In any natural disaster such as rangeland fires, drought, earthquakes, etc., there is a need for the estimation of monetary impacts as well as evaluation of contemporary production practices and governmental procedures that could have mitigated such disasters. The financial impact information is used to initiate federal and state emergency programs, as well as to provide information to private insurance companies. Federal agencies also use impact analysis to prioritize disaster relief funding and determine areas for additional assistance.
These estimated impacts are also necessary for the formulation and development of mitigation plans that occur following a natural disaster. Also with a natural disaster, there is opportunity to investigate changes in production and public land management practices that might have retarded or negated the probability of natural disaster.
The summer of 2006 was one of Elko County, NV worst fire years with over 950,000 acres of federal, state, and private rangeland destroyed. This acreage was approximately the size of the state of Rhode Island. Lightning from thunderstorms were the primary cause of these summer rangeland fires. Not only were rangelands for cattle production impacted by these rangeland fires, but also habitat for wild horses and wildlife. Additionally, governmental agencies experienced increased costs to fight these rangeland fires and to mitigate destruction caused by these rangeland fires.
During 2006, a research study was completed for the Elko County Commissioners by the University Center for Economic Development at the University of Nevada, Reno. This study developed a representative ranch for Northeastern Nevada that was used to derive ranch level impacts from alternative public lands policies. From results of the representative ranch, county-wide impacts were derived. Using this representational northeastern Nevada ranch and a Northeastern Nevada Social Accounting Model, the economic impacts of the rangeland fires in Northeastern Nevada can be estimated.
These costs will be compared with rancher survey data documenting actual accommodations to their loss of access to forage in the burned pasture/allotment(s) during the post-five years when agencies prohibit grazing. Alternative grazing practices will be explored to derive impacts on the rangeland after a rangeland fire. By integrating a multi-year ranch level linear programming model with the region-wide Social Accounting Model, impacts at the ranch and regional level can be estimated through time.
In addition, gathering data from federal, state, and local sources can be used to develop costs of suppressing rangeland fires. This data can provide information as to government investment in fighting fires, rangeland restoration, and mitigation. The data could also provide information as to the potential cost savings of proactive vegetation management and grazing practices that would reduce the likelihood of repeated fires on cheat grass invaded rangeland or rangelands that are susceptible to fire due to heavy fuel loading from lack of active vegetation management. From the agency level analysis and employing the regional Social accounting Model, region wide impacts of alternative governmental investment policies to reduce rangeland fires can be estimated.