The report by Steve Stuebner on subdivisions in the Sawtooth National Recreation Area in Idaho (HCN, 12/9/96) included one remark that requires some commentary. Stuebner said reducing cattle grazing along streams to protect salmon habitat may result in the subdivision of private ranchland, and condos are worse than cows - aren't they?
I will argue that a few cabins on a 160-acre tract cause far less environmental damage to the local environment than the cumulative impacts of the cattle ranching it has replaced. Certainly, the cabins or their seasonal inhabitants won't be trampling riparian areas, polluting the water, draining trout and salmon spawning streams for irrigated hay pastures, poisoning and trapping predators and pests, including wolves which are recolonizing the area, spreading weeds across the countryside, compacting soils, spreading disease to wildlife, and competing with native herbivores for forage over tens of thousands of acres.
The cause and effect between subdivisions and ranching needs examination as well. Subdivisions are sprouting around the West because there is a demand for housing in scenic, rural areas, not because there is land for sale when individual ranchers decide to quit the business. Today, with higher land values, no one can afford to buy a ranch and run cows on it and pay off the mortgage.