
    dependents is big business.
  • The economic impact is 5-10 billion dollars a
    year in California.
  • More than 40 of the money spent on OHVs is for
    vehicles and almost 10 is for fuel.

Flawed accounting
  • Existing economic analyses neglect environmental
    affects and uncompensated costs to taxpayers
  • This provides a picture of OHV economics that is
    so misleading it would make Enron's accountants

econ activity minus damage eco less than zero

Autistic accounting
  • Neoclassical economics says value is determined
    by sales price or use value, perhaps 500 to 700
    per hectare
  • Ecological economics says a better way to judge
    value is replacement cost, perhaps 50,000 per
  • Knowing this we can say that a full size 4x4 can
    do 40,000 dollars of damage in a day of ripping
    across the virgin desert

Restoration experience has illustrated the high
repair costs
Tall pots for revegetation At the Ant Hill Anza
Dove Springs
  • Damage and repair assessment
  • Condition Area/length Cost/unit Total ha
  • or dense tracks 194 50,000 9700000with
    OHV impact 740 20,000 14800000km
    route 576 12,000 6912000km wash
    routes 77 25,000 1925000 Net
    33337000 Damage assessment from Matchett
    et al., 2004. Repair estimates from experience.

Other uncompensated costs
  • Some could be determined, but haven't been well
    studied while others are quite challenging to
  • Medical treatment, perhaps 20-30 million a year
  • Enforcement
  • Cleanup and repair of facilities and fixing
  • The economic cost of Global Change
  • The economic cost of weed control
  • The economic cost of increased fire risk

Cost related to Natural Capital and Nature's
  • What is the value of biodiversity? Of beauty?
  • Of endangered species? Of natural hydrologic
    function? What is the ecological cost of exotic
    species invasion?
  • What is the ecological cost of increased fire?
  • The ecological cost of nitrogen deposition?
  • What is the ecological cost of global warming?
  • Almost certainly these are in the billions...

  • Subsidies - you gotta love em!
  • Analysis of automobile operation in the U.S.
    suggests we all get about a 90 subsidy
  • OHV operators are currently getting a subsidy
    closer to 99, but users complain heavily about
    existing fees
  • An OHV green sticker costs only 12.50 a year,
    just 50 a year for an OHV park pass, or 90 a
    year for an Imperial Dunes pass
  • In contrast 120 a year for a state park pass!

OHV industry profits, taxpayers pay
  • The OHV industry is mining the value of the
    desert at the expense of the desert owners (the
    American public) and future generations
  • The value of the desert's scenic beauty, Natural
    Capital", and Nature's Services" is being
    exported to Japan and Detroit
  • While the beneficiaries pay lip service to "tread
    lightly", advertising almost always shows the
    "tread heavily" mode

The future
  • Desert destruction and restoration is not
    primarily a technical problem
  • The root cause of desert destruction is
    ultimately poor accounting
  • It will be difficult to do anything about the
    enormous problem of desert deterioration until
    we address these drivers
  • Until we do, we are as the Dutch say, "mopping up
    the floor without turning off the water

The education problem
  • Users need to be aware of costs, impacts, and
  • Control of the outlaws is most important,
    responsible off-highway recreation is less of a
  • I like OHV activity but dont ramble off route,
    just as I would like to shoot skeet in the
    Crystal Palace but dont

Just because its fun, doesnt mean its right
Skeet shooting in the Crystal Palace would be fun!
Manufacturers should play a bigger role in tread
  • A special sales tax on OHVs (5- 10) might be
  • OHV manufacturers should be charged 50-100,000
    for each advertisement exhibiting "tread heavily"
  • If a park pass costs 120 a year, then an OHV
    pass should probably cost 1,000 a year
  • If a ski pass costs 36 a day, then an OHV pass
    should be probably cost 100 a day
  • Implementing this level of fee would be
    politically unfeasible, but perhaps 250 a year
    would be plausible

Taxes and fees would help pay uncompensated costs
  • Medical system costs
  • Better management, enforcement
  • Critically needed funding for research (Recovery
    and Vulnerability 50 million year)
  • Active restoration program (50 million year)
  • Money to develop new, high quality OHV play areas
    on lands removed from agriculture due to water
  • Funding for new OHV play areas closer to urban
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