TIN EAR FOR THE GRAND CANYON’S TUNES
Some Comments on John D. Leshy’s Our Common Ground
A History of America’s Public Lands*
Yale U. Press, 2021
John Leshy’s new book is a condensed way to get a feel and general sense of how Americans since the 18th century have interpreted, changed their views, and fought over what “public” in our public lands means. His long career, including 8 years as Solicitor in Bruce Babbitt’s Interior Department, must have staggered even him (the narrative is 600 pages) in tracking the ins and outs of Americans’ views, from precious possessions of the entire nation to choice bits to grab and exploit for all the cash one can squeeze.
He has his favorite subjects; I think grazing use is one; another must be reservation and conservation as embodied by our National Parks. I don’t intend here to come close to a review or reading guide. Rather, I want to select out the few, very few, references to the Grand Canyon, and take a detailed look at his accuracy in dealing with this very special environmental icon of ours. What weight does the Canyon have in the two-centuries+ of the formulation and alteration and evolution of the law/legal structures governing American national inheritance of our great tract of public land?
I read Leshy’s account as showing the major thrust of American land law change: from moving public land into private control (19th-century national goal) to the reverse: the multi-faceted national decision to keep, cherish, and provide the public lands for public use rather than private ownership. Using the years 1880-1920 as the pivot, we can fit the Grand Canyon in this narrative as going from being a blank spot to being a world-renowned signifier of respect for scenery, non-destructive recreation, and the Environment as our life support.