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Journal Selects UW Economist for Best Research Paper Award

July 8, 2013
Man paddling a boat
University of Wyoming economics Professor John Tschirhart recently canoed the Fazenda Rio Negro, a river in Pantanal, Brazil. Tschirhart received the top research paper award from the European Association of Environmental and Resource Economics. (Linda Griego)

John Tschirhart, University of Wyoming Department of Economics and Finance professor, received the “best paper of the year” award from the European Association of Environmental and Resource Economics (EAERE).

The award recognizes exemplary research published during 2012 in the Environmental and Resource Economics (ERE) journal. Tschirhart’s research paper is “Biology as a Source of Non-convexities in Ecological Production Functions.”

The committee’s citation reads: “This is a superb paper which brings insights from other disciplines into the modeling and economic analyses of species growth functions to demonstrate how, under certain conditions, small increases in harvesting effort can result in the rapid depletion of stocks of important food species.”

This is the second consecutive year that UW College of Business professors have received the top research paper award from the EARE. Last year UW economics Professors Dave Finnoff and Jason Shogren, and former graduate student Travis Warziniack, shared honors.

“To win a best paper award is a big deal, and for the University of Wyoming to win it two years in a row is a big achievement for a small department,” Shogren says.

Tschirhart says he is honored to receive the award.

“I am particularly pleased that this is the second year in a row that a paper from UW faculty has received such recognition from the European association,” he says. “The paper's subject is interdisciplinary between economics and ecology, and I am hopeful about an interdisciplinary paper receiving such recognition because the terrible worldwide loss of biodiversity requires economists and ecologists to join forces in order to reverse this trend.”

Tschirhart says in his paper that according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the National Academy of Sciences and other scientific organizations around the globe, an important challenge is to understand the value of species in ecological systems, because economic activities are causing a rapid decline in plants and animals worldwide.

“Economists build mathematical models that represent how economic activities and ecological systems are intertwined so that we can derive benefits from those systems in an optimal manner and without degrading the systems,” Tschirhart explains.

He says those benefits may include commercial fishing, agriculture or simply enjoying nature.

“But these mathematical models usually assume the structures are convex, which means that optimal policies can be found. Unfortunately, the real world may not be convex,” he says.

His research investigates how the behavior of plants and animals in their natural habitat can create non-convex structures, and how natural resource policies have to take this into account in order to maintain the benefits of ecological systems today and for future generations.

Tschirhart has been at UW since 1978 and has taught various classes, but mostly the first graduate course in microeconomic theory. He has concentrated teaching in environmental and resource economics in his College of Business department and also in the Environmental and Natural Recourses Program.

He received a B.S. degree in mathematics from Johns Hopkins University and M.S. and doctoral degrees in economics, both from Purdue University.

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