Dr. Taylor’s Definition of Internal Colonialism and its Application to the Interior West: Does Partisan Politics Distract Us From Justice?

Yesterday, the Colorado Springs Gazette ran an essay by Vince Bzdek. It was about Governor Polis disagreeing with Biden Admin policies on Covid and agreeing with (some previous) Trump Admin policies. I really liked one quote which I think it particularly relevant to TSW topics:

Not all problems have a left and a right. Some problems are just problems, and the minute we Velcro ideology onto some problems, they often become bigger, uglier, less solvable problems.

It will be interesting to look through that lens at various topics. One that comes to mind is the question of what we might call domestic imperialism (I think I first heard that from Matt Carroll at WSU, a rural sociologist). Another related topic was raised by Patrick McKay in this comment. I see actually two levels here: (1) justice (social and environmental) implications of distant folks making decisions with impacts on local communities, and (2) given that this is our current political/legal system, to what extent are the “on the ground” decisions made by the personal predilections of local officials? I see the first as more of a political science question, and the latter as more of a “how does this work in practice?” question. Both are worth reflection and discussion, I think. For this post, I’ll stick to #1.

In Dr. Dorceta Taylor’s, of Yale School of the Environment, book “The Rise of the American Conservation Movement: Power, Privilege, and Environmental Protection“, she traces the history of race, gender and class

Let’s look at what she calls “internal colonialism”.

In addition to colonial expansion, countries seek to bring their hinterlands or peripheral regions under the control of the central government. Such moves toward internal colonization result in tensions or conflict between the country’s core or center and its periphery. The core develops exploitive relationships with the periphery, using the hinterland’s natural resources and cheap labor to enhance or sustain the development or expansion of the core. If the periphery has indigenous or culturally distinct people, the core often discriminates against them. The core monopolizes trade and commerce, thus forcing the peripheral region to develop as a complementary economy of the core. The economy of the core typically relies on one or a few exports. The movement of laborers in the periphery is determined by forces outside of the region. Economic dependence of the internal colony is reinforced by legal, political and military measures. The periphery is often characterized by lower levels of service and low standards of living than the core (Blauner 1969, 1972, 1982; Hechter 1994; Horvath 1972; Taylor 2014.

While Taylor focuses on the role of peripheral regions in providing natural resources, it may be just as IC (internal colonialist) to require peripherals to provide certain kinds of recreation by limiting land uses.

Which reminds me of a personal story:

When we started the journey that would become Colorado Roadless, Senator Hickenlooper was Mayor Hickenlooper of Denver. We had a public meeting in Denver and Hick spoke about how important it was to protect recreational opportunities because those opportunities attract businesses and people to Denver. I was standing next to our Regional Forester and said something like “he seems to be forgetting that rural people have their own agency.. sounds colonialist to me!”. Of course, that was Hick’s job as Mayor, to make sure his own folks’ interests were taken into account. Still, this can easily be the modus operandi for any state with urban and rural populations. That not only are urban interests prioritized, but their views on what should occur on rural lands imposed via having the majority of voters.

Circling back to Bzdek’s comment, here’s a question: if the Interior West were not occupied by people who vote Republican, would ENGO’s, the media and other opinion leaders be more sensitive to their quest for (we can disagree about how much) autonomy and political power over the lands they inhabit?

44 thoughts on “Dr. Taylor’s Definition of Internal Colonialism and its Application to the Interior West: Does Partisan Politics Distract Us From Justice?”

  1. Observation: These remarks resonate with me, particularly for Wyoming, my now home, and Montana where I also lived. My one-time mother-in-law, Thyra Thomson, was Secretary of State for Wyoming (R) for several decades. She often noted that Wyoming, the least populated state and nation’s most prolific energy producer, was treated as a “colony” by the rest of the U.S. Former WY Governor Dave Freudenthal (D), frequently describes Wyoming as a “price-taker” without much autonomy from the “price-setters.” In Montana, the “Copper Kings” had a huge impact on the state; I observed, as did many, that those Copper Kings (Daly and Clark) took a lot out of Montana but didn’t leave much (o.k. a Superfund site). They left no universities, museums or other institutions. The wealth Clark earned in Butte mining copper purchased European art that ended up in a Washington, D.C. museum, built a Fifth Ave. mansion in New York and bought a US Senate seat. In Montana, this legacy left a feeling of mistrust of corporations — especially extractive– while in Wyoming, with greater federal ownership and fewer large companies, it left a legacy of mistrust of the feds. These are small population states who understand their economic fortunes are largely controlled beyond their borders. The need to be considered, consulted and heard when decisions are being made is appropriate in my opinion. As Interior Assistant Secretary, I was instrumental in the NEPA “cooperating agency rule” for BLM which then was reinforced Department-wide by Secretary Norton.

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    • Other observations:

      – The value of the benefits Wyoming receives from the federal government is far higher than the amount it contributes to Treasury, despite a relatively high per capita GDP.

      – Wyomingites receive greater representation in Congress than any other states (>5 congresspeople per million residents vs. <2 for NY, TX, and CA)

      I'm curious to know how you reconcile your perception with these realities.

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      • These, however, are broadly standard talking points that don’t respond to Rebecca’s points.

        The “coastal blue states generate the GDP” argument, for lack of a more elegant term, does not and has not said, well, much of anything other than about the economic composition of major metropolitan hubs. That Wyoming itself has a relatively decent per capita GDP is offset by the fact that there aren’t all that many capita in Wyoming, clocking in at a staggering 570k at the 2020 census.

        A couple simple, but useful things to consider in deploying this trope: https://blogs.cfainstitute.org/investor/2018/03/13/red-states-blue-states-two-economies-one-nation/; https://www.brookings.edu/blog/the-avenue/2019/09/10/america-has-two-economies-and-theyre-diverging-fast/

        In short it tells about the economic composition of state like Wyoming vis a vis other states, but to run that out to something akin to a “welfare queen” type argument about rural interior states is unsupported. And that’s certainly implicit in your claim about who contributes what to the treasury.

        Rebecca’s point, I believe, consonant with the original post, is that the legacy of periphery-to-core relations is still evident in the way that wealth generated by activities in the periphery flowed and flows to the core.

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        • They’re not talking points, they’re statistical facts, and they are directly relevant to Rebecca’s assertion that “These are small population states who understand their economic fortunes are largely controlled beyond their borders.” My point is that these “peripheral” peoples actually wield outsized political power in the national “core” (DC) and reap economic benefits from the union rather than incurring liabilities. I agree that Rebecca’s point is consonant with Sharon’s original post, and I disagree with both of them. Rural, small-state politicians have far more agency over local economies and national policies than Sharon and Rebecca describe.

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          • So, A, so what the Utah folks thought about Bears Ears had an “outsized” influence on the Obama declaration? Or do their elected representatives not really represent them?

            Perhaps we need to discuss specific examples of this “outsized” influence.. or perhaps you are thinking “rightsized” is 1/435? So 2/435ths would be “outsized”?
            Note: I’m mostly talking about policies with unique impacts to those communities/counties/states legally based on the property rights associated with federal land ownership.

      • It seems to me that no government program is state specific, other than perhaps Alaska and Hawaii. So… Wyoming-ites, while following the same rules as everyone else, get more back than they pay in.. perhaps because a number of them are not providing enough federal tax.. reasons.. they don’t make enough? Or they are using too many benefit programs (that they are qualified to use)?

        Based on this argument, if rich states give money to poor states (or rich counties to poor counties) then does it follow that it is appropriate for them to tell them what to do? This is a question for all development aid as well. Here’s an example about energy in Africa https://qz.com/africa/1980339/bidens-plan-to-eliminate-fossil-fuels-wont-work-in-africa/

        I think the important thing about Congress is the total not the per million.. so even if Montana and Wyoming ganged up with their one vote each, they wouldn’t have much impact compared to California’s 53. Legislation is passed by number of votes and they don’t have many.

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        • You really don’t see how having more representation in Congress per capita gives citizens of smaller states outsized political power in DC? If that’s true I’m better off talking to a wall.

          Again, my point is not about welfare queens or “givers vs takers.” I’m merely challenging the assertions that rural states lack political agency and are exploited economically by faraway coastal elites. That’s a common theme in your posts, Sharon, and it’s total hogwash. Red state conservatives punch well above their weight class on Capitol Hill and dominate the legislatures of most rural western states.

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      • The fact that we don’t have domestic climate policy despite overwhelming public support is a prime example of small state politicians dictating national policy. Same goes for bargain basement public land grazing rates. Social issues are a whole other ball of this particular wax, but we don’t need to go there on this site.

        As you noted, you do seem to be talking specifically about administrative/parochial land management decisions. Whether the feds should manage land at all, and whether local interests should have more say in land management decisions are reasonable questions to pose. However, claiming that rural western states are “internal colonies” is unreasonable in my opinion due to the objective fact that they hold disproportionate political power in our federal system. No colony has ever held such sway in the imperial court.

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  2. Sharon – I’m familiar with Dr. Taylor’s research and am fairly certain you’re perverting her point. The “internal colonies” in that quote presumably refer (for example) to cotton and tobacco plantations of the antebellum south, coalfields of Appalachia, and uranium mines on the Diné reservation. Perhaps you could reach out directly to solicit her views?

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    • I think Sharon is openly stating a speculative move based on the dynamic Dr. Taylor lays out, not claiming that her point is a direct consequence of the research.

      That being said, “perverting the point” implies disingenuous application of the concepts and research. Is that the case here? I doubt it. At least, if so, you’d have to substantiate that the concept is strictly limited to the examples you provide and not applicable to current, emerging possible examples of that dynamic. I think there may be an argument to be made that those “current / emerging / possible” versions of that dynamic are out there. I don’t think that means internal colonialism is inevitable in environmental movements. But I do think that core, elite ideologies are subtly operative in defining policies that deny the ability, competence, and validity of local perspectives (at least when those perspectives disagree with the core / elite ideology). And I think it’s honestly self-deceptive to think that “modern” versions of those ideologies avoid this simply by being “modern”. The foundation of Dr. Taylor’s theoretical apparatus, at least in the cited book, is contextualizing the motives of early conservationists, which included a significant amount of paternalism, elite condescension, and denial of agency (or the same degree of agency) to non-core non-elite perspectives. If you’re familiar with her work then you will likely note that her account runs against, in some ways at least, the standard venerating account of bold visionaries etc. Because they were also social agents reflecting and enacting the views of their own milieu. As are people today, coincidentally.

      And I think that, at bottom, is the point. That the views of the core are given the loudest platform or taken as the granted, “educated people just know _” sort of treatment, it lays a foundation for that same dynamic seen in the more checkered or perhaps blinkered moments of the conservation movement’s past. Particularly when that is deployed in support of policies that have real ramifications on people living in those areas but find their input and viewpoints to be either too uneducated to be worth considering or too different from the core ideology to be reconcilable. I honestly don’t know if Dr. Taylor’s research, taken as a whole, maps neatly on to the question of competing land uses today, but I do think that the core-periphery insight does, insofar as it enables an observer to track a problematic dynamic that emerges in environmental discourse. Here one could cite George Cameron Coggin’s polemic against collaboration as allowing for the watering-down of environmental goals as an intellectually influential version of treating periphery views as “too different from the core ideology to be reconcilable” which is a strongly implicit thread in that work. Crudely put, you can’t involve and actually respond to the input of the local yokels because they aren’t educated enough to understand and respect the properly determined goals of the cognoscenti.

      Sharon – would be interested in your take on my thoughts there.

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      • I agree completely with your second paragraph above. In my view, however, the exploited peoples on the periphery of the modern rural west are immigrant farm/forest workers, tribal members fighting to protect freshwater sources from fossil fuel development, subsistence fishers and foragers living below the poverty line, etc. To me, the descendants of white settlers who populate the committee rooms in regional cores like Cheyenne and Helena and argue for continued exploitation of already-denuded nearby natural resources for private gain are the exploiters, not the exploited. That’s the perversion I alluded to above.

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        • Well, for what it’s worth I do agree that on a scale of the exploited that those you cite are those likely reaping the worst consequences of whichever or whatever policies reign, in large part due to the unfortunate trend that poverty and a lack of political power tends to beget continued poverty and lack of political power.

          But I think the neatness of opposing exploiter and exploited in such a way breaks down when it encounters pro-development or pro-industry tribal members, or pro-development immigrant forest workers, and confronts the economic questions that come with that. All that in part bears on the point / question Sharon asked – the core narrative will, at most, selectively frame the narratives of the periphery based on how they support or oppose that narrative (Not taking a stance *whatsoever* on the merits and issues of project here but just looking at rhetoric, opposed tribal activists on the line 3 project in Minnesota are framed as “water protectors” versus tribal contractors as “smoke screen tokens”, see https://www.startribune.com/native-american-contractors-letter-seeks-end-to-destructive-and-unlawful-protests-over-line-3-pipeli/600066795/).

          My point here being that this one exploiter / exploited dyad doesn’t really bear out. It’s not a dyad, it cuts across more lines. This is where you can segue in Patrick’s point below, and the more specific concern in question about land use. We can grant your point when you say that immigrant workers are indeed exploited, often by people in rural areas with greater political and economic resources, but that does not negate the observation that the values of urban cores are often prioritized at the expense of rural peripheries, which has consequences that in turn include socioeconomic well being and autonomy of the middle classes (and the poor!) of those peripheries, which cuts across racial / historical lines in ways that the simple exploiter/exploited dyad is not good at recognizing. Trying to stay on topic with the example cited, wilderness designations are a centralized and hierarchical method that by its very nature can be construed by people in a given area as a devaluation of their economic interests vis a vis the recreational interests of the urban core.

          Some asides:

          Maybe worth noting that recreation towns aren’t famous for producing socioeconomic equity. What follows is a super-speculative flight from that observation taken alongside the general discussion above.

          People arguing from pro-new-wilderness positions are also often those typically minimizing or arguing against active management, among other things. As a set of positions it seems to be one that involves very little non-recreational human use of certain (most?) forested and public land. I always am left wondering about the vision of rural economy that exists here.

          What I want to highlight is that I often fail to see any vision of rural economy beyond service jobs and varying levels of support for recreation. Which in turn seems to imply that in this vision the “real, serious” work of the economy goes on in ever-denser cities while the play goes on in the “natural” lands removed from those cities. The play in the “natural” lands is of course supported by service jobs and whatever minimal agency presence necessary to facilitate that play. People in the areas designated for this play are either going to do service work for the subpar wages that entails or they can become serious, get educated, move to the city for a real job, and go visit on the weekends like the rest of us. And that may not be precisely an internal colony in the sense delimited above, but it’s certainly colonial-adjacent when considered alongside the fact that it involves the removal or co-optation of the peripheral people, of whatever provenance, in those lands currently and a re-molding of them to either fit or serve the vision of the core. I think that fits with Patrick’s point below that there is a colonial cast to the push for ever increasing wilderness designations.

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        • Hmm. So I don’t live near Cheyenne or Helena but I have observed oil and gas workers of all colors. As you know there are energy Tribes and non-energy Tribes. So Tribal members who fight against fossil fuels are exploited, and ones who work and make money from them are not?
          Is “private gain” really the reason for say oil and gas extraction? Or perhaps keeping homes warm, or providing transportation to food supplies (or ag machinery). And if the “private gain” involves family supporting wages for unionized workers is that still bad?
          So is or is not say, Juana Mendez recent immigrant and blue collar worker, exploited in her Union pipefitter job or the exploiter? If it’s Jan Stevenson descendent of settlers? Or perhaps John Schmidt of unknown ethnic background and immigration time-period?
          It seems like you are concerned about people below the poverty line (which I agree with) but not necessarily about providing necessities to them at a low cost, nor about blue collar workers losing their jobs and moving below the poverty line.

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          • My point, again, is about who holds political power. It’s difficult for me to see how the dominant post-colonial political class is on the exploited periphery in the current context. Hence my references to lesser-resourced, and less-white, demographics.

      • A. When you said “people living in those areas but find their input and viewpoints to be either too uneducated to be worth considering or too different from the core ideology to be reconcilable.” I’d only add there’s also a tendency to make moral judgments (are you the same A. who recommended “Grandstanding”?). A veritable trifecta of what we called in theology school “othering”. You disagree… you’re ignorant, malevolent, or so different you are not worth listening to..

        It’s important that we make a place for these conversations to happen.. even if only here at TSW. Hey, I can disagree with you and not call you malevolent, ignorant, and I think you are worth listening to (if you engage in back and forth and don’t just resay the same thing over and over). We together can be better than that. We can acknowledge that we don’t have all the answers. We can talk it through, and acknowledge everyone’s concerns, and maybe come up with better solutions for everyone.

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        • I did recommend Grandstanding, and agree with the points you cite. Relating to the issue here is my stance on the “exploiter / exploited” dyad that organizes people a little too neatly for my taste.

          The claim is that they are focusing on who holds political power, and I think the problem is that they are extremely selective in their construal of what constitutes power and who holds it, doing so in a way that relegates all consideration of class and economic position to a secondary status because those considerations pose questions that make the “exploiter / exploited” dyad, at least in the terms they construe it, hard to sustain. Like it can be true that descendants of settlers hold more socioeconomic resources than, say, tribal communities and still also be true that core / elite narratives about land use, when influencing policy, can, do, and have directly cut those people out of decisionmaking processes to their socioeconomic detriment. Is that ok or not, is that good policy or bad policy?

          They may in turn say that the core / elite narratives have the interests of the formerly excluded / marginalized groups at heart, and that thereby sets aside the question of impacts on other groups as a lesser question. But I would contend that the reality of land use is much more complex than “post-original-colonial exploiters setting to continue that exploitation versus a coalition of activists and visionaries or what have you setting out to right the wrongs of the past.” Tying back to “grandstanding” and the content therein- the above bit is a strategy that merely sets up the right and wrong sides of history and conveniently always finds oneself on the right side.

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          • You’re oversimplifying my argument and using a straw man to, well, grandstand. Note that I never insinuated malevolence on anyone’s part, and I fully recognize the complex dynamics you described above. I’m not attempting to organize people neatly as you state, but to highlight that truly exploited, extremely peripheral groups exist on the outskirts of these very rural communities. I’m calling into question the victimhood mentality evident in the original post and urging you to zoom out and view the issue through a broader lens.

    • Anonymous- you can disagree with my points, but Dr. Taylor is perfectly clear in her writing, pellucid, I would say.. ​and I quoted it word for word.

      Here is another quote from page 397:” the legacy of race and class discrimination and the practice of separating environmental issues from those of social inequality are challenges that the conservation movement has had a difficult time overcoming. Discussions and conflicts about these issues still occur regularly even today.”

      I don’t think you can couple “extraction” industries from working class jobs and people. Public lands grazing may be a separate question. I also think that policies that effectively remove local residents from traditional recreational or subsistence activities (via Parkifying, Monumentizing, or even road closures) should be examined through the same lens.

      We know little about class (OK sociologists, time to suggest papers) in recreation but there are some intriguing hints in the NVUM data. Grad students?

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      • You provided an 8-sentence excerpt from an entire book. I agree with everything in that excerpt and in the additional quote you included in your last comment above. I’m not suggesting that you misquoted Dr. Taylor, only that you may be taking her points out of context.

        Why not reach out to the professor herself to see whether she wants to weigh in on this discussion?

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        • I did right after I posted it .. here is my note:

          “Hi Dr. Taylor!

          I thought you might want to know that I plugged your book in a post on The Smokey Wire today and quoted your definition of internal colonialism.
          .
          I always appreciate your work.”

          Now I didn’t ask her to weigh in, but that was a cultural humility thing (it can’t be important enough for you to take your time) plus my own experience with academics (they don’t necessarily want to involve themselves in these discussions). I’ll specifically ask her. Thanks for the advice to be more assertive!

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  3. This makes perfect sense if you consider that resources don’t just have to be things like lumber or minerals. I would argue with our current culture, untouched wilderness is the ultimate colonial resource. There seems to be a bizarre dynamic where rich liberals from the highly populated coasts romanticize the idea of vast protected landscapes in the west, even though they will most likely never visit them.

    Accordingly, most western Wilderness bills in Congress tend to be sponsored by Congressional representatives from states either on the left coast or east of the Mississippi. This can be most clearly seen with the America’s Red Rock Wilderness Act in Utah, which has been introduced in every Congress for 30+ years always by eastern senators (currently Dick Durbin of Illinois), and has never had any support from Utah’s congressional reps. The longstanding obsession of easterners with controlling how land is used in Utah is really quite remarkable.

    And of course in Colorado we have similar dynamic with Wilderness bills. Now that CO is solidly a blue state both our senators support new Wilderness legislation, but in the House there is a very clear dynamic where only representatives from the urban front range support them and reps from the mountains where these proposed Wilderness areas actually are oppose them.

    I think it’s clear that especially in recent years, Wilderness legislation is pretty much always an example of this internal colonization, with urban liberals forcing their values on rural more conservative areas.

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    • When I worked on Congresswoman Carrie Meek’s staff in the mid 90’s, I was (perhaps surprisingly to many) the staff rep to the Democratic Environmental Caucus. Well, the Florida delegation wouldn’t vote the environmental way on some coastal development bill about Florida. The main DEC staff guy asked me “why not? they voted “the right way” on an Idaho Wilderness Bill! Even then, I just sighed. It’s easy to be pro-environment when the negative social/economic/access/health impacts fall on others. Not so easy when they fall on your community, district, or state.

      All the moral rectitude, points with ENGO’s, none of the pain.. what’s not to like?

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  4. Being a relative new comer to Southwestern Oregon, we moved here 1974, it has always seemed to me that this area has always been treated as a colony. The wealth generated by the harvest of vast timber reserves has always flowed towards the urban core.
    At least for the first hundred years there were logging companies, mills and manufacturing providing jobs and opportunity for the rural communities. This mostly came to end during the late eighties and nineties. Accountants learned you could send more money to the urban core by selling timber than you could by manufacturing it. Mills started to close. Then the “Clinton plan” or Northwest Forest Plan effectively ended most timber harvest on Federal lands on our Westside forests.
    This effectively gave the owners of private timber ground, especially the large timber land owners, control of timber production. Again the real wealth from local timber resources mostly flowed to the urban core. The local jobs and opportunities that were once provided by our Federal forests were mostly gone.
    A mistrust of the Feds followed and so did an accelerated rate of timber harvest on private ground.
    It has been classic colonialism. Public forests are closed to local inhabitants. Harvest of resources are controlled by “foreign” investors.
    And both political parties act like they care, that is, as long as more land is “protected” along with private land rights and tax policies.

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  5. I profess no qualifications to contribute to this (and haven’t read the book), but I am willing to not be anonymous. What I read from one side of the “As” is that “the greatest good for the greatest number in the long run” has gone out of fashion. I can agree that that formulation of federal land policy does not account for come considerations of equity.

    But what I also see is a criticism of the “American Dream,” as defined here by Wikipedia: “The American Dream is a national ethos of the United States, the set of ideals in which freedom includes the opportunity for prosperity and success, as well as an upward social mobility for the family and children, achieved through hard work in a society with few barriers.” It comes off as a criticism of those who have done what it takes to achieve this dream, which generally involves getting educated and moving to where the better jobs are – “the core.” Instead, it seems to support those who believe they are entitled to a “higher standard of living” by doing what they’ve always done. And in particular seems aimed at rationalizing a new oppressed class that should be given special attention.

    The term “colonialism” is perjorative, describing exploitation and subjugation. While I think it is worth discussing the proper role of local publics in management of our national resources near them, I don’t think there is any comparison of this issue to those citizens of occupied foreign countries that had little or no voice in their governance nor upward mobility to escape that exploitation. I agree with the other “A” that claiming that rural western states are “internal colonies” is unreasonable and not the proper “lens” for this discussion.

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    • Jon, I don’t think that they would argue that they deserve “special attention”; I think they would argue that they deserve the same level of autonomy granted to states without large proportions of federal land. That would be the equity issue. And no it’s not the same as occupied foreign countries.. but it’s not equity either.

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      • Try telling that to the citizens of DC and Puerto Rico. Western territories ceded title to their previously unowned lands to the federal government as a condition of statehood. Enjoying statehood? Well, most of the country enjoys having National Forests. That’s the bargain.

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    • I wasn’t going to wade back in, but not quite on the mark, diagnostically. One note is that what follows is intended to be respectful and is, for the sake a brevity, a bit more polemical and one-sided than an actual view i would hold or defend, offered for the sake of trying to clarify the discussion and trade-offs between the poles you highlight.

      One problem is that is that there is no arguing that anyone is entitled to a “higher” standard of living but rather an argument that those places have a vision of their economy that should be given weight comparable to the weight given to the vision of the core. As the other A. pointed out, many a small town rural west politician carries a relatively high amount of power in DC. But I think there’s a second, parallel question about the competing narratives and policy (often created outside of the realm of electoral politics) that isn’t as directly connected to the representation question. Very roughly, that question: why is it that federal policy prerogatives often reflect a recurring dynamic that seems to relegate considerations of economic wellbeing and autonomy? There’s much to point to in environmental movements in taking these to be effectively non-factors in the pursuit of “higher” environmental goals. I’ll touch on the american dream language more below but throughout much of this is an implicit thread of “too bad – move to the city, be like me, think like me, and if you don’t your economic fate is deserved.” This is a problem because the state of the economy is the result of choices and policies, not an inevitable law of nature that these areas are failing to cope with as if they are mad at gravity. I don’t know that I have an answer, it’s not that you should simply recapitulate the economy of the past. As the other A. pointed out this can be problematic as there are many difficult legacies of these rural economies. But at the same time the actual questions Patrick and Sharon raised were mostly about the role of representatives of the urban core and ENGOs and opinion groups based out of those places in dictating land management policies and narratives.

      Second is that the american dream language is precisely the kind of self-justification that supports the core side of the core-periphery narrative (another book recommendation that would follow here is Michael Sandel’s “the tyranny of merit”). It’s not a criticism of those who move to urban cores for jobs and education for doing so; it’s a jab at the uncritical assumption that these people represent a class that deserves to exercise the degree of influence they do on narratives and policy regarding far-flung places they know little about and spend even less time. I would go further in maybe arguing that part of the problem lies in part with the way that some ENGOs often shape those narratives of the core groups, to offer some admittedly cynical construals: “motorized users are just lazy or want to party and don’t care about preserving natural beauty, conventional forestry is just an elaborate way of tree-farming with no care for the whole of biodiversity, agencies are captured by industry and need to be opposed on projects (except on the right kind of recreation) wilderness is the highest and best use of land because it represents the least human involvement”. Seems to me that this leads to the support of policies that at the national level can dictate this very top-down vision that reflects the priority of the core at the expense of the periphery.

      You can of course raise the same point about the outsized influence of rural areas on the composition of the US House of Reps giving a venue for unpopular policies to make their way on to the national stage, but I don’t think that invalidates the sense that Patrick and Sharon point out about the policy prerogatives of core narrative and the ramifications of these for the periphery, at the expense of their agency.

      Do I think the interior west is an internal colony in the same sense as coalfield Appalachia circa the turn of the previous century? No. Do I think the narratives about what and who public lands are for often represent a dynamic whereby a portion of the elite or core have a vision of the periphery that is self serving at the expense of people living in those peripheral areas? Yes.

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  6. I actually don’t understand how “many a small town rural west politician carries a relatively high amount of power in DC”works .. since it’s not the number of votes, what’s the mechanism?

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  7. I suggest that the opposite has long been occurring in Montana. About half the state is quite rural, and many of those counties have been losing populations since the 1930s. There, the major economy is much subsidized agriculture, including ranching. Agriculture is enshrined in the state constitution. (Weed control is FUNDED in the constitution.) The rural-centered Republican majority has, sometimes rudely, overwhelmed the opposing party centered in the few cities. I believe the most common profession of the state legislatures is “agriculture.

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    • 1. aren’t the state house and senate districts apportioned by population?
      2. Is there an “unsubsidized” agriculture? Or are you talking about federal ag subsidies of various kinds?
      3. In Colorado, Oregon and Calif (that I have personally experienced), the D majority sometimes overwhelms the opposing party centered in rural areas, with varying degrees of rudeness.

      Maybe different western states have different distributions of power, depending on how populated their urban areas are? What do you think, people from Idaho, Utah, Nevada, Arizona and New Mexico?

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      • I agree w/JB’s comment. And I think any ranger or supervisor in a rural community (most districts and many forests, including some in CO, OR and CA) is going to have more pressure from locally elected officials (local government to U. S. Congress) of the rural conservative persuasion walking in their doors (literally and figuratively).

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        • Jon, JB was talking about DC … where, we might point out, federal decisions are generally made. Now you are talking about elected officials “walking in the doors”.. which is a different kettle of fish.. it’s hard to imagine a District or even forest decision having the impact of national policy determinations..e.g. Roadless.

          The BLM has a state review process for RMP’s, the FS doesn’t have that. And yet Ore, Wash, Calif, Nevada, CO and NM are D currently states.. my point being, I think it’s more complicated than “R’s have excessive power because many forests are located in R districts.”

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          • JB was talking about my state – Montana. Federal decisions don’t “generally” get made in DC. Policies get made there, but the myriad of decisions interpreting and implementing them get made locally (e.g. forest plans by forest supervisors, many/most projects by district rangers). The Roadless Rule was a big exception that limited local options. (Or were you actually responding to someone else’s inference that this local power can be aggregated to influence national policies, which I’m sure it can.)

          • Jon, that is an interesting observation. In my experience in the RO, that was mostly the case, for business as usual. However, projects that were controversial at the national level (because national groups, powerful local NGOs, Congressionals, etc. were interested) were indeed discussed with DC folks of varying levels (sometimes staff, Chief, politicals). When you keep someone posted, often they have a change to weigh in.) And in some cases I’ve observed the RF would overrule the Forest Supe. Also, successful litigation tends to make decision-makers shy of disappointing the litigants.. so they (litigants) seem to have extra influence.

          • “Also, successful litigation tends to make decision-makers shy of disappointing the litigants.. so they (litigants) seem to have extra influence.”

            That’s sure the truth! I’m dealing with that across multiple agencies in the travel management realm. Once an environmental group has sued an agency enough times and got them to agree in a settlement agreement to re-do their travel plans, agencies will bend over backward to satisfy them next time around. If they don’t, they’ll just get sued again and have to agree to re-do the travel plan yet again. It’s so frustrating from our perspective as motorized users since it feels like anti-motorized groups get an infinite number of tries to close our trails, yet once a trail is closed it can never be reopened.

            I’ve come to the conclusion that until the motorized community becomes as litigious as anti-motorized environmental groups (a challenge because we lack their billion dollar litigation budgets), we simply won’t be taken seriously in travel management proceedings. Our only hope of success is if we train agencies to understand that every trail closed equals a lawsuit, the same way anti-motorized groups have trained them to understand that they will always sue if they don’t like the outcome of a travel plan. Just like training a dog, slap them down enough times when they misbehave and they’ll learn to jump on command.

          • I assume the Forest Service is losing NEPA/ESA claims related to motorized use. The motorized community can’t be as litigious because these laws are not on their side. When they have sued, I’m pretty sure their W-L record isn’t as good as the other side. I’d also assume that “possession is 9/10 of the law” – taking away existing use rights is an uphill battle in most cases, and noteworthy when it happens.

          • Eesh. Have you ever trained a dog, Patrick? I sure hope not. Hitting a dog just teaches them to avoid you. If you’re applying that philosophy when engaging with your local land managers it’s no wonder why you feel ignored.

          • Obviously I wasn’t being literal about dog training. And my point is that is what the big environmental groups have already done so that land managers consistently do their bidding. We have to do the same in order for them to take us seriously.

            Though Jon is right that overall the law is not particularly on our side. I don’t think the Travel Management Rule was originally intended to disfavor motorized recreation as heavily as it has been interpreted to, but it’s hard to gain back that ground. There’s still some points in our favor, and it helps that land mangers have gotten so lazy with travel plans they don’t even bother to meet basic NEPA requirements to provide reasons for closing trails, so we can go after that. But I agree we are severely disadvantaged.

          • I understood that Region 1 was known for the independence of its line officers, and I remember that overruling one of them was a newsworthy event. Region 6 not as much (I was in the role of an appeals staffer there and I don’t remember any political interference with my recommendations to reverse any decisions).

          • Jon, I’m not saying the overruling I observed was “political”… do you mean in the sense of ” a point of view preferred by, and communicated by, the existing Administration”?

            Also, maybe the way you expressed it is different, but as I recall our appeals process didn’t usually say “change the decision”.. it said “if you go ahead you need to beef up this, or do more NEPA or whatever.” Based on that the deciding official could make their own future decisions. We never told them to “reverse” their decision.

          • There are a number of appeal and objection processes, but here is language from 36 CFR § 217.16: “(b) The Reviewing Officer’s decision shall, in whole or in part, affirm or reverse the original decision. The Reviewing Officer’s decision may include instructions for further action by the Deciding Officer.”

            By “political” I guess I meant discounting the law and making a decision for other reasons.

          • Jon, my experience was that “the law” leaves plenty of latitude for most FS decisions. Within that line officers have to balance their own personal views, the views of the community, which people are likely to litigate, elected officials, their own superiors and the views of their own team and so on… and in controversial decisions an OGC check. Those are all “other reasons”. and they are all political in a sense.

            I guess I see most decisions as not black and white. And if the law were so clear, it’s dubious DOJ would agree to take the case.

            OK, maybe I don’t remember reversing, but I do remember lots of affirming with fairly detailed instructions. For the purposes of this discussion, I looked at some current objection letters and they all looked like what we might have called affirm with instructions. But it’s interesting to try to figure out how you could find out how common reversing is.. because I think you’d have to open and review each objection letter. Does anyone know an easier way?

          • At least for some recent projects in Colorado, the regional office hasn’t been sending out separate response letters for every objection, but just grouped them all into one giant document. That’s what they did for both the PSI Travel Management Process and another project about building a new access road to a proposed housing development near Vail which was decided just before the PSI objections. That might make it a little easier to analyze, but overall the Forest Service NEPA websites are really hard to aggregate information from since they post this stuff all over the place with no standard format.

            Interesting discussion about reversing vs. affirm with instructions. I wasn’t sure if what happened with the PSI travel plan was typical or not, since there they definitely did not outright reverse anything, just instructed the Forest to provide more analysis or explanations for certain things. Some objection responses definitely seemed to imply, “if you can’t come up with a better rationale this should be changed” but that was as close as it got to reversing anything. Sounds like that’s pretty normal, in which case I guess my objections where the regional office did that were about as close to wins as were possible to get.

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