Laura Alice Watt, "The Paradox of Preservation: Wilderness and Working Landscapes at Point Reyes National Seashore" (U California Press, 2016)


“Wilderness,” “nature,” and their “preservation” are concepts basic to how the National Park Service organizes our relationship to American land. They are also contested concepts, geographer and environmental historian Laura Alice Watt shows in The Paradox of Preservation: Wilderness and Working Landscapes at Point Reyes National Seashore (University of California Press, 2016), and when used as administrative categories they can encourage visions of a static, unpeopled, unworked landscape that both obscures the historical record and concretely alters the very ecologies the NPS has set out to preserve. Watt precisely narrates a rich case study of the sweeping lands and waters surrounding Point Reyes, an hour north of San Francisco in Marin County, where complex, more-than-aesthetic histories of cattle ranching and oyster cultivation have run up against increasingly myopic regimes of stewardship, complicating local politics and economies in the process. Watt’s fine-grained account positions Point Reyes within a larger frame of American land management, and it engages debates central to environmental history, political ecology, cultural geography, landscape studies, and other interlocking fields. The Paradox of Preservation is a memorable, principled intervention, one that enjoins us to reconsider how the past, present, and future of landscapes connect, or ought to.
Peter Ekman is Lecturer in Human Geography at the University of California, Berkeley. He received the Ph.D. from Berkeley in 2016, and is at work on two book projects on the cultural and historical geography of urban America across the long twentieth century. He can be reached at

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