Barbara Brower

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Science (M.S.) in Geography



Physical Description

1 online resource (192 p.)


Public lands -- Utah -- San Juan County, Geographic information systems -- Utah -- San Juan County, Ideology -- Religious aspects -- Mormons, United States -- Bureau of Land Management




Wilderness preservation has been at the center of debates about public land policy for almost half a century, and nowhere has the controversy been more intractable than in Utah. Despite its vast expanses of unsetded and undeveloped red rock desert, managed primarily by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), Utah has less designated wilderness than in any other state in the West. In this study, I focus on San Juan County in southeast Utah to study the conflict over the designation of wilderness. The controversy pits local residents and state politicians against state and national environmental groups, with the BLM shifting positions in between.

I analyze and interpret the wilderness debate from three different perspectives. The fIrst explores the history of the Utah wilderness debate from the first BLM wilderness inventory in the 1970's through its re-inventory in the 1990's. I examine the influence of national, regional, and local forces such as institutional change within the BLM, in-fIghting among Utah-based environmental interest groups, and the sagebrush rebellion and county supremacy movements. The second perspective incorporates the spatial analytical techniques of geographical information systems to provide a relatively objective view of landscape characteristics used to defIne wilderness. I interpret the landscape as a continuum of varying degrees of wildness, a product of inherent naturalness and the influences of human impacts. Lastly, I examine the personal views of the meaning of wilderness through the words of actual participants in the debate. In an analysis of the statements of both county residents as well as the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, I explore the mental images and ideas that influence the ways in which people value and understand the desert environment.

Persistent Identifier

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