How the west is run

How the west is run

Morgan, Todd A


This Sovereign Land: A New Vision for Governing the West Daniel Kemmis. 2001. 224 p., $22.95 cloth. Island Press.

Daniel Kemmis presents an engaging history of the Rocky Mountain West while suggesting a path westerners might follow toward a more self– directed political future in This Sovereign Land. The core of the book focuses on public lands issues and the necessary and unavoidable development of more collaborative management approaches to deal with these issues.

In the first chapter Kemmis uses the recent debate over grizzly bear reintroduction in the Selway-Bitteroot to set the stage for his thesis: that westerners increasingly believe in taking charge of their own places and are trying to solve their own problems in a way that is more democratic and ultimately better for the land than paternalistic federal control and the acts of rebellion it has incited.

Throughout the book, Kemmis outlines a meaningful distinction between management of public lands and “capital N national command and control,” or sovereignty, over the western region. He attributes this sovereign control to a “peculiarly American brand of imperialism called manifest destiny” that traces its roots to Thomas Jefferson and Theodore Roosevelt. Kemmis then follows the course of western resistance to imperialistic sovereignty from its reactionary beginnings to current collaborative efforts that genuinely challenge what many westerners “see as a worn-out centralized bureaucracy.”

In the final chapters Kemmis paints in broad strokes a vision of “How the West Might Govern the West” and the necessary “Realigning [of] Western Politics.” The cooperative and ultimately positive tone reflected throughout the book can be seen in the closing line of Chapter 8: “…the West can seize this opportunity only if it learns how to overcome the deep political divisions that until now have so seriously stunted the region’s potential.”

As a “confirmed Democrat,” Kemmis carefully avoids promoting privatization of our public lands and complete devolution of federal control as solutions. He also avoids enlisting national environmental groups in the movement to forge new public lands management schemes. Instead, Kemmis, like John Wesley Powell, promotes the elements of local and regional cooperation and watershed organization. Kemmis writes: “This book has been built on the assumption that the future of the West must involve a radical and permanent transcendence of the region’s embedded struggle between imperial-type environmentalism and Sagebrush Rebellion-type resistance.”

Resource professionals, particularly western foresters, would do well to read This Sovereign Land if for no other reason than to be exposed to a vision of functional, collaborative land management efforts.

-Todd A. Morgan

Missoula, Montana

Copyright Society of American Foresters Mar 2002

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