Cities in the Wilderness: a new vision of land use in America

Cities in the Wilderness by Bruce Babbitt
Cities in the Wilderness by Bruce Babbitt

What does the Endangered Species Act have to do with the conservation of our natural landscapes? Well a whole lot according to Bruce Babbitt in his book, Cities in the Wilderness: a new vision of land use in America. His beginning chapter introduces the reader to the Florida Everglades and its degradation due to encroaching sprawl, pollution, decrease in habitat size, and faulty levee system. Because of this the landscape was losing its natural character that historically created a buffer to prevent massive flooding into nearby human settlements from hurricanes. Not to mention being home to many different species of life that need the Everglades for their survival.

Babbitt illustrates in his book how the use of the Endangered Species Act as well as the Law of Antiquities can be utilized as forces to conserve natural landscapes and watersheds. In addition, they act as a way to control harmful industry that pollute and degrade natural landscapes. Because of this he stands firm on the idea that federal and state cooperation in land use through regulation and incentives are needed for the conservation of natural landscapes and their ecology.

The book further delves into other conservation projects led by Babbitt during his time as Secretary of the Interior. Some of the projects include sage scrub habitat protection along the coast of Southern California, desert owl habitat protection in Tucson, and dam removal in North Carolina. In addition Babbitt devotes an entire chapter to water conservation issues in cities such as Los Angeles, Phoenix and Las Vegas. He states that cities could “take much more initiative in using water allocation to shape and limit sprawling expansion, and to promote infill.”

Lastly, my attention was caught by what Babbitt said in regards to land use planning, “throughout our history, land use planning has been a one-way street down which we relentlessly race toward government subsidized exploitation of every resource. The question we now face is whether and how to create a parallel process that includes a broader consideration of the public interest of our land and resources.”

Babbitt’s question seems timely with the current concerns of climate change, scarcity of resources, and population growth. The whether and how of his question, it appears, are still are up for debate.

A bit about Bruce Babbitt – Secretary of the Interior during the Clinton Administration and Governor of Arizona from 1978 to 1987. He established the National Landscape Conservation System of 15 US National Monuments and 14 National Conservation Areas managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to keep them wild.

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