From illicit marijuana farms wedged deep in the canyons of the Angeles National Forest to the fire-bombed laboratories of the University of Washington, Char Miller takes readers on a wild romp through the contests, debates, and full-out battles that have surrounded American public lands for over a century in Public Lands, Public Debates: A Century of Controversy (Oregon State University Press, 2012) In a series of nineteen very short vignette essays published by the Oregon State University Press, Miller turns his laser focus on episodes in American land-management policy, some familiar and others formerly lost in institutional obscurity. Each essay brings a fresh perspective to land policy debates, often raising many questions along the way. Taken together as a collection, these vignettes and meditations offer a fascinating series of windows into the long and very contested history of American land-use policy.
Contemporary observers of public lands controversies may harbor nostalgic longings for a past when Americans were in agreement about their lands, but Miller’s book makes clear that such a time never existed. Whether Earth Liberation Front firebombers protesting ski resort development, intermountain ranchers opposing grazing restrictions, or Sierra Club rank-and-file opposing another dam, people from across the political spectrum and land-management agency leaders have engaged in passionate battles over the great American commons—public lands. “We need the edge,” Miller says in this interview, “both left and right—the center needs to know where the edges are in order to understand itself.”
Specifically written to appeal to a broad audience, Miller hopes this work will inspire readers to engage in public lands conversations, for such discourse is the heart of democratic decision-making. With themes ranging from the role of science in land-use power struggles to the relationships between multiple public lands agencies, Public Lands, Public Debates will surely inspire and inform many such conversations.