Book Review: Cities in the Wilderness by Bruce Babbit

city-wild.jpg(Review by George Wuerthner) I just read an excellent book–Cities in the Wilderness by former Sec. of Interior Bruce Babbitt. It’s an insider’s view of some of the issues and politics that took place while he was govenror of Arizona as well as Sec. of Interior. Babbitt is surprisingly well versed in a lot of conservation history, conservation biology principles, basic ecology, and of course politics. I was impressed with his breath of knowledge. He discussed in his book everything from protection of the Everglades to restoration of tall grass prairie in Iowa to water development in Arizona, wolf restoration in Yellowstone, and dam removal across the country. I was surprised to see he had read the Monkey Wrench Gang and seemed to agree with the general premise that some dams should come down.
He minces no words about livestock grazing and says it’s one of the biggest impacts on the environment in the West. He correctly asserts that it has minimal economic importance to the nation and argues that it should be ended–at a minimum on all public lands where there is less than 10 inches of precipitation and he also endorsed the idea of permit buy out from willing sellers as a creative solution.


In the book he describes various successful as well as failed campaigns to draw some conclusions about how to succeed on environmental issues. One thing that I particularly liked is his call for federal guidance in land use planning and zoning. He makes the case that the federal government indirectly makes decisions about land use all the time by how it funds things from airports, highways to reservoirs and water projects. He argues that these kinds of projects have direct impacts on where and how development occurs. Rather than just let these things occur by default, he argues the federal government should consider both how these projects affect sprawl, and growth, as well as how they can be used to promote better land use planning.
He comes out very favorably in support of the Clean Water Act and argues that we need to use the Act to restore riparian areas, and reduce non-point pollution.
I was pleased to see that he considers Ag is one of the biggest impacts to the landscape–rightly recognizes that it gets a free ride in this country in terms of its environmental impacts. That was refreshing to read–especially from someone who once was in government.
He is also a big fan of the Endangered Species Act and says more or less that groups that are sueing the government to list species are doing everyone a big favor. (WWP, ONDA, Forest Guaridans, CBD, Earth Justice, etc. take heart–he thinks you’re doing a great service). He also argues strongly in favor of the Endangered Species Act as a potential mechanism that can guide land use decisions as well. I had never thought about it just the way he put it.
He’s a good thinker. I highly recommend this book.
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George Wuerthner is the author of 34 books on natural history, wilderness and environmental issues. I am currently the Ecological Projects Director for the Foundation for Deep Ecology.

Nick Aster is a new media architect and the founder of TriplePundit.com

TriplePundit.com has since grown to become one of the web's leading sources of news and ideas on how business can be used to make the world a better place.

Prior to TriplePundit Nick worked for Mother Jones magazine, successfully re-launching the magazine's online presence. He was instrumental in the creation of TreeHugger.com, managing the technical side of the publication for 3 years as well as an active consultant for individuals and companies entering the world of micro-publishing. He earned his stripes working for Gawker Media and Moreover Technologies in the early days of blogging.

Nick holds an MBA in sustainable management from the Presidio School of Management and graduated with a BA in History from Washington University in St. Louis.