Public lands shape the “new West”

modern American West landscape President Obama’s announcement last week that he would use his executive powers to set aside the world’s largest marine reserve was just the latest in 150 years of government conservation efforts that have contributed so mightily to the quality of life we enjoy today. This recent article in the New York Times is a great depiction of how open space, and government’s role in making it happen, has enabled the prosperous development of the modern American West. Here’s an excerpt:

The West today is high-tech, young, more optimistic than other regions. And what gives joy, solace, relief and a thrill to the lives of so many Westerners is the one thing they all have in common: public land at their doorstep. There is no other place on earth like it. That is, fast-growing new cities surrounded by a natural world little changed since the founding of the republic.

It’s easy to be cheered by the return of bison to grasslands throughout the West. More surprising is the miracle of Southern California steelhead, a large trout that lives in the ocean and spawns in fresh water. Thanks in part to a public land buffer next to 20 million people, steelhead are getting a new lease on life in one of the most populated areas of the country.

The chaparral forests outside Los Angeles have very little in common with this former stagecoach stop in the lonely mountains of southwest Montana. Except this: A wounded piece of land can be made whole, if managed for the future by people whose capacity for wonder is limitless.

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