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September 10, 2019

Battle for existence

Opinion

September 10, 2019

Author Christopher Ketcham opens his book ‘This Land: How Cowboys, Capitalism, and Corruption are Ruining the American West’ with reminiscence.

In the book’s second chapter, he gets specific. He is in the Escalante region of the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. The year is recent. The Trump administration has made clear its intention to shrink the monument’s acreage in favor of private interests. This time it’s cattlemen who consider the land to be theirs to destroy. All in the name of cowboy culture and rancher’s profits.

Fittingly, the tale turns to the story of Clive and Ammon Bundy. These were the men who led the takeover of public lands in defense of their right to graze without paying a cent and then, after getting away with that, staged an armed takeover of the Malheur Wildlife Refuge in Oregon. As Ketcham describes the events, he also provides the history behind these actions. In short, the Bundy dramas were part of an ongoing battle over who should control those lands legally considered to belong to all US citizens.

Ketcham does not stop with the Bundys and their ilk – men who are actually bit players in the ongoing war between private interests and the public good. As his text moves forward, Ketcham casts his scrutinizing pen on the role played by the Bureau of Land Management, the Wildlife Services and the Department of the Interior – to name just a few of the government agencies involved – in the selloff of the lands.

The story he tells is one of species threatened and species destroyed. It is also one that involves death threats and loss of employment to employees of those agencies who act as if their job is to protect the wild. It is a story that involves other powerful institutions in a conspiracy mired in greed and hubris: the Mormon church, the energy industry, agribusiness, and both political parties.

While it is clear that Ketcham’s purpose in writing this book is to bring attention to the abuse of the wilderness and to name those most responsible for its abuse, it is also apparent that he has an appreciation, indeed, a love, for the lands and animals he describes. His prose when describing these aspects moves beyond the merely factual and into the poetic. So do his profiles of the women and men fighting the behemoth intent on destruction.

Conversely, his anger at those who pretend to be friends of the forests, grasslands and the animals who live there is specific, biting and without regret. Indeed, his discussion of those organizations and individuals who call themselves “green” while they work with industry in destroying the wilderness for the profits of the cattle and extraction interests includes some of his harshest words. Likewise, he spares nothing when discussing the Obama administration, which gave away more wilderness to those interests than the Bush administration preceding it.

Excerpted from: ‘A Battle for Existence’.

Courtesy: Counterpunch.org

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