Grasslands in the American West have evolved for eons with grazing from large herbivores. Early settlers took advantage of this natural attribute of the landscape to establish cattle and sheep agricultural operations. This historic land use pattern has resulted in much of the private lands in the West being incorporated into ranches comprised of large blocks of relatively unmodified habitats.

Today the predominance of ranches and associated large public land holdings are the defining features of the West. Together they support the open spaces, abundant wildlife, small-town atmosphere, and numerous outdoor recreational opportunities that underlie the region's high quality of life. Ranches were traditionally established on the most biologically productive lands, typically associated with valleys and waterways. These areas provide critical winter range, breeding grounds and migration corridors for fish and wildlife. Nationally, 90% of protected species have some portion of their habitat on private land, and 37% are entirely dependent upon private lands for their survival. In the arid West, the location of ranches along rivers and streams, results in their playing an important role in maintaining water quality and quantity through preserving functioning watersheds.

Ranches also contribute disproportionately to the environmental health of national and state forests, parks and rangelands. Beyond their role in supplying critical wildlife habitat, ranchlands provide critical buffer zones between natural and urbanized areas, which both minimizes the impacts of development, and facilitates fire prevention and management. Fire management is receiving increasing attention due to the potential impacts of climate change and rising rural development pressures in fire prone areas. The U.S. Government Accountability Office (2007) found that homes built in the wild land urban interface were a top reason why firefighting costs nationally have tripled since 2000 to cover more that $3 billion a year. Economically, ranching sustains a natural and self-renewing source of food production and is the foundation for many local economies. Ranchlands contribute to the scenic, cultural and recreational attributes that attract millions of tourists to the West each year. Domestic and international travel and tourism expenditures contribute more than $120 billion per year into western economies. Travel and tourism directly employs nearly 2 millions people in the West.

Despite these values, ranchlands are facing as accelerated rate of loss. The Rocky Mountain West is proportionally the fastest growing region of the country. Studies have predicted that 48 million people will be added to the eleven western states by 2050, resulting in 26 million acres of agricultural lands and open space being converted to residential and recreational development. Additionally, conversion of forest and rangeland is increasing faster than population growth. Between 1945 and 1992, about one-half acre was converted to urban uses for each new person. From 1992 to 1997, the conversion rate more than doubled, with 1.2 acres of undeveloped land converted for each new person.



    Additional Resources: Wyoming State Legislature
National Agricultural Statistics Service







      Partnership of Rangeland Trust 2015