Book by ES Professor Randall Wilson wins prestigious national prize, named Outstanding Academic Title of 2014

ES Professor Randall Wilson’s recently published book America’s Public Lands: From Yellowstone to Smokey Bear and Beyond (Rowman and Littlefield Publishers), has been awarded the 2015 J.B. Jackson Prize from the Association of American Geographers (AAG).  One of only three book prizes given annually by the AAG, this prestigious award is for a book on the geography of the United States which best conveys the insights of professional geographic knowledge to a general audience.  It is named for John Brinckerhoff Jackson, who was the editor and founder of the journal Landscape and helped to establish the interpretation of cultural landscapes as a field of study both within, and outside of, the discipline of geography.

Earlier in the year, Professor Wilson’s book received other significant recognition when it was named a Choice Outstanding Academic Title of 2014 by the Association of College and Research Libraries.  This honor is given to less than ten percent of the over 7,000 academic titles reviewed each year.  The original review of the book put it this way, ‘Extremely well researched, this is a treasure trove of facts and explanations that distills a huge literature of historical, scholarly, and popular origins.  It is destined to be a highly cited classic in land management.”

The central question explored in America’s Public Lands is this:  How it is that the United States–the country that cherishes the ideal of private property more than any other in the world–has chosen to set aside nearly one-third of its land area as public lands?  Professor Wilson attempts to answer this question by tracing out the often-forgotten ideas of nature that have shaped the evolution of America’s public land system.

The first section explores the dramatic story of the origins of the public domain, including the century-long effort to sell them off and the subsequent emergence of a national conservation ideal. Arguing that we cannot fully understand one type of public land without understanding its relation to the rest of the system, the second section provides in-depth accounts of the different types of public lands.  Including chapters on national parks, national forests, wildlife refuges, Bureau of Land Management lands, and wilderness areas, Professor Wilson examines key turning points and major policy debates for each land type.  These insights help us to make sense of what otherwise appear to be contradictory observations of public land issues. 

Why, for example, do managers frequently promote fire as a management tool on national forests, when fighting and preventing fires (according to Smokey Bear) is one of the reasons for their creation in the first place? 

How is it that American bison can be defined as either a protected species, a threat to livestock, or “burger on the hoof” simply as a function of where they graze?

Or that historically, some of the strongest advocates for the creation of the wildlife refuge system have been those who most like to shoot it?

In addressing these questions, the book offers readers a chance to rethink our relationship with America’s public lands, including what it says about the way we relate to, and value, nature in the United States. 

Dr. Wilson focuses much of his teaching and research on the intersection of nature and society, with special attention given to environmental history, policy and management. He has earned degrees from the University of Iowa, the University of Colorado, and Humboldt State University.  Recently, he earned a Fulbright Fellowship to the University of Vienna.  In addition to the courses he teaches on campus during the academic year, he also leads a summer field course in Colorado entitled, The Rocky Mountain West: Physical and Cultural Geography.

Published by Rowman and Littlefield, America’s Public Lands: From Yellowstone to Smokey Bear and Beyond is available for purchase in bookstores or online through or the publisher’s website.