American Zion: Religion and rebellion on Western public lands

Cliven Bundy is a rancher who’s refused for decades to pay his grazing fees for using public lands. But where did his ideas about public lands come from? We talk to author Betsy Gaines Quammen about her new book, American Zion: Cliven Bundy, God and Public Lands in the West. Betsy has been researching the history of Mormonism and its relationship to Western landscapes for years. She received a doctorate in Environmental History from Montana State University and is a historian and conservationist. 

“Americans need to know western history to understand our relationship with land, but we can’t use its history as a template for its future.” – Betsy Gaines Quammen

Show Notes:

1’30 the American West as a Rorschach test—people see what they want to see
2’45 most of Western land is public land—and what perception of what “public” means
4’34 relationship between ideas about public land and Mormon settlment
6’16 Bundy family treating public land as his own ranch
9’50 Mormons were abolitionists
10’37 what “Zion” means to Mormons and others
12’40 the profound difference between seeing land as becoming sacred through use vs. leaving it untouched
16’13 the flaws in both ways of looking at land
17’49 the problem of lawlessness and its effects on landscapes
21’32 the cultural change to lawlessness
24’19 BLM agents being threatened
25’43 because of the lack of monitoring, some ranchers are getting away with unsustainable practices
26’37 the question of limits
27’22 prophecy about oceans draining and leaving more farmland
28’37 anti-science ideas about land and sustainabilty
29’34 end-times idea
32’08 usefulness of “radical center” idea
34’25 regenerative agriculture and working within limitations
35’51 Mormon idea of the garden of eden
37’39 Mormon lands and stewardship
39’26 non-Mormons and Mormons coming together in Utah
41’06 bringing together ideas of freedom and property with interconnectedness, how to integrate them
41’53 very little interest in cooperation from Bundys

Utah landscape photo by Brandon Green on Unsplash

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