NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Western Environmentalists Switch Foes

August 14, 1998

For many years, environmental groups railed against cattle -- complaining that Western ranchers harmed the land through overgrazing, and sought to limit grazing permits in national forests. Now they have taken a look at subdivision developers and decided that the cowman is their friend.

"Cows, not condos" and "Herefords, not highways," are the new rallying cries. "I don't see it as cows versus the environment anymore," says a Denver conservationist.

  • Sympathetic to the environmentalists' conservation arguments, Colorado ranchers formed the Colorado Cattlemen's Agricultural Land Trust -- a move soon followed by California ranchers.
  • Under these arrangements, ranchers donate development rights on their land, continue to graze cattle and effectively preclude development -- while cutting their future estate taxes in half.
  • In the Rocky Mountains and other areas, vast amounts of land are federally owned and a relatively small amount is privately owned -- making those scarce parcels particularly important to developers, conservationists say.
  • Conservationists are well aware that many Colorado ranchers are nearing retirement age -- 45 percent being over 55, and another 23 percent between 45 and 55 -- and are rushing to collect their development rights.

In Colorado, land in local trusts grew from about 219 square miles in 1993 to 469 square miles in 1996. Meanwhile, the number of ranches has declined from about 15,000 in 1970 to less than 10,000 today.

Source: James Brooke, "Rare Alliance in the Rockies Strives to Save Open Spaces," New York Times, August 14, 1998.


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