The Role of Bounties and Human Behavior on Louisiana Nutria Harvests

Article excerpt

In response to nutria-linked degradation of much of its coastal wetlands, Louisiana established the Coastwide Nutria Control Program (CNCP) in January 2002. CNCP instituted, among other things, an "economic incentive payment" of $4.00 per delivered nutria tail from registered participants in the program. To examine whether this bounty has had an impact on nutria harvest and whether alternative bounty levels can, in general, generate additional harvesting activities, we developed a bioeconomic supply model that relates Louisiana's annual nutria harvests to a suite of economic and environmental factors. Results suggested that the annual nutria harvest is responsive to both the price received per animal and costs. Results also suggested that the nutria harvest has increased as a result of the bounty, but that the initial bounty of $4.00 per tail may be insufficient to achieve the state's goal of harvesting 400,000 animals per year but that a bounty equal to $5.00 per tail would likely achieve the stated goal.

Key Words: bounties, long-run supply, nutria, open access

JEL Classification: Q210

Nutria (Myocastor coypus) is a large, semiaquatic rodent native to South America that was introduced to Louisiana in 1938 for farm-based fur production purposes (Lowery, 1974; Nowak and Ernest 1991). Shortly after its introduction, a small number were either intentionally released and/or escaped into the coastal marshes. Having few natural predators in its new environment, nutria populations expanded rapidly and, together with demand for their fur pelts, led to the establishment of a viable commercial trapping industry by the late 1940s (Lowery, 1974). This trapping pressure is thought to have kept nutria populations at levels consistent with the long-run carrying capacity of the coastal marshes where nutria fed on the root structures of aquatic vegetation. Encouraged by market prices for fur pelts in Europe and the subsistence economy of many coastal Louisiana communities, harvests of nutria ranged from 1 to 2 million pelts annually for much of the 1 960s and 1 970s (Figure 1) (Marx, Mouton, and Linscombe, 2004).

The demand for nutria pelts, and thus pelt prices, began to decline in the early 1980s with the emergence of strong antifur campaigns in Europe and the United States, the increasing acceptance of synthetic fur products, and relatively mild winter conditions in many traditional fur-importing regions (Figure 1) (Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries, 2005). Nutria harvests declined from an average of 1.5 million pelts annually in the 1970s to an average of 790,000 pelts annually during the 1980s, only to be followed by a further decline in the 1 990s to an average annual harvest of 190,000 pelts. By the turn of the century, nutria harvests had fallen to less than 30,000 pelts annually. This greatly reduced trapping pressure, in conjunction with nutria's high reproductive rate and lack of predators, led to population increases and range expansion, followed by foraging-linked degradation of many coastal wetlands. For example, a 2001 aerial survey estimated that more than 83,000 coastal acres were damaged by nutria, a figure considered conservative as the aerial surveys were only capable of detecting severe damage (Marx, Mouton, and Linscombe, 2004).

In response to this nutria-inflicted wetland damage, Louisiana established the Coastwide Nutria Control Program (CNCP) in January 2002. Supported by funds from the U.S. Coastal Wetlands Planning, Protection, and Restoration Act, CNCP instituted an "economic incentive payment" of $4.00 per delivered nutria tail from registered participants in the program. The official program goal was to "encourage the harvest of up to 400,000 nutria annually from coastal Louisiana" (Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries, 2005). In this paper we present a framework for analyzing the potential role of bounties in controlling an invasive vertebrate species (i. …