How arrogance and greed are eviscerating public wilderness.
Making an impressive book debut, journalist Ketcham, a contributor to Harper’s and National Geographic, among other publications, reports on his journeys throughout the West investigating the state of public lands: 450 million acres of land—of which national parks are only a minor portion—that are “managed in trust for the American people” by the U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management. Both agencies, argues the author persuasively, have shown inept oversight, caving to demands of oil, gas, mining, and lumber industries to “defund and defang” environmental laws, “leading always to the transfer of the commons into the hands of the few.” In Utah, “rabid Mormons” stridently insist that the “entire federally managed commons” are constitutionally illegal. Latter-day Saints, Ketcham asserts, are anti-science, deny climate change, and hold “naked contempt” for environmental regulation. But they are not alone: Enormously wealthy—and federally subsidized—cattle ranchers, who dominate millions of square miles of public land throughout the West, viciously attack lawmakers and activists who dare to stand up to them, refuse to acknowledge endangered species, and mount sadistic hunts for wolves and coyotes that, they claim erroneously, threaten their cows. Grassland has been degraded by overgrazing and watersheds contaminated by bacteria from cattle waste. Republican and Democratic administrations—including “self-proclaimed protectors” like Barack Obama—have repeatedly betrayed their mandate to protect the environment. Wildlife Services, a Congressional agency, “kills anything under the sun perceived as a threat to stockmen.” The Nature Conservancy, likewise, has bowed to corporate power, and federal funding has compromised the missions of well-meaning nonprofits. “To save the public lands,” the author maintains, “we need to oppose the capitalist system.” Echoing writers such as Bernard DeVoto, Edward Abbey, and Aldo Leopold, Ketcham underscores the crucial importance of diverse, wild ecosystems and urges “a campaign for public lands that is vital, fierce, impassioned, occasionally dangerous, without hypocrisy, that stands against the tyranny of money.”
Angry, eloquent, and urgent—required reading for anyone who cares about