Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Science (MS)


Environment and Society

Committee Chair(s)

Richard E. Toth


Richard E. Toth


Zhao Ma


Terry A. Messmer


Landscapes in the American West are undergoing dramatic changes as land-use patterns shift to accommodate the region’s explosive population growth. Trends toward low-density settlement patterns, or exurban development, compound the problem by consuming a disproportionately large amount of land compared to the population they support. The result is the rapid conversion of the West’s most highly productive agricultural and range lands, many of which provide benefits to biodiversity that surpass those found in permanently protected areas. Ruralists, ranchers, and conservationists alike are seeking ways to protect these ecologically important private lands from future development. One method purported to mitigate rural development pressures in Utah is the Cooperative Wildlife Management Unit (CWMU) program. The CWMU program provides economic incentives to private landowners in exchange for limited public access rights to their land for hunting, with the underlying goal of preserving participating private range and forest lands as wildlife habitat. The literature on CWMUs has thus far focused on hunter satisfaction, landowner motivations, and wildlife habitat improvements. This project investigates whether the CWMU program has effectively mitigated development pressure by comparing development patterns on land parcels participating in the program with land parcels that do not participate in the program. Using a case study approach in Box Elder, Summit, and Weber counties, parcel data was examined to ascertain the number and severity of land transactions resulting in parcels being split or subdivided. Further, aerial imagery was analyzed to determine the number of structures that had been built on the parcels over a period of several years. While the results of the project vary between counties, patterns do emerge indicating that parcels involved in a CWMU split or subdivide to a lesser degree than those not involved in the CWMU program. Additionally, a fewer number of structures were built on parcels participating in the CWMU program compared to parcels which do not participate in the program. The methods utilized in the project do not indicate the degree to which participation in the CWMU program has influenced development patterns, nor can the results be generalized. However, the data collected and analyzed during the project provide informative insights about CWMUs and the lands adjacent to them. It is anticipated that the results of the research will act as a springboard for further research and better enable policymakers, wildlife resources staff, and landowners to assess the CWMU program’s overall effectiveness at conserving wildlife habitat.


This work made publicly available electronically on June 29, 2011.