Background      The Value of Roadless Areas      Ranching
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Ranching has a long history in the West, and its continued survival is tied to the health of our public lands. Forage and water that originate in National Forests are key components of many ranching operations; protecting these resources is fundamental to maintaining this traditional way of life.


Cattle graze on public lands in the Pike-San Isabel National Forest.   
Southern Rockies Ecosystem Project

Protecting a Colorado Tradition
Ranching is a way of life that is intertwined with the history and development of the American West and its culture. Even today, it is a lifestyle that values tradition and continuity; one survey of western ranchers found that individual ranchers had spent an average of 31 years on the same ranch and had come from families that had ranched for an average of 78 years. (1) Preserving the ranching lifestyle is important to protecting what is unique about Colorado and our Western heritage.


Grazing on Public Lands
Colorado’s public lands play a key role in preserving this ranching tradition. It is roadless areas that provide the source of clean water on which ranching fundamentally depends.

  • Forests and rangelands in the United States provide forage and browse for more than 100 million cattle and eight million sheep (2), with some 80-85% of all federal lands in the West used for livestock grazing. (3)

  • In 1998, about 92 million acres of National Forest lands were in grazing allotments, 84 million of which were in active use. Over two million cattle and sheep grazed on National Forest grazing allotments in the same year. (4)

  • About 20% of all beef cattle and 50% of all sheep in the United States are located in eleven western states (5), including Colorado, and about half of all beef cattle and sheep rely on land managed by the Forest Service or by the Bureau of Land Management for grazing. (6)

    An existing route provides access to
    this grazing allotment in the
    White River National Forest
    Southern Rockies Ecosystem Project

Ranching and Roads
Preservation of roadless areas is fundamental to supporting our ranching heritage; in fact, the existence of intact networks of National Forest land free from roads is critical to the pristine watersheds and healthy ecosystem which are key to supporting ranching operations. Roads provide ranchers with motorized access to their allotments in order to transport livestock and maintain fences and water supplies. Yet roads on public lands are rarely built for the primary purpose of accessing grazing allotments; for the most part, the roads used by ranchers have been constructed for other purposes. Preservation of roadless areas would not deny ranchers access to their allotments using these existing routes. Further, by preventing the building of new roads, we ensure the health of the vegetation used for forage and browse by limiting the spread of invasive species, reducing harassment by irresponsible recreationists, and maintaining healthy watersheds.



For more information:

Matt Garrington
Environment Colorado 
303.573-3871 x310

Michael Saul
National Wildlife Federation

Suzanne Jones
The Wilderness Society
303.650.5818 x102


1   Fowler, JM,; D. Rush, J.M. Hawkes, and T.D. Darden. 1994. Economic Characteristics of the Western Livestock Industry. Report 35. New Mexico State University College of Agriculture and Home Economics, Range Improvement Task Force, Agricultural Experience Station, Cooperative Extension Service.

2   Joyce, L.A. 1989. An Analysis of the Range Forage Situation in the United States: 1989-2040. General Technical Report RM-180. Fort Collins, Colorado: United States Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Forest and Range Experiment Station.

3  Council for Agricultural Science and Technology 1996

4  Herman, D. 2000. [Personal Communication, cited in USDA Forest Service Roadless Area Conservation FEIS]

5  Council for Agricultural Science and Technology 1996; T.G. Field 1990

6  Harris, L.D. 1984. The Fragmented Forest: Island Biogeography Theory and the Preservation of Biotic Diversity. Chicago, Illinois: University of Chicago Press