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Publication Date


Date of Final Oral Examination (Defense)


Type of Culminating Activity

Thesis - Boise State University Access Only

Degree Title

Master of Arts in History



Major Advisor

John Bieter, Ph.D.


Lisa Brady, Ph.D.


Shaun S. Nichols, Ph.D.


Scholars and the broader public have commonly viewed ranchers in the American West as part of the “environmental opposition,” a group of natural resource, or extractive, industries that opposed the modern environmental movement that developed during the 1960s and 1970s. Yet ranching differed from other natural resource industries in ranchers’ relationship with the environment and in the development of ranchers’ own form of environmentalism. This rancher environmentalism emphasized the conservation and wise use of the environment but was more complex and nuanced than observers typically recognized and did not view ranchers’ relationship with the natural world as merely transactional. Their environmentalism encompassed an appreciation for the sublime and sentimental feelings toward the land as well as the central belief that humans were a fundamental, necessary part of nature. Ranchers’ disagreements with traditional environmentalists largely resulted from those environmentalists’ emphasis on the preservation of the environment rather than maintaining a role for people in nature. This study uses the rewilding movement and the buffalo commons as examples to illustrate ranchers’ environmental beliefs. Rancher environmentalism led ranchers to contest the rewilding movement that evolved in the 1990s due to its association with radical environmentalists and its goal of recreating wilderness without humans. Their antagonism extended to the idea of the buffalo commons, a proposal to return bison and other native species to the Great Plains, and the real-world attempts to establish such an expanse. Ranchers did not support the buffalo commons because they equated it with rewilding and viewed it as calling for their removal. This opposition persisted despite the proposal’s origins as a land-use plan open to maintaining a place for humans on the Great Plains.