Adam SowardsMar 24, 2023
Making America's Public Lands
The Contested History of Conservation on Federal Lands
Rowman & Littlefield 2022
Over one quarter - some 640 million acres - of the United States consists of public land owned, not privately, but by the federal government, much of it in the American West. University of Idaho professor emeritus of history Adam Sowards explains why in his new book, Making America's Public Lands: The Contested History of Conservation on Federal Lands (Rowman and Littlefield, 2022). Sowards explains the origins of the concept of public land and how the idea has come into conflict with American's adoration for private property, as well as how different stakeholders have come into conflict over the proper use of resources on these lands. From ranching and timber cutting to tourism and wilderness, the US government has attempted to make public lands fulfill several different roles, and in doing so have turned them into something of a political football over the course of the twentieth century. But, as Sowards argues, by being such a malleable, egalitarian, and controversial project, they have come to represent the hope and inconsistencies within American democracy itself.
Dr. Stephen R. Hausmann is an assistant professor of history at the University of St. Thomas in Minnesota.