This study investigated the role that a public land grazing permit buyout would have on ranching operations and conserving private land open space in the Rocky Mountain region of the western United States. Loss of grazing permits could serve as a pivotal factor in expediting private land fragmentation if ranching operations are enticed to sell their land due to loss of economic viability. This type of program inadvertently could be detrimental to overall ecosystem health and have unintended economic, ecological, and cultural consequences for the administering agencies and grazing permittees. The goal of this study was to provide sociodemographic profiles of landowners to better understand social motivations for ranching, implications of permit removal, ongoing conservation activities, and possible policy solutions. We assessed likely participation levels, demographic attitudes, and reasons for participation in a proposed grazing permit buyout program. This paper is based on data collected from a mail survey of 2 000 permittees in the Rocky Mountain States (39% response rate), and data collected from qualitative personal interviews. These interviews assessed motivations for participation, potential costs, and search for unforeseen consequences related to a proposed buyout program. We interviewed 49 individuals (33 ranchers, 16 agency personnel), which enabled us to describe likely outcomes and previously unmentioned items for consideration related to a proposed buyout program. Interview data were analyzed and broken into two major themes: motivation for participation in a buyout and potential consequences. Our study indicated that overall participation in potential buyout would be relatively low (17%); however, the associated financial, ecological, and administrative costs could be substantial. We note several unanticipated motivations for possible participation in this type of program, as well as possibly unrecognized impacts for administering agencies and permittees.
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