Public Land and Democracy in America


Public Land and Democracy in America

Understanding Conflict over Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument

Julie Brugger

Anthropology of Contemporary North America Series

400 pages


January 2025


$35.00 Pre-order

January 2025


$99.00 Pre-order

About the Book

In recent years the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument in southern Utah has figured prominently in the long and ongoing struggle over the meaning and value of America’s public lands. In 1996 President Bill Clinton used the Antiquities Act to create the monument, with the goal of protecting scientific and historical resources. His action incensed Utah elected officials and local residents who were neither informed nor consulted beforehand, and opposition to the monument has continued to make its day-to-day management problematic. In 2017 President Donald Trump reduced the monument’s size, an action immediately challenged by multiple lawsuits; subsequently, President Joe Biden restored the monument in 2021.

In Public Land and Democracy in America Julie Brugger brings into focus the perspectives of a variety of groups affected by conflict over the monument, including residents of adjacent communities, ranchers, federal land management agency employees, and environmentalists. In the process of following management disputes at the monument over the years, Brugger considers how conceptions of democracy have shaped and been shaped by the regional landscape and by these disputes.

Through this ethnographic evidence, Brugger proposes a concept of democracy that encompasses disparate meanings and experiences, embraces conflict, and suggests a crucial role for public lands in transforming antagonism into agonism.

Author Bio

Julie Brugger was previously a research social scientist at the School of Natural Resources and the Environment at the University of Arizona.


“Important and timely. Conflict over the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument has increased dramatically over the last six years, and public land issues have been more prominent in national politics in recent years as well. Questions about the substance of American democracy are also vital, given the level of partisanship in American politics today. . . . This book is an important contribution to national discussions of public lands.”—James R. Skillen, author of This Land Is My Land: Rebellion in the West

Table of Contents

List of Illustrations
List of Abbreviations
Part One: Landscape
Chapter One: National Landscape
Chapter Two: Regional Landscape
Part Two: Conflict
Chapter Three: Conflict over Grazing
Chapter Four: Conflict over Roads
Part Three: Democracy
Chapter Five: The Locals: Democracy and Community
Chapter Six: The Ranchers: Democracy and Freedom
Chapter Seven: The Environmentalists: Democracy and the Environment
Chapter Eight: The BLM: Democracy and Bureaucracy
Conclusion: GSENM’s Tenth Anniversary

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