Dispersed large lot development provides a host of environmental benefits and amenities to the owner. These include quality of life considerations, privacy, and scenery. Growth in dispersed rural residences benefits the landowners that sell property as well as some in the real estate, construction and service industries. Purchasers of rural homes then demand public services and infrastructure investments. Neighboring farms and ranches as well as county taxpayers may experience diminished environmental amenities and an increasingly overburdened local government as dispersed rural residential development occurs. Consequently, local taxes either must be increased or public services decreased, but certainly the mix of services provided is reallocated across users.
The pressure for rural residential development comes from three sources: in-migration, second home development, or intra-county urban to rural relocation. Regionally, the Western US is expected to grow by 54 percent between 1990 and 2020 (Center for the American West, 2001). Wyoming's population already has increased by 8.9 percent between 1990 and 2000. Over 55 percent of the population growth in the state between 1990 and 2000 occurred in rural areas, (Taylor, 2001a). Added to this resident population growth in the state is the number of second homes, which increased by over 30 percent between 1990 and 2000, (Taylor 2001b). American Farmland Trust estimates that over 2.6 million acres are threatened with conversion from ranching and farming to residences in Wyoming (AFT 2002).
Population has grown rapidly in the intermountain west from 1990 to 2000, compared to other regions. Idaho, Utah and Colorado, which border Wyoming, grew at rates at least double the national average during that period (Taylor, 2001a). Twenty-six percent of Wyoming's counties grew at, or faster than, the national average from 1990 to 2000. Rural areas in the western and northern portion of Wyoming near Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks, grew in excess of 60 percent in the same period.
Residential land use increased dramatically in Wyoming from 1960 to 1990, Figure 1. Total acres of residential development increased by 2.4 times (Theobald, 2001). Nearly 70 percent of the converted acreage was for "exurban" development of one acre per 10 to 40 acres. Only 3 percent was "urban / suburban" development of more than 2 units per acre.
County commissioners and planners are left attempting to determine the consequences of rural residential growth. They require analyses indicating the impact of rural growth on county operations and budgets. American Farmland Trust cost of community services studies are a tool widely used by planners and local policy makers.
FIGURE 1: Increase in Residential Development Acres for Wyoming 1960-90 (Increase = 417,000 acres)