Crossing the Next Meridian

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

In CROSSING THE NEXT MERIDIAN, Charles F. Wilkinson traces the history of natural resource allocation and land use in the American West and offers a compelling analysis of current policies governing mining, grazing, timber, fishing, and water use. Today’s practices originate from nineteenth century laws and attitudes which Wilkinson labels the “lords of yesterday.” These outdated policies, appropriate when the West was being developed, have outlived their usefulness. The “lords of yesterday” gave miners an unmitigated “right to mine,” which should be modified to protect the environment while ensuring industry viability. Ranchers who have had access to public rangeland at greatly subsidized rates should develop improved range management practices. The idea that forests exist only to produce lumber must give way to a broader vision allowing a smaller cut of timber and wiser ecological practice. The notion that ever bigger water projects are needed to develop the West must be rejected in favor of using the water now available more efficiently. Natural resource exploration has reached a critical juncture, Wilkinson believes, where Westerners must understand the epochal changes that have occurred since these “lords of yesterday” were inaugurated.

Wilkinson adds a much-needed rational voice to the debates over environmental policy in the West. He proposes a middle way between industry and radical environmentalism, arguing for the preservation of Western community life as well as wildlife and land.