Revolution on the Range

White, Courtney. Revolution on the Range: The Rise of a New Ranch in the American West. Washington D.C.: Island Press, 2008. 221p.

Reviewed by Alexis Ence.

Amidst a clash of ranchers and environmentalists, a “New Ranch” emerged in the American West. Author Courtney White says the battles which raged over a decade ago in the West were destroying the land with politics, lawsuits, arson, and death threats. White is a former archaeologist and Sierra Club Activist. He is also the cofounder of The Quivira Coalition, which is a non-profit conservation organization. This organization is designed to bridge gaps between ranchers, environmentalists, scientists, public land managers, and others in the field of land health. His book Revolution on the Range tells the stories of these ranchers and environmentalists coming together to preserve the land they love and realizing that they have more in common than they think they do.

revolution on the range

White’s book offers a compilation of experiences he had at ranches all over the West, and he defines his approach as based on “hope,” which “like grass, is sometimes required to lie quietly, waiting for rain” (7). His hopes are that the “New Ranch” will bring together communities of environmentalists and of ranchers in a common experience of interchanging old and new values. With this book, he seeks to inspire all those who read it to understand the need for “stewardship” of the land: along with taking from the land we must also learn to give back to the land. He ends his book with a suggestion of how to better conserve and maintain publicly held lands. He has named his idea a “mugido” and defines it as, “A stretch of public land where the government reduces its regulatory role in exchange for high environmental stewardship by a nongovernmental entity” (195). In this way, private owners can draw from and give back to the land, and the government’s land does not go to waste. His ending again serves as an idea for collaboration between people for the betterment of land. White addresses these issues through stories of his experiences on different ranches and at different conferences. He includes dialogues between himself and environmentalists, and the conversations ranchers have; he further quotes passages from other books. White has also asked ranchers he feels have given “good stewardship” to the land to speak at conferences to share their ideas with other ranchers. White uses his book to bring nature closer to humans. For example, White compares humans with nature:

Grass may seem immortal, but in reality it needs water, nutrients, animals, and fire to stay vigorous. The health of the whole depends on the health of its essential parts. This is important because disruption is inevitable in nature, animal populations that are not functioning properly at basic levels will be in jeopardy. Communities of people are no different. Whether it is a ranch, village, small town, or city, every community needs to be diverse, resilient, opportunistic, and self-reliant if it is to survive unexpected challenges. (28)

White uses nature as a metaphor for human communities. His metaphor describes how these communities are all interdependent for survival. But today, he suggests, humans have become alienated from nature so that the only solution to current environmental and social problems is a recovery of those values that helped our ancestors survive. White summarizes author Dan Dagget’s key argument:

Dan believes we have become “space aliens” on our own planet. Once upon a time, humans enjoyed a mutualistic relationship with nature. In much the way that bees depend on flowers, beavers on creeks, and wolves on elk, many ecosystems evolved in the presence of humans, and over time their health began to depend on our species to set fires, apply hunting pressure, and cultivate the soil. We were gardeners in Eden; we were natives living with, and using, nature symbiotically, though not always sustainably. (104)

White encourages humans to reconnect with the land as “gardeners in Eden”: A rancher in one story goes out and sleeps in a tent with his herds, so that when the wolves come, he can discourage the wolves from attacking his flocks. In this way the rancher is able to maintain the safety of his flock and establish balance without shooting the wolves as other ranchers had. White acknowledges that there is a balance that comes as we begin to reconnect with nature and regard nature and humans as an interrelated whole.

If I have one criticism, it would be that towards the end of the book, White gives suggestions to those people he names “urbanites” and because these suggestions are about one brief paragraph long, I think his book could be improved by adding a chapter on suggestions for “urbanites” and how they can help their community. I know some environmentalists turn their noses up at urbanized areas, but for those of us who live in suburbia and want to know how to create a stewardship with the land, he does not give much aid. Instead of snubbing urbanization, he should open up a dialogue with “urbanites” and help them like he tries to help all the other groups in his book. Regardless, the book certainly stands out as a dialogue between ranchers and environmentalists; White tells an inspiring story about bringing people with the same love for the land together.