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.
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 has 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 worked for, managing the technical side of the publication for 3 years and has also been 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.

One response

  1. I am currently reading this book to help me with strategies in preventing sprawl in the Town of Niskayuna in Schenectady County. Developers want to destroy 12 acres of beautiful parkland and the 1815-50 mansion that was home to five generations of the Leland and Charles Stanford family (international businessmen and Leland founder of Stanford University.) The shopping mall is to occupy land across from another shopping mall. It would eliminate the remaining historical farmlands that existed here from the 1760s, when John Duncan created his Hermitage homestead five miles from the dorp of Schenectady. This has been a cherished viewscape for two hundred years and over 1,000 people signed petitions to protest the Town allowing the permits to destroy the site. Now the case for an Environmental Impact Statement is being considered by Supreme Court Judge Joseph Sise in Schenectady Supreme Court. But we need to insure the place be preserved with the combined efforts of State and local governments, so Babbitt’s book is helpful in giving new spirit to the fight still ahead of us.
    Anyone who knows powerful Trustees of Stanford University, who could invest in the $3.5 million to buy this and then work with other area and state groups to provide a re-use of this wonderful large brick building and its additions — for educational, cultural, creative business locations–should contact us, Friends of Stanford Home, at our web site of the same name. We need your ideas and we need some powerful friends to get attention to this all-to-common local problem. But the history is national and significant here. call 518-346-8316.
    Linda Champagne

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