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Public Lands, Public Debates

A Century of Controversy

Char Miller

Publication Year: 2012

The subject of historic struggle and contemporary dispute, public lands in the United States are treasured spaces. In Public Lands, Public Debates, environmental historian Char Miller explores the history of conservation thinking and the development of a government agency with stewardship at its mission.

Owned in common, our national forests, monuments, parks, and preserves are funded through federal tax receipts, making these public lands national in scope and significance. Their controversial histories demonstrate their vulnerability to shifting tides of public opinion, alterations in fiscal support, and overlapping authorities for their management—including federal, state, and local mandates, as well as critical tribal prerogatives and military claims.

Miller takes the Forest Service as a gauge of the broader debates in which Americans have engaged since the late nineteenth century. In nineteen essays,he examines critical moments of public and private negotiation to help explain the particular, and occasionally peculiar, tensions that have shaped the administration of public lands in the United States.

“Watching democracy at work can be bewildering, even frustrating, but the only way individuals and organizations can sift through the often messy business of public deliberation is to deliberate...”—Char Miller, from the introduction

Published by: Oregon State University Press

Title Page, Copyright

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Table of Contents

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p. vi-vi


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p. vii-vii

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Introduction: In the Woods

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pp. 1-14

In his foreword to Paul W. Gates’ massive tome, History of Public Land Law Development, Rep. Wayne Aspinall, head of the Public Land Law Review Commission (1965-1970), for which the book had been written, was trying to be something that his many critics doubted he could ever be— even handed. The Colorado Democrat offered this balancing caution to those ready to plunge into the 828-page document: “The members of the ...

Part I: Creative Forces

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p. 15-15

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Le Coup D'Oeil Forestier: Shifting Views of Federal Forestry in America, 1870-1945

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pp. 16-36

Lucien Boppe, assistant director of L’Ecole nationale forestière in Nancy, France, made a “tremendous impression” on Gifford Pinchot. The young American student, the first to attend classes at the venerable French forestry school, was captivated by Boppe, a man of short and stocky stature with immense vitality, a teacher who had “a great contempt for mere professors,” for he had “learned in the woods what he taught in the lecture room.” ...

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Rough Terrain: Forest Management and Its Discontents

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pp. 37-47

They came in the middle of the night, broke into Merrill Hall, site of the Center for Urban Horticulture on the campus of the University of Washington, and set incendiary devices within and around the office of researcher Terry Bradshaw; then they stole away before fiery blasts ripped through the building. The subsequent conflagration destroyed Bradshaw’s facility and gutted much of the rest of the complex, causing damage ...

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A Transformative Place: Grey Towers and the Evolution of American Conservationism

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pp. 48-56

On a beautiful late September day, just two months before he was assassinated, President John F. Kennedy spoke from the front porch of Grey Towers, the Milford, Pennsylvania, estate of Gifford Pinchot, founding chief of the USDA Forest Service. His visit served two purposes. It kicked off the president’s five-day, eleven-state “conservation tour,” during which he would deliver a series of addresses on the environment to buttress his ...

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Thinking Like a Conservationist

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pp. 57-64

Humpty Dumpty was as perplexing as anything Alice encountered when she melted through the looking glass. Their conversation, although riddled with playful double entendres, was also immensely frustrating for the young girl, who did not always understand what the prickly and precariously perched character meant by the words he uttered. When he said, for instance, that he preferred “un-birthday presents” to birthday presents (for “there are three ...

Part II: Policy Schemes

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p. 65-65

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Landmark Decision: The Antiquities Act, Big-Stick Conservation, and the Modern State

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pp. 66-78

Roy Neary could not help himself. At dinner, he played with his mashed potatoes. Had he been a child, no one would have much minded, but he was a father, and his wife and three children anxiously watched his mealtime antics. Ever since that fearsome night when the power was suddenly cut off, he had become ever-more reclusive and odd, so much so that at dinner the kids had scooted closer to their mother. From that remove they...

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Rewilding the East: The Weeks Act and the Expansion of Federal Forestry

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pp. 79-84

The Weeks Act, signed into law by President William Howard Taft on March 1, 1911, has had a profound impact on the American landscape, not least in New England. Just how profound is clear in a slick, two-page advertisement that the New Hampshire Division of Travel and Tourism Development ran in Audubon Magazine (May/June 2010). Wrapped around a series of photographs that capture the state’s mountain vistas...

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Riding Herd on the Public Range

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pp. 85-89

You have probably never heard of Pierre Grimaud. But whenever you pay to use one of the recreational-fee areas on the San Bernardino, Gifford Pinchot, or White Mountain national forests, you might want to thank him. The same is true the next time you get a permit to camp deep in the Bob Marshall or Gila wilderness areas. And if you have ever applied for a permit to run cattle or graze sheep within the folds of the Sierra, Wasatch...

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Place Making

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pp. 90-94

Devils Postpile National Monument, despite its wonderfully lurid name, is not much of a draw. Located near Mammoth Lakes in the eastern Sierra, it is small, a mere 798 acres. It can be buried under more than four hundred inches of snow a year, so its visiting season is a short four months. Even the pile to which its name refers—a columnar basalt structure, formed from a lava flow that may date back one hundred thousand years—is not ...

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Fire Fight

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pp. 95-99

Mt. Gleason Fire Camp 16 sits atop a rocky ridge separating the North Fork of Mill Creek and the Gleason Canyon drainages, situated deep inside the Angeles National Forest. It is brutally rough country, with steep slopes falling away at 70° angles, and quite inaccessible. To reach the camp, you have to drive six miles out along a winding, narrow road off the Angeles Forest Highway. Its very remoteness made it a perfect site for a Nike Missile...

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Reefer Madness

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pp. 100-103

Summer 2010 was a busy time on the Angeles National Forest. The Forest Service and its contractors poured lots of time and energy into restoring the badly burned terrain in the aftermath of the 2009 Station fire. CalTrans and its crews labored to reconstruct the torched, eroded, and washed-out roads that had been damaged during the historic blaze that consumed 250 square miles. Although shut out from the scorched portions of the...

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Landscape Mosaic: Managing Fragmented Forests

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pp. 104-115

The important ecological interconnections between public and private lands are widely recognized, most recently in the form of ecosystem management. But what is the historical and political relationship between national-forest management and private-land development? And how might the U.S. Forest Service respond to increased private-land development and landscape fragmentation? There are historical lessons that might guide policy makers...

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The Once and Future Forest Service

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pp. 116-132

The news from the Far North has not been good. In spring 2007, University of Alberta scientists reported that portions of the Canadian tundra were transforming into new forests of spruce and shrubs much more rapidly than once was imaginable. “The conventional thinking on treeline dynamics has been that advances are very slow because conditions are so harsh at these high latitudes and altitudes,” reported Dr. Ryan Danby, a member of the...

Part III: Internal Tensions

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p. 133-133

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Restoration Surgery

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pp. 134-137

The postcard-sized broadside from Greenpeace slid under the hotel door at 4:00 a.m. “Sorry we couldn’t be with you in Arkansas this week,” the italicscript reads, “but we are busy addressing the threats to our public lands at our first U.S. Global Forest Rescue Station in Oregon.” All conferees at the Forest Service-organized Healthy Forest Conference, held in Little Rock in early June 2004, and focused on the Bush Administration’s Healthy Forest...

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Liquid Assets

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pp. 138-140

What do Albuquerque and Atlanta have in common? Las Vegas and San Antonio? Water woes. Dire water woes. And their increasing thirst, directly tied to each city’s population boom and sprawling size, will not be easily slaked. That’s because they, and their metropolitan cousins across the West and the South, have been the beneficiaries (for lack of a better word) of a massive in-migration since 1970, and as a consequence have been quickly...

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Sell Off

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pp. 141-146

In 2006, there was some good news emanating from the public lands. The Bush administration’s controversial proposal to sell upwards of 300,000 acres of national forests and grasslands to underwrite the reauthorization of the Secure Rural Schools and Community Self-Determination Act of 2000 did not happen....

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Peace Out

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pp. 147-150

No one stood up and shouted. None of the questions cut like razor-edged barbed wire. No reply was laced with acrimony. Heck, even the few sharp exchanges were delivered with civility. Where was the discord and rancor? Where were the flared nostrils and bruised egos? What happened to the high-blown rhetoric and the low blows? Was this really a conference about the Forest Service and its land-management practices? Or had I, in my...

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Identity Crisis

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pp. 151-155

The U.S. Forest Service seems forever in trouble. Its many external critics have said as much since its formation in 1905, but a new charge in 2008 came from a credible, inside source—some of the agency’s twenty-nine thousand employees. As one of them bluntly responded in a controversial survey taken that year: “Are we a timber organization? Are we a fire organization? Are we recreation-based? Are we just cleaning toilets now? I ...

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Interior Dialogue

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pp. 156-160

It can’t be a happy moment when a House subcommittee calls in the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to analyze a federal agency’s actions and status. So the U.S. Forest Service snapped to attention in February 2008 after the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Interior, Environment and Related Agencies asked the GAO to study the feasibility of transferring the Forest Service from the Department of Agriculture to ...

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The New Face of the Agency

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pp. 161-164

There is a striking moment in the 2005 U.S. Forest Service-funded documentary, The Greatest Good. Toward its close, the film probes the uproar that accompanied the agency’s unilateral decision in the late 1960s to launch massive timber operations in the Bitterroot and Monongahela national forests. The “Oh My God” clearcuts that scarred previously green hillsides infuriated residents in Montana and West Virginia, sparking local...

Part IV: Global Green

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p. 165-165

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Sinchi Sacha

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pp. 166-169

In the New Town district of Quito, Ecuador, lives a rooster with a funny idea of dawn. He begins reveille at an ungodly 2:00 a.m., and then works his lungs for the next several hours. While I realize his daily kikiriquís need not be triggered by a lightening sky, still his sense of timing left a lot to be desired. I couldn’t wait to get to the Amazon jungle for a little peace and quiet....

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A Changing Climate

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pp. 170-174

Frederico Carlos Hoehne, long-time director of the São Palo State Botanical Institute, knew the ecological and social costs that came with the destruction of Brazil’s natural flora and fauna. As “forests and prairies were destroyed, we also exterminated insects, birds, and thousands of other animals that were our helpers, our friends,” he wrote in the 1930s. “And in such manner, we caused our own ruin.” There was hope, however: if he...

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Forestry Done Right

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pp. 174-179

Young and energetic, Tasso Azevedo, the former director of the Brazilian Forest Service (BFS), loves to tell stories. Such as the pointed one he spun while we were hiking through a section of the Amazon rainforest, near Itacoatiaria, 180 kilometers east of Manaus, capital of the Brazilian state of Amazonas. “Here is one of the cultural problems we face,” he told a group of international foresters attending Megaflorestais 2008, an informal ...


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p. 180-180


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pp. 181-187

E-ISBN-13: 9780870716607
E-ISBN-10: 0870716603
Print-ISBN-13: 9780870716591
Print-ISBN-10: 087071659x

Publication Year: 2012

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Forest reserves -- United States -- Management.
  • Public lands -- United States -- Management.
  • United States. Forest Service.
  • United States. Bureau of Land Management.
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