Not even close . . . jobs from recreation on public lands versus jobs from public land ranching

Why does this economically modest and destructive economic activity get so much priority?

A recent report published by the Department of Interior demonstrates what conservation advocates have been arguing for years:  Recreational use of public lands creates many more jobs and much more economic value than public lands ranching.

Department of the Interior’s Economic Contributions – June 2011

Jobs attributable to DOI Public Lands in 11 Western States
State Recreation Grazing (Direct) Grazing (Total)
Arizona 21,364 100 191
California 34,658 34 71
Colorado 13,216 194 336
Idaho 6,659 212 402
Montana 9,451 239 438
Nevada 9,243 200 352
New Mexico 4,189 486 842
Oregon 11,223 216 388
Utah 20,319 360 476
Washington 6,349 21 33
Wyoming 15,012 426 623
TOTAL 151,683 2,488 4,152

Despite the staggering disparity in economic value of these competing land uses, the Bureau of Land Management continues to manage public lands to benefit public lands ranching above and beyond all other uses.

This emphasis on ranching frequently results in degraded conditions that reduce or even ruin recreational opportunities, displace wildlife, muddy and infect formerly pristine creeks, and ruin the scenery that attracts people to the great outdoors.

Nobody wants to pitch a tent in cow waste, have their trip cut short by E. coli, giardia, or campylobacter or try to admire the view when it smells like a feedlot.


Cattle trampling from 2010 before beginning of 2011 grazing season. Kinney Creek. Public land just south of Pocatello, Idaho. Copyright Ralph Maughan May 2011

In the photo above, cattle were put back on this already trampled grazing allotment just 3 weeks after the photo was taken.



  1. Christopher Avatar

    Thank you for the link to this report.

  2. JimT Avatar

    Sent this on to Udall and Bennet’s offices….once again, the hypocrisy of the conservative states is on display..and they just shamelessly keep holding out their hands for Federal welfare checks, ruining resources, and bowing to the corporate interests.

  3. Alan Gregory Avatar

    That Chimney Creek photo makes me recall similar scenes in the same area and even closer to Pocatello in the early 70s. I saw an area very similar to this one on BLM land in southeastern Arizona in 2009. What a shame.

  4. mike post Avatar
    mike post

    Ranchers are organized, politically active and write checks…the recreational people and the businesses they support, relatively, do not. Might be a lesson there.

  5. Ralph Maughan Avatar
    Ralph Maughan

    mike post,

    This is the route to political power — the one you mention above. However, I don’t think the power of ranchers comes very much from writing checks. There are not enough of them to make much of a difference even though some of them are mighty rich.

    In the case of ranchers, I think it is more one of cultural hegemony. Our dominant culture dictates that they command and we (like cattle and sheep) obey.

    1. mike post Avatar
      mike post

      Ralph, I am pretty sure that the stock associations fill campaign coffers as best they can. Most of these ranchers pay into a stock assoc PAC as well. I agree that culture plays a role, but any state senator smarter than the average bear is going to figure out whats fueling his campaign and it is not accolades from empty green pockets.

      This is where many on this blog misjusdged Obama in the early days. You had to see where his past big money had come from and how the Chicago/Ill system worked. Sure he told you guys what you wanted to hear, but the big checks spoke louder and all the little guys who chipped in $1s to make a bag full of millions failed to realize that their voice was still only valued at $1.

      I think sometimes evironemental folks so abhore the process that they would rather lose the fight then adapt to the realities of the battlefield.

  6. mike post Avatar
    mike post

    Ralph, I also note that they do a poor job of breaking out recreational dollars. If you dig deep enough it becomes clear that wildlife watching, hunting and fishing are included in their totals for “recreation” (along with atv’ing, boating, mntbikes, etc) and but that is of little help for the endless debates here on this blog about whose dollars are doing the most for the outdoors.


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