The Western Landowners Alliance advances policies and practices that sustain working lands, connected landscapes, and native species.

We envision a future in which private and leased public lands in the West are resilient to stressors, healthy and biologically diverse, and provide for prosperous rural business and critical ecological services.

WLA recognizes that economic vitality and conservation go hand-in-hand. Given that private lands encompass the most productive and biologically diverse landscapes, including the majority of water resources, landowners have a pivotal role to play in shaping the future. WLA provides a collective voice, a peer network and a shared knowledge base for landowners striving to keep the land whole and healthy.

Looking-at-Land

Our lands are like family. We want to know they will thrive. Private ranches, farms and forest properties are an important economic and cultural mainstay for Western rural communities. These working lands* provide jobs and a high quality way of life. They also provide valuable open space, protect crucial habitat and wildlife corridors, harbor the majority of imperiled species and control much of the water, including headwaters critical for healthy watersheds and downstream users. Most landowners have a strong interest in managing their land to support these diverse values, yet we face many challenges in doing so. It takes more than just desire and vision to keep land healthy, productive and intact; it takes knowledge and science, money, skilled labor, community resources and supportive public policies.

Faced with these challenges, in late July 2011, a diverse group of landowners and managers, conservation biologists and private investment advisors–representing 8 million acres of deeded and leased land across nine Western states and Alberta–convened to explore what we could do. We asked:

  • Is it possible to sustain mixed-use rural enterprises on private lands while also preventing land fragmentation, restoring land health and native species and conserving open space and habitat?
  • Would we provide significant value if we developed a structured way for working lands innovators to network with each other, exchange good ideas and management strategies and to cross-pollinate between existing regional or local landowner organizations?

The answer was an overwhelming YES.

This nascent Founders Group spent the following year interviewing landowners and managers, academics, field staff for public land management agencies and others who have been probing similar questions for years. Interviewees expressed a desire for an organization that advocates on behalf of western landowners who operate from a conservation-oriented land ethic. Scale was an important consideration in the discussions. Many landowners are already implementing sound and innovative stewardship on their land, but remain largely isolated from one another. There are an increasing number of highly successful place-based organizations such as the Malpai Borderlands Group and the Blackfoot Challenge, yet these groups are focused by design on specific local landscapes. Interviewees, which included both individual landowners and collaborative leaders, agreed that the major drivers and challenges shaping the West must be addressed at the scale of the challenge: West-wide.

The Western Landowners Alliance was born.

WLA Founders Group
WLA Founders Group

* We use the terms “ranches,” “working lands,” “mixed-use lands” and “private lands” synonymously to denote large deeded parcels, or mixed parcels of deeded and public allotment land. We consider a variety of practices as qualifying as “working” use of the land, including grazing, timber management, guest services, and active conservation management.

“To waste, to destroy our natural resources, to skin and exhaust the land instead of using it so as to increase its usefulness, will result in undermining in the days of our children the very prosperity which we ought by right to hand down to them amplified and developed.”

- Theodore Roosevelt

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