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The Anatomy, Physiology, Psychology and Economics of Desert Destruction and Restoration. David A. Bainbridge Associate Professor, Sustainable Management Alliant International University San Diego, CA (858) 635-4616. Play time!. Introduction.

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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 635-4616

  • 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 gratification
  • 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
  • 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
damage is extensive
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 standing
  • Extensive use of desert washes for OHVs has been a disaster for wash ecosystems
dove springs
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 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
Hill climbs

Extremely difficult and costly to repair

failed education
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 it s the economy stupid
Economics“It’s 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
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 blush.

$econ activity minus damage $eco = less than zero






autistic accounting
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 hectare
  • 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
Restoration experience has illustrated the high repair costs

Tall pots for


At the Ant Hill

Anza Borrego

dove springs1
Dove Springs

Damage and repair assessment

Condition Area/length Cost/unit Total ha denuded

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 33337000Damage assessment from Matchett et al., 2004. Repair estimates from experience.

other uncompensated costs
Other uncompensated costs
  • Some could be determined, but haven't been well studied; while others are quite challenging to cost
  • Medical treatment, perhaps $20-30 million a year
  • Enforcement
  • Cleanup and repair of facilities and fixing vandalism
  • 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 services
Cost related to Natural Capital and Nature's Services
  • 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
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
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
The education problem
  • Users need to be aware of costs, impacts, and responsibility
  • Control of the outlaws is most important, responsible off-highway recreation is less of a problem
  • I like OHV activity but don’t ramble off route, just as I would like to shoot skeet in the Crystal Palace but don’t
just because it s fun doesn t mean it s right
Just because it’s fun, doesn’t mean it’s right

Skeet shooting in the Crystal Palace would be fun!

manufacturers should play a bigger role in tread lightly
Manufacturers should play a bigger role in “tread lightly”
  • A special sales tax on OHVs (5- 10%) might be desirable
  • OHV manufacturers should be charged $50-100,000 for each advertisement exhibiting "tread heavily" behavior
  • 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
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 transfers
  • Funding for new OHV play areas closer to urban areas