"That is not a modest set of complaints," writes Richard Behan, whose book traces the start-and-stop development of federal land ownership and management over the last two centuries. That system, he writes, borrows from the European tradition of "crown lands," created by fiat to reserve areas from general use; benefiting more than a handful of nobles, the system also incorporates elements of Native American beliefs about the common ownership and stewardship of land. This development of a common estate, Behan argues, was not articulated to protect lands from a resource-hungry, uncontrolled economy that turns public services into private goods, which is their condition today. The resultant degradation of public lands, he continues, points to the need for new methods and models of management that emphasize conservation and preservation, not resource use.
Behan's wide-ranging, sometimes even scattershot book is provocative, and it is likely to excite discussion among those on all sides of public-lands controversies. Given current efforts to develop resources on federal reserves, it is also timely, and of much interest to environmental activists and students of resource policy alike. --Gregory McNamee