Summary of "Wilderness Preservation and the Sagebrush Rebellions"

Summary of

Wilderness Preservation and the Sagebrush Rebellions

by  William L. Graf

Summary written by T.A. O'Lonergan, Conflict Research Consortium

Citation: Wilderness Preservation and the Sagebrush Rebellions, William L. Graf, (Savage, MD: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 1990) 329 pp.

Wilderness Preservation and the Sagebrush Rebellions will be of interest to those who seek to understand the development of present-day federal land policy, and to understand the historical opposition to conservation and preservation. This work is divided into nineteen chapters in four parts, with index and bibliography. Sagebrush rebellion refers to "organized resistance in the West to to federal public land policies." The authors describes four periods of rebellion, devoting a section of the text to each.

The first sagebrush rebellion coalesed around the issue of irrigation lands. It was a conflict primarily between "federal controls and western efforts at unrestricted development." Chapter One describes the initial surveys of western public lands in the post Civil War period, by explorers such as John Wesley Powell. It describes early abuses and corruption in public land management, the practices of land speculators, and early conflicts over water rights and policy. Chapter Two explores the philosophies and personalities which fueled this clash. The Western environment itself remained poorly known and understood, by both sides in this conflict. Chapter Three describes the often fanciful and innacurate accounts of western land and environment which flourished in the absence of good information and under the zeal of developers. This lack of accurate information delayed resolution and exacerbated the conflict. Chapter four explains the resolution of this first rebellion with the General Revision Act of 1891. Among other things, this act began the shift in federal land policy away from disposal and toward management, and provided for the establishment of forest reserves thereby setting the stage for the second sagebrush rebellion.

Part Two discusses the rebellion over the disposition of forested lands. Chapter Five describes the initial development of federal forestry policy, leading to the reservation of 46 million acres of land. Chapter Six describes President Roosevelt's contribution to the national forest systems and the rise of conservationism, and the growing opposition by the timber industry. Chapter Seven reviews the personalities and philosophies behind this second rebellion. Anti-federalists included timber companies, ranchers, and miners. Within the federal government, President Roosevelt, Gifford Pinchot and Albert Potter were pivotal figures. This chapter also describes some early conservation organizations, such as the Sierra Club and the Audubon Society. Chapter Eight examines the increasing cultural and economic divergences bewteen the West and surrounding and costal areas, and the increasing economic dependence of the West on the East. Chapter Nine describes the anti-conservation opposition to federal forest policy, begining with the Denver Public Lands Conference, and ending with the National Conservation Congress of 1910. This chapter also discusses the similarities bewteen the first and second rebellions. The second sagebrush rebellion was resolved in the resounding favor of federalists and conservationism.

Part Three explores the third sagebrush rebellion, this time over grazing lands. While forested land was increasingly regulated, grasslands remained largely unprotected, and open to disasterous mismanagement. The second sagebrush rebellion opened as ranchers demanded expanded recognition of grazing rights on public domain land, and transfer of public grazing lands to the control of the states. This rebellion reached a brief resolution in the Taylor Grazing Act of 1934. Chapter Eleven explores the failure of grazing management under the Taylor Act, and the resurgance of rebellion, ending with the creation of the Bureau of Land Management. Chapter Twelve describes some of the pivotal figures and philosophies in this third rebellion. And Chapter Thirteen discusses the broader economic and cultural shifts in the West during this period. The author argues that "The third sagebrush rebellion ended with a clear victory for the newly powerful conservation lobby."

The last part of this text discusses the disputes over wilderness lands. chapter Fourteen describes the conditions which led to the Wilderness Act of 1964. This act, and subsequent expansion pressures from preservationists, set the stage for the fourth sagebrush rebellion. Opponents of the Wilderness Act included the National Park Service, the timber industry, and grazing, mining and water development interests. Chapter Fifteen describes the various conflicts over grazing fees and allotments, the Fedral Land Policy and Management Act, and expansion of the wilderness system. Chapter Sixteen describes the key persons and groups in this rebellion. These groups argued that "the federal government must `return' the lands to the various states." President Reagan and Secretary Watt seemed supportive of the rebel's position. As in the earlier sections, Chapter Seventeen explores the leading personalities and underlying philosophies which fueled this conflict. Chapter Eighteen explores the cultural and economic background of the West during this period, with emphasis on increasing urbanization, air quality concerns, and the issue of power generating plants, including nuclear power. Chapter Nineteen evaluates the outcome of this most recent rebellion, and draws some general conclusions regarding the ongoing role of such conflicts in developing federal land management policy.

Wilderness Preservation and the Sagebrush Rebellions offers an engaging history of federal land policy in the West, and of the development of conservationism and its opposition.