Apr 20th, 1:00 PM - 4:00 PM


Evolving Perceptions of American Nature: The Sagebrush Rebellion and the Struggle to Find Common Ground

Faculty Sponsor

Dr. Lisa Brady


Americans’ perceptions of nature determine in what ways they physically interact with their environments. Conversely, the visible consequences--positive and negative--of peoples’ physical relationships with nature serve as catalysts for fundamental shifts in how nature is intellectually experienced. Due to this fluid and personal process, legislating the appropriate use of the nation’sland has been a constant source of dispute. Therefore, it is important to evaluate how these perceptions have evolved and expressed themselves through federal land policy. The Sagebrush Rebellion of the late 1970s was aimed at transferring federal lands to state and private ownership; it was a unique reaction against the challenges environmentalism made to the widely held philosophy of conservation. Research into primary literature concerning the rise of conservation in the late 19th century formed the cornerstone of this project. An explanation for the emergence of the Sagebrush Rebellion was established by comparing and evaluating conservation’s precepts with those of environmentalism, which gained ascendancy in federal land policy in the 1960s. Comparative analyses of numerous primary and secondary sources identified the causes and historic significance of the Sagebrush Rebellion. This political movement illuminates the variables at play in the struggle to achieve balance between conservation’semphasis on land development and resource exploitation and environmentalism’sinsistence on preservation. Ultimately, the Sagebrush Rebellion emerged in response to and as a result of intellectual evolutions in American perceptions of nature and their expression in federal land management policy.