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What's Become of Land Under Starry Skies Above?


There's a fellow here at the Voice of America who vividly remembers a live drama from the days of black-and-white TV. He thinks it may have been an episode of screenwriter Rod Serling's eerie show called The Twilight Zone, which combined science fiction and social commentary.

The premise was that all but one hectare of open space in America had been paved over for homes, schools, and industry. This was absurd, of course, since a nation with no farms or ranches could not feed itself. The last open hectare was in Yellowstone National Park out west, and that land, too, was being sold in some kind of lottery. Needless to say, there was a fierce fight to get it.

This, of course, was extreme exaggeration of a trend that some Americans believe is actually happening, 50 years later. Politicians in formerly rural counties around big cities face intense pressure to, on the one hand, preserve what is natural and wild, and on the other, to open the land to developers who provide lots of jobs.

A former Washington Post newspaper reporter, James Conaway, has written a book about these tensions, and it's clear where his sentiments lie. The book is called Vanishing America. Conaway argues that more than chunks of land are being lost to the bulldozer. So, he argues, is America's appreciation of the natural world, dating to the days when native tribes freely roamed the land. He writes that the American West today is a stomping ground for lawyers . . . developers, who sell off the landscape to friends and corporate interests.

There's plenty of evidence to the contrary, as well. Just ask the legion of environmentalists, even in the conservative West. And one could point out that instead of being sold and paved over, Yellowstone National Park, where wolves have been re-introduced, is wilder than ever.

Vanishing America, by James Conaway, is published by Shoemaker Hoard.

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