cover image This Land: How Cowboys, Capitalism and Corruption Are Ruining the American West

This Land: How Cowboys, Capitalism and Corruption Are Ruining the American West

Christopher Ketcham. Viking, $29 (428p) ISBN 978-0-7352-2098-0

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. [em]Agent: Jim Rutman, Sterling Lord Literistic. (July) [/em]