From Denali's majestic slopes to the Great Swamp of central New Jersey, protected wilderness areas make up nearly twenty percent of the parks, forests, wildlife refuges, and other public lands that cover a full fourth of the nation's territory. But wilderness is not only a place. It is also one of the most powerful and troublesome ideas in American environmental thought, representing everything from sublime beauty and patriotic inspiration to a countercultural ideal and an overextension of government authority.
The Promise of Wilderness examines how the idea of wilderness has shaped the management of public lands in the decades since the passage of the Wilderness Act in 1964. Wilderness preservation has engaged diverse groups of citizens, from hunters and ranchers to wildlife enthusiasts and hikers, as political advocates who have leveraged the resources of local and national groups toward a common goal. Turner demonstrates how these efforts have influenced major shifts in modern American environmental politics, which have emerged not just in reaction to a new generation of environmental concerns, such as environmental justice and climate change, but also in response to changed debates over old conservation issues, such as public lands management. He also shows how battles over wilderness protection have influenced American politics more broadly, fueling disputes over the proper role of government, individual rights, and the interests of rural communities; giving rise to radical environmentalism; and playing an important role in the resurgence of the conservative movement, especially in the American West.
"The Promise of Wilderness is an epic history of the heart, soul, and mind of the wilderness community over the last fifty years. Through personal stories of legendary conservation heroes, it provides a primer for all who work to protect special places. But even more, it is the story of the significant differences-the deep divide- over the seminal question: what is the role of the State in providing for the public good? This is the question before us today in our polarized political world-and the question we must answer in each conservation policy and political debate. Jay Turner reminds us frequently that in our democratic society 'all politics are local.' The Promise of Wilderness comes from the good will and passion of 'local' people who work for the public good to protect the few remaining wild places in this country."
– William H. Meadows, Former President, The Wilderness Society
"The people, history, and politics of America's wilderness are as compelling as the iconic places themselves. In The Promise of Wilderness, Jay Turner provides a wonderfully compelling picture of each of these. This modern history will be both a tool for wilderness advocates and a great read for anyone interested in America's rich conservation history."
– Melyssa Watson, Cofounder, The Wilderness Society's Wilderness Support Center
"A new crop of conservation historians is pushing up new interpretations of wilderness conservation. Jay Turner is a star of these new historians and his book, The Promise of Wilderness, well deserves reading by anyone who loves wilderness and wants to keep it. I hope it sparks lively discussion around the campfire."
– Dave Foreman, author of Rewilding North America and founder of The Rewilding Institute
"James Turner's insightful book demonstrates the continued vitality and centrality of wilderness within American environmentalism."
– Mark Harvey, author of Wilderness Forever: Howard Zahniser and the Path to the Wilderness Act
"A superb study of the implementation of the Wilderness Act, and a springboard for a new period in wilderness thought and advocacy."
– Paul Sutter, author of Driven Wild: How the Fight Against Automobiles Launched the Modern Wilderness Movement
"The most deeply researched, analytically rigorous, and elegantly written study of American wilderness politics since the 1960s."
– from the Foreword by William Cronon
Wilderness and the Origins of
Modern Environmentalism, 1964-1976
1 Why a Wilderness Act?
2 Speaking for Wilderness
3 The Popular Politics of Wilderness
4 New Environmental Tools for an Old Conservation Issue 101
The Polarization of American Environmental Politics, 1977-1994
5 Alaska: "The Last Chance to Do It Right the First Time"
6 National Forests: The Polarization of Environmental Politics
7 The Public Domain: Environmental Politics and the Rise of the New Right
wilderness and a New Agenda for the Public Lands, 1987-2009
8 From Wilderness to Public Lands Reform
9 The New Prophets of Wilderness
10 The Paths to Public Lands Reform
Epilogue: Rebuilding the Wilderness
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James Morton Turner is assistant professor of environmental studies at Wellesley College.