Brent S. Steel

This book follows in the tradition of Charles “Chuck” Davis’s Western Public Lands and Environmental Politics, which many teachers and professors have used over the years in their environmental politics and policy courses. The second edition of Chuck’s book was published in 2001, and we were unsuccessful in persuading him to write a new edition. But we were able to have him write a contribution to this volume, for which we are very appreciative.

Chuck has been a wonderful mentor, friend, and colleague to both Erika Allen Wolters and me, and we hope this book meets his approval. Chuck’s opening statement in the preface of the second edition of his book is still relevant as we look back to the summers of 2018 and 2019: “We are in the latter part of an unusually hot and dry summer the year 2000, and wildfires are burning out of control on large tracts of western lands” (2001, p. xi). Unfortunately, the increasing impacts of climate change on western public lands and the West as a whole have led to unprecedented catastrophic wildfires and loss of life, disappearing glaciers in western mountains, drought, and many western ecosystems teetering on the edge. In addition, a recent US Geological Survey study estimates that approximately one-fourth of all carbon dioxide emissions in the United States are from fossil fuel extraction and combustion from public lands (Merrill et al. 2018). We anticipate that climate change effects will exacerbate conflict over western public lands management and have therefore asked each contributor to include a discussion of climate change where appropriate.

Over the past several decades, the management and use of public lands in the western United States have become subjects of national as well as regional debate as public concern for wildlife, fish species, wilderness preservation, recreational access, and other values associated with these lands has increased substantially. These environmentally centered policies have clashed with the traditional extraction-orientated policies that have dominated the use of these lands for more than a century, resulting in often acrimonious public controversy, frequent litigation, and even violence in the case of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge occupation in 2016 (see chap. 16). At the heart of this debate are differing philosophical and normative views about the natural environment and appropriate human relationships to that environment. These views, in turn, are connected to different conceptions of how the proper management of natural resources ought to be organized and carried out. To a substantial degree, philosophical orientations and public values concerning the environment set parameters for public policy, both for policies protecting ecosystems and for programs aimed at maintaining the economic and cultural vitality of natural resource-dependent communities.

This book is intended to provide an interdisciplinary perspective on assessing public values regarding the environment and public lands in the West. For the purposes of this book, we define the West according to the US Census of the eleven westernmost states in the contiguous United States: Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah, Washington, and Wyoming (although Alaska and Hawaii are considered the West, they are somewhat outliers in discussions of western public lands because each has its own geographic, political, and ecological conditions that are unique).

Contributors to the volume represent the academic disciplines of anthropology, forest and rangeland resources, wildlife ecology, environmental policy, law, political science, public policy, and sociology. Most of the authors have extensive experience working with federal natural resource agencies, and most have published scholarly articles and books concerning issues of public lands management in the West.

This book is organized into multiple parts. In part I, Donna Lybecker provides an introduction and general overview of the various economic, social, and political factors leading to changing natural resource management paradigms in the West. John Ruple then reviews the evolving management landscape for western public lands, while Mark Brunson’s chapter provides an overview of rangeland policy and management in the West. Part II of the book includes a chapter by Tom Koontz and Christean Jenkins that covers the history of national forest policy followed by a chapter on wildfire policy and climate change in the West by Eric Toman. Doug Kenney’s chapter covers western water issues by examining the case of the Colorado River. In part III, John Ruple has a chapter that discusses the politics and policy of wilderness and national monuments in the West, while Robert Keiter’s chapter covers the politics and policy of western national parks. Part III also contains two chapters on wildlife management and policy in the West. Lauren Anderson’s chapter provides a general overview of relevant legislation to wildlife management issues, while the chapter by Hilty, Jacob, Trotter, Hilty, and Young examines endangered species and wildlife corridors within the context of climate change. Finally, part IV contains three chapters concerning energy development on public lands in the West. Anna Karmazina’s chapter examines the siting of renewable energy technologies on public lands. Chuck Davis’s chapter provides a general overview of oil and gas development on western public lands under Presidents Bush, Obama, and Trump. P. Casey Giordano’s chapter examines the politics and policy of mining on federal lands. The final two chapters of part IV are by Shane Day, who discusses the management and politics of Native American lands, and by Simon, Wolters, and Steel, who provide a historical overview of the wise use movement and includes several case studies concerning conflict over the management of western public lands.


Davis, Charles, ed. 2001. Western Public Lands and Environmental Politics, 2nd ed. Boulder, CO: Westview Press. (↵ Return)

Merrill, M. D., B. M. Sleeter, P. A. Freeman, J. Liu, P. D. Warwick, and B. C. Reed. 2018. Federal Lands Greenhouse Emissions and Sequestration in the United States—Estimates for 2005–14. US Geological Survey Scientific Investigations Report 2018–5131, (↵ Return)


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The Environmental Politics and Policy of Western Public Lands Copyright © 2020 by Brent S. Steel is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.