This land How cowboys, capitalism, and corruption are ruining the American West

Christopher Ketcham, 1973-

Book - 2019

"The public lands of the western United States comprise some 450 million acres of grassland, steppe land, canyons, forests, and mountains. It's an American commons, and it is under assault as never before. Journalist Christopher Ketcham has been documenting the confluence of commercial exploitation and governmental misconduct in this region for over a decade. His revelatory book takes the reader on a journey across these last wild places, to see how capitalism is killing our great commons. Ketcham begins in Utah, revealing the environmental destruction caused by unregulated public lands livestock grazing, and exposing rampant malfeasance in the federal land management agencies, who have been compromised by the profit-driven livest...ock and energy interests they are supposed to regulate. He then turns to the broad effects of those corrupt politics on wildlife. He tracks the Department of Interior's failure to implement and enforce the Endangered Species Act -- including its stark betrayal of protections for the grizzly bear and the sage grouse -- and investigates the destructive behavior of U.S. Wildlife Services in their shocking mass slaughter of animals that threaten the livestock industry. Along the way, Ketcham talks with ecologists, biologists, botanists, former government employees, whistleblowers, grassroots environmentalists and other citizens who are fighting to protect the public domain for future generations. This Land is a colorful muckraking journey -- part Edward Abbey, part Upton Sinclair -- exposing the rot in American politics that is rapidly leading to the sell-out of our national heritage." --

Saved in:

2nd Floor Show me where

1 / 1 copies available
Location Call Number   Status
2nd Floor 333.730978/Ketcham Checked In
[New York] : Viking, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC [2019]
Main Author
Christopher Ketcham, 1973- (author)
Item Description
Place of publication from publishers website.
Physical Description
422 pages : map ; 24 cm
Includes bibliographical references and index.
  • Battle
  • Betrayal
  • Resistance.
Review by Publisher's Weekly Review

A vast endowment of public land is being ravaged with the help of the regulators who are supposed to protect it, argues this passionate, sometimes vitriolic environmentalist jeremiad. Journalist Ketcham roams western states surveying commercially driven environmental destruction on huge swaths of federally owned land: grasslands in Utah's Grand Escalante National Monument ruined by cattle-grazing; wolves and grizzly bears hunted by sportsmen after being cavalierly kicked off the endangered species list; precious sagebrush grouse habitat obliterated by fracking; old-growth wilderness fragmented by roads, logged, and opened to off-road vehicles. His roster of villains is long, including the National Forest Service, portrayed as supine before business interests; the Fish and Wildlife Service, whose trappers slaughter economically inconvenient critters with cyanide bombs; the Bureau of Land Management, "a faithful servant" of lawless cattlemen and "a slavering prostitute" to oil and gas drillers; "collaborationist" environmental groups who greenwash corporate resource extraction; and humankind in general ("Homo sapiens is out of control, a bacteria boiling in a petri dish"). Ketcham balances vehemence with sharp-eyed reportage, fascinating explanations of ecological intricacies, and rapturous evocations of wild places ("the world glows with the new sage and ripples, and the glow races to the ends of the perceptible earth"). Ketcham's indictment of national environmental policy isn't evenhanded, but it is powerful. Agent: Jim Rutman, Sterling Lord Literistic. (July) © Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.

(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
Review by Library Journal Review

In this debut, journalist Ketcham reports on the conflict between the West's romantic appeal and its current reality, and how these forces are playing out on public land in 11 Western states. The culmination of years of research, interviews, field observation, and travel, this work makes the case that neglectful or corrupt local, state, and federal agencies, along with corporate players and conservation organizations, are either intentionally or inadvertently weakening, disregarding, privatizing, or circumventing laws. In the first section, Ketcham investigates events such as the 2014 Bundy standoff as well as the occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge and the shrinking of Escalante-Grand Staircase National Monument, both in 2016. Later he focuses on various federal agencies that are complicit in propping up the cowboy myth. The final section describes how conservation organizations have compromised away their vigorous defense of the environment for the "least-bad of the worst options." Ketcham offers solutions to ensure the health and vitality of the West, including ending timber sales, decommissioning roads, and abstaining from giving away public property. VERDICT This work is guaranteed to generate controversy and discussion, and will be a solid companion to Steven Davis's In Defense of Public Lands.--Margaret Atwater-Singer, Univ. of Evansville Lib., IN

(c) Copyright Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
Review by Kirkus Book Review

How arrogance and greed are eviscerating public wilderness.Making an impressive book debut, journalist Ketcham, a contributor to Harper's and National Geographic, among other publications, reports on his journeys throughout the West investigating the state of public lands: 450 million acres of landof which national parks are only a minor portionthat are "managed in trust for the American people" by the U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management. Both agencies, argues the author persuasively, have shown inept oversight, caving to demands of oil, gas, mining, and lumber industries to "defund and defang" environmental laws, "leading always to the transfer of the commons into the hands of the few." In Utah, "rabid Mormons" stridently insist that the "entire federally managed commons" are constitutionally illegal. Latter-day Saints, Ketcham asserts, are anti-science, deny climate change, and hold "naked contempt" for environmental regulation. But they are not alone: Enormously wealthyand federally subsidizedcattle ranchers, who dominate millions of square miles of public land throughout the West, viciously attack lawmakers and activists who dare to stand up to them, refuse to acknowledge endangered species, and mount sadistic hunts for wolves and coyotes that, they claim erroneously, threaten their cows. Grassland has been degraded by overgrazing and watersheds contaminated by bacteria from cattle waste. Republican and Democratic administrationsincluding "self-proclaimed protectors" like Barack Obamahave repeatedly betrayed their mandate to protect the environment. Wildlife Services, a Congressional agency, "kills anything under the sun perceived as a threat to stockmen." The Nature Conservancy, likewise, has bowed to corporate power, and federal funding has compromised the missions of well-meaning nonprofits. "To save the public lands," the author maintains, "we need to oppose the capitalist system." Echoing writers such as Bernard DeVoto, Edward Abbey, and Aldo Leopold, Ketcham underscores the crucial importance of diverse, wild ecosystems and urges "a campaign for public lands that is vital, fierce, impassioned, occasionally dangerous, without hypocrisy, that stands against the tyranny of money." Angry, eloquent, and urgentrequired reading for anyone who cares about the Earth. Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

CHAPTER 1   In my book a pioneer is a man who turned all the grass upside down, strung bob-wire over the dust that was left, poisoned the water, cut down the trees, killed the Indian who owned the land, and called it progress. If I had my way, the land here would be like God made it, and none of you sons of bitches would be here at all. --Charlie Russell, the Cowboy Artist   I've been wandering the public lands trying to figure out what's left of the wild in the West. Utah, Nevada, Idaho, Oregon, Wyoming, the states with the most public land, the big wide-open, what Woody Guthrie was talking about when he sang of your land. It's a gigantic experiment in socialism out west-who could have imagined it in the most capitalistic country on earth?-where everyone can say they own hundreds of millions of acres but no single person can claim it for themselves alone. This makes for high living. You can camp pretty much anywhere in some of the world's loveliest places, at the bottoms of canyons and on the tops of mountains. Wherever you please, come along. Just don't wreck it for the next person. Mostly I car-camp, living out of a tent, a tiny thing, enough room for me and one adult male wolf or two women or twenty-six weasels. Driving my rickety old Subaru, which gets me where I need between breakdowns, as slowly as possible, and trying not to think about the return east. Back there are the reasons I go west. The problem is the species common in the East, Homo urbanus iPhonicus, say, in my native habitat in New York City. A creature clinched in its too-muchness and self-regard, staring at the unreality of screens, tripping over itself on the sidewalks, at turnstiles, in the museums, supermarkets, subways, wherever there's a surfeit of glass, steel, concrete, the human sardine can. In the countryside of the East, the public lands are few. Whole mountains are privatized. Rivers and their banks, seashores, meadows, forests get hung with no trespassing and do not enter signs and keep out and electronic surveillance. Always there are fences, always the threat of prosecution for taking a walk in the woods. Forget about moving across the landscape freely, spontaneously, voluntarily. Forget about finding a view of this planet not reduced to the reminder of your fellow man. Love him you might, there's such a thing as enough of him. Whereas in the West, in the lands that were never privatized, in the country of the pronghorn, the cougar, the grizzly, the bison, the sage grouse, the wild horse, and the wolf, where there's not enough water for the madding crowd but just enough for the wild things, a man is so free in his aloneness that he might not see another human being for weeks on end, maybe months if he has the genius for hiding high in the crags like the anchorites of old. I interviewed a guy once who went that route in a canyon near Death Valley, who came west from his overpriced midden of an apartment, leaving behind his useless shiny junk and job, and deserted in the company of the big books (Bible, Koran, Upanishads) to find the truth-all for free, no rent due this month or any other. It is still possible in this country to find wild, clean, open spaces, where the rhythms of the natural world go on as they should, relatively undisturbed by industrial man. I fear the opportunity, though, could disappear in our lifetime. You will be asking what exactly these public lands consist of. The national parks are a trivial portion, covering less than fifty million acres. Beautiful as they are, consider them a kind of specialty zoo, heavily funded postage-stamp island ecosystems, overseen for wildlife but mostly for tourists. For our purposes the West is the roughly 450 million acres of grassland, steppe, desert, and forest managed in trust for the American people by the United States Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and United States Forest Service. These agencies are unsung sisters of the National Park Service, little known and meagerly funded. Here on the BLM and Forest Service lands are glaciers towering in the sky, deep Permian canyons, ten-thousand-foot plateaus, sagebrush seas, places where herds of big mammals roam unhindered. Here you can hike, fish, hunt for meat, raft, ride horseback, fire a Kalashnikov, sling an arrow, climb a tree, build a hut out of sticks, roam like the aboriginal tribes of the continent, get lost, stay lost for as long as you wish. It's an American commons, and the chief requirement to enjoy it is some degree of self-reliance. Reliable water supplies, ready-made campsites-you'll find few of these things such as the national parks afford. The roads are often unsigned. They are muddy by turns of the season, or dusty to the point of choking, or rutted so as to threaten with death the struts of your car, or overgrown with vegetation to the point you don't know they're there. Abandon your steel behemoth, strike out from the roads, and you might dip a toe in the landscape. Walk on for a month or so, you might live like an animal, naked in the dirt, howling at the moon. I've done this on occasion. That the BLM and Forest Service domain accommodates profit hunters is the crucial difference separating it from the national parks. You can prospect on these lands, extract commodities. Congress has enshrined in law this practice of "multiple use." Look across the public lands and you'll find the myriad uses: oil and gas fields in the deserts and steppe, and coal, copper, silver, and gold mines stabbed into cliffs and mountains. Forests are felled, grasslands overgrazed, wildlife slaughtered, and roads carved for all parties to gain access and exploit public ground for private gain. The BLM and Forest Service are schizoid. With one hand they protect; with the other they ravage. Such is multiple use. William O. Douglas, a backpacker and outdoorsman who happened also to be the longest-serving Supreme Court justice, shared his suspicions about the real meaning of the term in 1961: "'Multiple' use was semantics for making cattlemen, sheepmen, lumbermen, miners the main beneficiaries. After they gutted and razed the forests, then the rest of us could use them-to find campsites among stumps, to look for fish in waters heavy with silt from erosion, to search for game on ridges pounded to dust by sheep." I wrote this book because little has changed since Douglas was writing. We are not safeguarding our public domain. The government agencies entrusted to oversee it are failing us. The private interests that want the land for profit have planted their teeth in the government. The national trend is against the preservation of the commons. Huge stretches are effectively privatized, public in name only. I went west to see what we were losing as a people. Here's what's happening to our land: it is May 2018, in the Egan Range of Nevada, south of Ely, and a machine called a Bull Hog is approaching. Its engine roars. It runs on treads like a bulldozer, and affixed at its front is a spinning bladed cylinder. It has one use and one use only-the destruction of the forest in which I stand, a forest of pinyon and juniper that the BLM manages on our behalf. These are ancient trees, gnarled with age, short and squat with fattened trunks and curling bark, maybe twenty feet at their crowns, a pygmy forest, derisively called a woodland, and found on tens of millions of acres in Utah and Nevada. The pinyon-juniper forest is the great survivor in the aridlands, drought-resistant, adapted to heat, and is deliciously sweet-smelling-these two species, after the sagebrush, are the perfuming flora of the Great Basin and the Colorado Plateau. But they have no value for logging or wood products, no value that can be measured in money. Therefore they must be wiped out for other enterprises-for cattlemen, I later learn, so that the land in the Egan Range will be "productive" for cows and not wasted. The Bull Hog, operated and funded by the Department of the Interior-at our expense, with our tax dollars-charges through the forest as I stand in a kind of fugue, incredulous at the pace of its destruction. The beautiful old gnarled trees are devoured in the mouth of the mobile mulcher, knocked down and chewed up, defecated out its ass-end in fragments. The howl and whine of the engine and the spinning blades, the torturous toppling of the trees, the cracking and crushing of trunks and limbs, the shattered spitting out of beings alive seconds before-it is almost too much to bear. What's left is a flattened, denuded, tread-smashed wasteland, a bombed Dresden of pinyon-juniper. Within fifteen minutes the forest that I entered is gone. This is happening, or is planned to happen, in an area roughly the size of Vermont. I have been darting from side to side as the Bull Hog passes, and now finally I show myself, for there's no tree left to hide behind. The operator throttles down, seeing me, and then realizes I am no threat. A man with a camera and a notepad, puny. Someone who will do nothing to stop him. He powers back up, the cylinder at the mouth of the machine spins again ferociously, and forward it rages. The cab where he sits is caged and shadowed, to the point that I can see no movement inside, no hint of organic presence at the helm. As if this were a servo-mechanism, a robot, a drone. May is prime nesting season for birds in the pinyon-juniper biome. Kestrels and hawks, mountain chickadees and house wrens, black-throated gray warblers, flickers, gray flycatchers, scrub jays, and pinyon jays live here, and in the soil between the trees nest the poorwills-all are being ground to red mist by the servo-mechanism, for no reason other than to expedite commerce. After my encounter with the Bull Hog, I fished out, from the heaped library I keep in the trunk of my car, a copy of Edward Abbey's The Monkey Wrench Gang. It is a rollicking piece of fiction set in southern Utah, and established Abbey as the spokesman for a generation of ecosaboteurs. In the book, a quartet of pissed-off guerilla enviros destroy industrial infrastructure, doing their small part to take out "the world planetary maggot machine." The monkeywrenchers sabotage bulldozers and excavators, utility vehicles, backhoes and graders and scrapers and road reclaimers. They blow up a coal train, derailing it off a bridge into a canyon abyss. Abbey worked as a park ranger in southern Utah during the 1950s, in what would become Arches National Park, and there he drafted in rough his other great work, Desert Solitaire, a book of essays that together formed an anarchist's paean to the last of the wilderness in the Southwest. Abbey extolled the public lands as refugia for wild things and wild people, the beleaguered creatures, like him, who could no longer accept in good conscience America's "phosphorescent putrefying glory," the sprawl cities, the stupefying burden of technopoly, the spirit-destroying hustle of commerce. He didn't think much of techno-industrial civilization. He regarded its paradigm of permanent economic growth as a permanent crisis, a suicide pact with planet earth. "Growth for growth's sake," he wrote, "is the ideology of the cancer cell." How does the cancer proceed? The answer from Abbey was the obvious one, known to us all: "Dam the rivers, flood the canyons, drain the swamps, log the forests, strip-mine the hills, bulldoze the mountains." He advocated direct action to stop the machine. I suppose I clutched at The Monkey Wrench Gang out of a sense of shame that I let that Bull Hog live.   Driving west for the first time is always a romance. Here am I with a woman from the Catskills who I met just a few days ago. Smitten, I tell her IÕm headed to the high country, and does she want to come? Everything dropped, she packs a bag and we go. The moment we hit the west, on the long slow ascent of the Plains, we both know it. The sparkling arid light, the scintillating sky, the clear bright vistas. Suddenly you realize it was five hundred miles back that you last smelled loam, and there is a new dryness in your mouth and not a drop of sweat that clings. The West is the land that begins when you cross the hundredth meridian in North Dakota at Bismarck, say, on the last day of July amid electric storms that threaten and offer not a drop of water and race away leaving blue sky. The colors are of grassland and eruptions of badland, muted browns and grays and yellows, and the smell is sharp and quick, that of alkali or sage or dust. Draw a line from Bismarck south to Pierre in the Dakotas, slice Nebraska roughly in half, cut off Kansas at Dodge City, follow the pan edge of the Oklahoma panhandle into Texas down to Abilene and to Laredo at the border: the delineation where average rainfall drops below twenty inches a year. We stop after a rifle-shot run of two days' driving, just past the hundredth meridian, at the first of the public lands where we can camp at will, under the cottonwoods by the Little Missouri River, where a hailstorm amid lightning blows on our tent at midnight, and what rain that falls is so brief, so stingy, that in the morning there is no proof of its passage and the fiery sun holds sway again over all the world. "The rainless country was the last frontier," wrote Bernard DeVoto, who told the story of aridity in the West perhaps more eloquently than any American. If beyond the hundredth meridian is the true West, its end lies at the High Sierras of California and the Cascades of Oregon and Washington, at the mountain rain shadow cutting off Pacific Ocean air. (The West does not include the relatively lush California coasts or the temperate rain forests of Oregon and Washington, essentially the Pacific Rim.) The region is geologically tortured, slashed across the middle with the Rocky Mountains, laced with many smaller ranges and countless basins, where snow and rain gather in the watershed of the forests and flow into the valleys and intermountain plains and steppe. The first Euro-American settlers, Jefferson's yeoman farmers, found it next to impossible to practice the rain-fed agriculture they imported from humid Europe that worked so well in the East. The forests back of the hundredth meridian had fallen in short order, but the aridlands could not be homesteaded so easily. Excerpted from This Land: How Cowboys, Capitalism and Corruption Are Ruining the American West by Christopher Ketcham All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.