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for people who care about the West

Right and wrong on public lands

  With everything from invasive insects to energy developers threatening national forests, wildlife refuges and other public lands, it’s not hard to understand why conservationists are scowling a lot these days.

But in From Conquest to Conservation, Michael Dombeck, Christopher Wood and Jack Williams argue that Americans, now more than ever, realize public lands are more than treasure chests of commodities.

Dombeck, Wood and Williams — all veterans of the Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management — trace the evolution of the public’s attitude toward public lands from one of dominion to one of stewardship. They write: “Those who make a living working on public lands — civil servants, recreationists, industry users, environmentalists — can either wring their hands in dismay or find a common cause in developing a new consensus for public-land management.”

Although the authors conclude that ecological sustainability is slowly gaining ground, they are no pollyannas. As the architects of the highly controversial Roadless Rule, which protects almost 60 million acres of national forest land in the West, Dombeck and Wood, in particular, know how rocky the terrain of conservation can be.

Touching on challenges ranging from invasive cheatgrass to endangered salmon to catastrophic wildfire, the authors also consider how public-land management measures up against Aldo Leopold’s litmus test: “A thing is right when it tends to preserve the integrity, stability and beauty of the biotic community. It is wrong when it tends otherwise.”

From Conquest to Conservation: Our Public Lands Legacy
by Michael P. Dombeck, Christopher A. Wood and Jack E. Williams; foreword by Charles Wilkinson.
210 pages, softcover: $22.50.
Island Press, 2003.