The Land Ethic of Ranchers: A Core Value Despite Divergent Views of Government

Aaron M. Lien, Colleen Svancara, Wendy Vanasco, George B. Ruyle, Laura López-Hoffman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

14 Scopus citations


In the western United States, the management and use of public lands for livestock grazing is a frequent source of conflict among environmentalists, federal agencies, and ranchers. Since at least the early 1980s, the rhetoric of the "sagebrush rebellion" has reinforced a public perception that ranchers are both antigovernment and anticonservation. Sustainable management of public lands used for livestock grazing depends on both federal agency personnel, who enforce regulations, and ranchers, who use the land and implement management plans on a day-to-day basis. As a result, the attitudes of ranchers toward conservation can have a significant impact on the overall ecological health of public rangelands. We conducted a study of ranchers in southeastern Arizona and southwestern New Mexico using Q Methodology to understand their views and motivations about ranching, conservation, and the government. Our results show three complex viewpoints, which we term radical center ranchers (20% of variance), innovative conservationists (19% of variance), and traditional ranchers (12% of variance). A commitment to conservation and corresponding lack of anticonservation sentiment is held across these viewpoints. Mistrust of government coexists with conservation values for two groups. This information is useful for finding common ground between ranchers and government officials, conservationists, and extension agents on range management and conservation goals.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)787-793
Number of pages7
JournalRangeland Ecology and Management
Issue number6
StatePublished - Nov 2017


  • Q Methodology
  • antigovernment sentiment
  • attitudes of ranchers
  • conservation
  • large landscape conservation
  • radical center

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology
  • Animal Science and Zoology
  • Nature and Landscape Conservation
  • Management, Monitoring, Policy and Law


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