Uinta County: A Case Study in Wyoming Land Use Planning

Article excerpt


Many Rocky Mountain States are experiencing unprecedented conversion of agricultural land to residential use. An early 1980s oil boom in Uinta County. Wyoming, set a precedent for rapid, unmanaged growth. Recent population growth and recreation pressures in neighboring Utah have again brought growth to rural Uinta County, though at a slower rate than during the oil boom. This paper examines issues relevant to rural land use and planning in Uinta County. Data are from county focus groups and responses to a 1999 mail survey. Most respondents see growth as a problem and support preservation of environmental quality and working ranch landscapes. Rural landowners may clash with respondents. concerned with growth management, over property rights issues. Findings in Uinta County, though unique in some ways, are useful for understanding Rocky Mountain residents' preferences for rural land use and policy.

Keywords: Agricultural land, development, land use policy, resident preferences, rural communities.



Land use in the Rocky Mountain West is changing from a "working landscape" based on mining, timber, and agriculture to one of leisure (Plotkin, 1987, pp. 32-33). Western mountain states had higher population growth rates between 1990 and 2000 than the rest of the country (U.S. Census Bureau, 2001b). Economic prosperity, early retirement in an aging population, and innovations in transportation, communications, and technology make rural relocation increasingly possible (Brown et al., 1997; Champion, 1992; Frey & Johnson, 1998). Rural counties near large metropolitan areas and those with environmental amenities, especially mild climates, varied topography, and water access (McGranahan, 1999), are growing fastest (Beale & Johnson, 1998; Nelson, 1986; Power, 1996; Rudzitis & Johansen, 1989; Rudzitis, 1993).

People moving to the West for its scenic beauty and rural lifestyle frequently change the landscape with development (Power, 1996, p. 53). Residential development changes natural and scenic amenities, views, and wildlife migration and habitat (Collinge, 1996; Theobald et al., 1997). Subdivisions developed next to public land holdings in the West cause fragmentation from an increase in buildings, roads, and fences (Knight et al., 1995). Light, noise, and human presence disturbances affect wildlife habitat. Exotic species spread unwanted weeds into agricultural crops. Roads and fences impede migration and change the mix of species from those requiring larger unfragmented tracts of land, to species that are adaptable to edge habitat (Theobald et al., 1997). Water quality may be at risk with the proliferation of new septic systems, and increased numbers of pets may prey on smaller wildlife.

Residential development has social impacts as well. New residents unfamiliar with ranch practices may come into conflict with established ranchers over fencing, pets, water, access, weeds, dust, and odors. Fragmentation and conflicts with newcomers reduce operational viability for remaining ranchers, making sale of agricultural land more likely (Theobald et al., 1996; Zollinger & Krannich, 2001). While agricultural land usually pays more than its share of county property taxes, new residential developments rarely pay for themselves (Daniels, 1999). Costs for community services and infrastructure increase disproportionately with rural residential development, resulting in higher costs for everyone (Coupal et al., 2001; Propst & Schmid, 1993). The cultural and historical heritage embodied by ranch life is diminished as land conversion increases. When private land is developed, management of neighboring public lands can become more complicated and costly, raising issues of recreational access, water rights, liability, and public relations (Knight et al., 1995).

Awareness of the impacts of rural development is growing, as is support for land use planning and growth management. …