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Ranchers, not ranchettes

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Dear HCN:

One topic not dealt with in your recent special issue on development in the West: the transformation of the private-land component of public-lands ranches to ranchettes.

The proliferation of 10- to 40-acre ranchettes with their accompanying traffic, paving, fences, sewer systems, dogs and horses decimates winter range, degrades groundwater quality, accelerates runoff and upsets seasonal patterns of wildlife migrations. As much bad publicity as public-lands ranchers have received for degradation of public rangelands, the decimation of habitat and quality of life by retirement, second-home and recreational development of property is a far worse option.

While studying the effects of increased grazing fees on public rangelands in Okanogan and Ferry Counties in eastern Washington in 1991, we were informed that in the previous two years, not one sale of private ranch land in Ferry County had been for ranching purposes. On a return to the area last summer, the trend towards development of ranchland had accelerated, and Ferry County was having groundwater quality problems associated with ranchette development.

It is becoming clear that the alternatives to traditional economies in the West are not as benign as they have been advertised. Subsidies to public-lands ranches should be evaluated with an eye toward supporting an economically healthy industry to maintain healthy ecosystems encompassing both private and public property.

Hans Geier

Department of Resources Management,

University of Alaska Fairbanks,

Fairbanks, Alaska

David Holland

Department of Agricultural Economics,

Washington State University,

Pullman, Washington

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