Cows, condos, and the contested commons: The political ecology of ranching on the Arizona-Sonora borderlands

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56 Scopus citations


Despite the rapid urbanization of the Arizona-Sonora borderlands, cattle ranching continues to play a major, if increasingly contested, political, economic, and ecological role in the region. Unlike other industries, technological manipulation has failed to increase productivity in the range cattle industry. The constraints of aridity and climatic variability have not been overcome. Ranchers on both sides of the border therefore need access to large tracts of land to secure the natural forage their cattle need. Spain and Mexico both recognized communal as well as private forms of tenure, even though neoliberal reforms are weakening comunidades and ejidos. The United States, in contrast, has no communitarian tradition, and U.S. homestead laws never allowed individuals to preempt enough of the public domain to support a cow outfit. Instead, grazing allotments on both federal and state lands provide ranchers with exclusive rights to forage. Those rights are increasingly challenged by some environmentalists, who want cows off public lands. Faced with rising land prices, unstable markets, an unpredictable climate, enormous estate taxes, and increasing political uncertainty over their access to public lands, many ranchers choose or are forced to sell their private land to real estate developers or subdivide it themselves. The resulting fragmentation of the landscape and increasing densities of people deplete water resources and make large-scale ecosystem management, including the preservation of wildlife corridors and the reintroduction of fire, difficult if not impossible.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)141-152
Number of pages12
JournalHuman organization
Issue number2
StatePublished - 2001


  • Arizona-Sonora borderlands
  • Environmentalism
  • Grazing commons
  • Ranching
  • Real state development
  • Water

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Anthropology
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)
  • General Social Sciences


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