Mitigating the “Moral Hazard” of Government Intervention via Wolf/Livestock “Control” & Compensation Programs
Earlier, I wrote about the special treatment ranchers get via private and public compensation programs, and how these government interventions into private property management issues creates what economists call a “moral hazard”, obscuring free-market incentives that would otherwise encourage behaviors that prevent wolf depredations from occuring in the first place.
Question: Why would a livestock producer go to the extra effort of pursuing predator-friendly grazing techniques when it’s cheaper to forgo the bother ? That’s what compensation does, it makes it cheaper to forgo the bother.
Compensation is a wonderful response to the livestock industry’s only rational, interest-based qualm. It eliminates financial loss. But is it about time to start asking how well this good-faith response is being received in Idaho ? Wyoming ? New Mexico ?
How does it motivate the behaviors that are necessary to practically co-exist with wolves ?
It doesn’t. In fact, just the opposite. The same would be true for any pest control program. If I was a rose-farmer and a government agency promised to intervene … say, pay for and spray my entire property for aphids should a problem arise, I might be apt to sacrifice a rose-bush or two on the periphery rather than employ any prophylactic myself. It is no different for publicly financed wolf extermination programs executed by Wildlife Services. Many ranchers are more than happy to let go an initial lame calf or two if it means an end to the local wolf pack.
That difference plays out in very tangible ways with respect to policy. For example, in Minnesota regulatory conditions compliment government interventions into livestock/wolf management that are crafted to compel reponsible behavior, rather than dispel it.
Farmers are required to implement non-lethal and animal husbandry practices to prevent future attacks before any wolves are killed or farmers are eligible for compensation for wolf depredation.
Preventative Depredation Measures
Owners of livestock, livestock guard animals and dogs and/or their permitted agents may take action to destroy wolves that pose an “immediate threat” to human life, livestock, guard animals, or dogs. This action is permitted only on the livestock owner’s property. In the case of dogs, this action is permitted only for dogs under the controlled supervision of the owner. “Immediate threat” is defined as follows: the wolf is observed in the act of pursuing or attacking. The mere presence of a wolf or a wolf feeding on an already dead animal does not constitute an immediate threat.
At any time, a farmer or dog owner may first “harass” any wolf within 500 yards of people, buildings, dogs, livestock or other domestic animals in a non-injurious, opportunistic manner. Wolves may not be purposely attracted, tracked, searched- out or chased and then harassed. Wolves showing abnormal behavior will be reported to an authorized agent for action.
The following conditions apply when taking action to destroy a wolf:
a. A farmer or dog owner will report the action to an authorized agent within 24 hours and protect all evidence.
b. The agent will investigate all reported taking of wolves and will:
- keep written and photographic documentation of the kill site and any instances of poor husbandry that contributed to the attack occurring;
- with farmers but not dog owners, evaluate what, if any, best management practices and non-lethal controls are needed to prevent future attacks and develop a reasonable written and signed plan with the farmer for implementation;
- confiscate the wolf carcass(es).
c. State agents will report any evidence of abuse of this rule.
d. Failure to comply with the elements of this program, including failure to implement in a reasonable length of time the best management practices and non-lethal control plan developed with the authorized agent, or abuse of the program will result in loss of a farmer or dog owner’s eligibility for future wolf damage compensation for a period of one year or until they implement the best management practices/non-lethal control plan.
e. Pelts will remain in the control of the state or tribal authorities and may be disposed of only by donation or sale for educational purposes.
f. This program will be reviewed at the annual gathering of roundtable participants who will make recommendations regarding the continuation, modification or termination of this program.
g. Monthly reports of this program will be made available to the public.
Including thoughtful conditions which account for and mitigate the “moral hazard” associated with government intervention on behalf of private pursuits only makes sense from a free-market perspective, and it ensures that any public dollars spent such an intervention are spent in good-faith. It’s a matter of fiduciary responsibility.
Why are Westerners not required to take the same common-sense preventative measures before tax-payer dollars are spent to respond to natural threats to their personal property ? Why should public land ranchers not be required, as a condition of permit, to take the same measures in wolf-country before enjoying the publicly bestowed benefit of use of our land ?
There is no reason why western ranchers shouldn’t–at a minimum–have similar requirements.
UPDATE 10/22/10 :
“The majority of Idaho’s cattle producers agree that the free market is best for the beef industry and government involvement only limits opportunities for cattle business.”
~ Wyatt Prescott, executive director of the Idaho Cattle Association