Private conservation efforts in places such as the Elk River Valley may be able to preserve the look of the land. But if ranchers become tenants on property owned by wealthy people from somewhere else, what happens to the culture?
"There's going to be a shift in the
cultural profile, no question," says Reeves Brown, executive vice
president of the Colorado Cattlemen's Association. "The fabric of
those cultures is the county fair, the Fourth of July rodeo. It's
the 4-H auction. That's being replaced in many areas. I don't know
how you stop that, outside of manipulating the culture."
"The family ranch - there's going to be fewer
and fewer of those," echoes C.J. Mucklow, extension agent for Routt
County. Indeed, since 1978, an aging and cash-strapped ranching
community in Colorado has sold off an average of 90,000
agricultural acres a year to developers. Much of the land is now
divided into 35-acre ranchettes.
numbers are depressing, Mucklow says, "There will be those people
who buy ranches and decide to keep them as ranches. The downside of
that: We don't have the ownership and the family commitment to the
same place. The good side is, it's better than cutting it up. The
really good side is those people who decide to keep (their land in)
ranching will hire people to be ranchers, and that's the only way
young people will be involved in ranching in these high mountain
Despite his optimism about ranching -
which in Routt County produces more income than in any neighboring
county - Mucklow concedes that now his half-dozen extension office
staffers serve small-subdivision landowners. In July 1994, his
office coordinated the publication of a how-to book for newcomers
called A Guide To Rural Living and Small-Scale
"That's what I do now," says
Mucklow, "and I think that's important. The more educated these
little guys are next to the big landowners, the better they can get
Brown, who is organizing the Colorado
Cattlemen's Agricultural Land Trust, thinks ranchers might move
into a completely different business in valleys around resort
areas, without really changing what they do.
the turn of the century," says Brown, "the public value was that we
want you ranchers around Steamboat to produce food. Now, they could
care less about food. They want ranchers to produce scenery."
In Brown's opinion, ranchers aren't really
ranchers, they're grass farmers. "They've been charged with making
a sustainable living on the land. Up to now that has been with
beef. Maybe we can find another way to fill another public demand
The question, says Brown, is whether the
public will step up to the plate and pay to preserve the aesthetic
values of ranching.
"We are interested in
preserving the ability of ranching to exist in Colorado," says
Brown. "How it exists is not of as much concern to us as assuring
the ability of it to exist. That means open space." -