We examine the rate of ranch sales and the nature of ranchland ownership change in the Rocky Mountain region. Interest in this phenomenon is high because ranches represent the largest parcels of private open space and relatively natural landscapes in the West and because anecdote, media coverage, and testimony from range professionals suggest that a significant turnover in ranch ownership is underway. Ranch sales activity is of special interest to groups seeking to conserve both ranchlands as habitat and ranching as part of the regional economy and culture. Very little work has been conducted on ranchland ownership per se, although we were able to build on studies of ranchland prices and on surveys that included some questions relating to operational goals, tenure, and future plans. The literature also offers a foundation for a ranch ownership typology. We tracked sales of ranch properties of 400 or more acres in 3 Rocky Mountain counties for the period 1990–2001, finding turnover (sale) rates from 14% to 45%. With help from local real estate agents, appraisers, and county officials, we classified ranch buyers according to a simple typology and found that the majority of acres sold (54%) went to “amenity buyers,” and 62% of acres sold went to out-of-state buyers. This 12-year slice of ranch sales suggests a significant ranchland ownership transition to a new type of owner is, indeed, underway in the Rockies.
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Vol. 58 • No. 2