Cows or Condos, a false choice

George Wuerthner updates his arguments about need to have cows to prevent sprawl-

A long time ago I tended to be the kind of conservationist who grudgingly thought we had to give all kinds of perks to livestock interests so they wouldn’t sell and subdivide the West.  I was becoming disillusioned with the results of helping the livestock elite, and Wuerthner’s thinking helped me see appeasing them was not necessary, but counterproductive.

Now he has updated his landmark essay: “Cows or Condos, a false choice.”

Cows or Condos: A False Choice Between Public Lands Ranching and Sprawl. By George Wuerthner in New West.



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  1. JimT Avatar

    We should tie Salazar to a chair, and make him listen to George read this….Nice to have this information in one place.

  2. JimT Avatar

    George was one of the early members of Earth First. Someone asked on another thread. But I think he left when the group turned towards more anarchy views. He may have been part of the founding of the magazine Wild Earth, which interestingly enough was published in Vermont. I used to get it, but I believe it is no longer a separate publication.

  3. mikepost Avatar

    He raises some good issues. He does not discuss conservation easements in this mix and I wonder why? It is the single largest monetary source for preventing development and preserving private ag holdings currently on the table.
    He also seems to place a lot of faith in elected officials to make the zoning and land purchase decisions that he envisions. One thing is for sure, no developed area was ever demolished and returned to open ground. One “condo”, strategically placed, can ruin an entire wintering ground, migration pathway or senic area. Cattle operation areas on the other hand, no matter how damaged, can always be rehabilitated (at significant cost but it can and has been done) and do not generally seem to have the permanent impacts on wildlife that development does. I accept his basic premise that there is not an “either or” direct linkage, but I don’t think he has a better answer about how to manage the issue.

  4. JB Avatar


    Anything that can be erected can be torn down. In fact, whole neighborhoods have begun to disappear in Detroit:

  5. Ryan Avatar


    Unfortunately, People actually want to live out west. I’d rather be unemployed living on the street than living in Detroit as would most westerners that I know.

  6. Mike Avatar

    As bad as cows are, I still say subdivisions are worse. I don’t see it as a false choice. Both are bad. Come on out to Illinois and I will show you what too many subdivisions do. We no longer have elk, wolves, mountion lions or any real public land or open spaces. As bad as cattle damage is, it can be repaired. once you put in the roads, strip malls and houses, *forget it*.

  7. JB Avatar


    I can’t disagree with you there, but the West has the same problem Detroit has, too few jobs for the number of people. Also, I think the market for luxury second homes has seen its heyday. As baby-boomers retire and transition to a fixed income–much of which will be spent on health care–these second homes will become a luxury they can’t afford. My guess is most will try to dump them and chose to live closer to home, family, and hospitals.

    On a side note: Universal health care is a political inevitability, whether Obama gets it done or not. A few years of paying for health care out of pocket and the boomers–the biggest and most politically active age cohort–will be begging for it.

  8. jimbob Avatar

    Mike, I agree with you about illinois and subdividions, but as far as wildlife, that is the point of Wuerthner’s whole article. We may not be sacrificing space to strip malls, which would suck, but we are and HAVE ALREADY SACRIFICED wildlife to agriculture. Many species have gone regionally and/or fully extinct due to livestock interests and agriculture. So what is the space without true wildlife to occupy it—-as Leopold said “…it is only a mountain, now”.


Dr. Ralph Maughan is professor emeritus of political science at Idaho State University. He was a Western Watersheds Project Board Member off and on for many years, and was also its President for several years. For a long time he produced Ralph Maughan’s Wolf Report. He was a founder of the Greater Yellowstone Coalition. He and Jackie Johnson Maughan wrote three editions of “Hiking Idaho.” He also wrote “Beyond the Tetons” and “Backpacking Wyoming’s Teton and Washakie Wilderness.” He created and is the administrator of The Wildlife News.

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Ralph Maughan