The environment's 'most durable foe'

by Joshua Zaffos

During the rising tide of environmentalism in the 1960s, one man earned the title of the movement’s "most durable foe." Historian Steven C. Schulte’s new book, Wayne Aspinall and the Shaping of the American West, profiles the congressman who unabashedly promoted the development of the West’s public lands and shaped American environmental policy.

For more than two decades, Wayne Aspinall represented western Colorado in Congress. As the chair of the House Interior Committee, he helped authorize $5 billion in Western water reclamation projects, created national parks and helped pass the Wilderness Act. He was a conservative, rural Democrat who "regarded himself as a mainstream conservationist, espousing the wisest use of those resources" and "saw himself as the voice of the increasingly beleaguered Western resource user." But enemies viewed him as a tool of the mining, logging and ranching industries, wielding enormous power to stifle the growing environmental movement.

Schulte portrays Aspinall as a fair but rigid representative who — even as his mindset stood in stark contrast to that of the nation’s environmentalists — jockeyed landmark environmental legislation through Congress. After Aspinall was ousted from Congress in the 1972 Democratic primary, he mentored Reagan Interior Secretary James Watt, and served as "a major intellectual influence on the Sagebrush Rebellion."

Schulte presents an organized and engaging review of Aspinall’s battles over the Colorado River Storage Project and the Wilderness Act, as well as his exchanges with Kennedy-era Interior Secretary Stewart Udall and Sierra Club leader David Brower, who once said the environmental movement had seen "dream after dream dashed on the stony continents of Wayne Aspinall."

Wayne Aspinall and the Shaping of the American West by Steven C. Schulte
322 pages, hardcover $29.95. University of Colorado Press, 2002.

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