Nature’s Burdens is a political and intellectual history of American natural resource conservation from the 1980s into the twenty-first century—a period of intense political turmoil, shifting priorities among federal policymakers, and changing ideas about the goals of conservation. Telling a story of persistent activism, conflict, and frustration but also of striking achievement, it is an account of how new ideas and policies regarding human relationships to plants, animals, and their surroundings have become vital features of modern environmentalism.
In the 1960s and 1970s, Congress embraced the largely dormant movement to preserve distinctive landscapes and the growing demand for outdoor recreation, establishing an unprecedented number of parks, monuments, and recreation areas. The election of Ronald Reagan and a shift to a Republican-controlled Senate brought this activity to an abrupt halt and introduced a period of intense partisanship and legislative gridlock that extends to the present. In this political climate, three developments largely defined the role of conservation in contemporary society: environmental organizations have struggled to defend the legal status quo, private land conservation has become increasingly important, and the emergence of potent scientific voices has promoted the protection of animals and plants and injected a new sense of urgency into the larger cause.
These developments mark this period as a distinctive and important chapter in the history of American conservation. Scrupulously researched, scientifically and politically well informed, concise, and accessibly written, Nature’s Burdens is the most comprehensive examination of recent efforts to protect and enhance the natural world. It will be of interest to environmental historians, environmental activists, and any general reader interested in conservation.