A Better West?

  • Cover of The Next West

  The Next West's essayists tell us that natural-resource management agencies have failed to protect either public lands or local communities from the damage done by extractive industries; what's more, Western communities still remain dependent on federal handouts.

But the writers do more than carp. Editors Donald Snow and John Baden also supply alternatives - a West where large government is replaced by local government, where responsibility for public lands is vested in those who live closest to these lands, where markets replace the political allocation of natural resources, and where the one-size-fits-all approach to land management is replaced by local experiments. In other words, they argue for a "Sagebrush Rebellion, Done Right."

There is much to applaud. Stephen Bodio eulogizes the people and places of a high, raw valley in New Mexico, where the inhabitants and the land get on well together. Marc Sagoff contrasts "the dead hand of federal bureaucracy" with the "new resource economics," in which communities will practice stewardship of public lands while being held responsible for the outcomes of their choices.

A jarring note is the universal condemnation of land-management agencies. The writers ignore the fact that those agencies are encumbered by legislation, are attacked from all sides and are being downsized. There are good people in natural resource agencies who are forging partnerships, serving as catalysts and promoting cooperation. Doing away with the agencies will no more promote land stewardship than will ignoring the opinions of diverse constituencies who live far from the public lands.

The Next West: Public Lands, Community, and Economy in the American West, John A. Baden and Donald Snow, eds. 1997. Gallatin Institute and Island Press, California. - Richard L. Knight

Richard L. Knight teaches wildlife conservation at Colorado State University.