Across American history, the federal government has chosen to protect over 600 million acres, nearly a quarter of the country’s total land acreage, as public lands. This paper considers the process of valuation — where institutions organize competing value frameworks to determine worth — and how new cultural formations prompt a new process of valuation. Through a comparative study of the Wilderness Act of 1964 and the Great American Outdoors Act of 2020, this paper analyzes which values justify the protection of public lands. I find that public lands are valued in their use for humans, which stems from their designation as protected. In the Wilderness Act, public lands were worth protecting because of their separation from the industrial landscape; in the Great American Outdoors Act, this worth came from the land’s integration into the post-industrial landscape. These acts represent two starkly different cultural formations, and, therefore, two distinct justifications for the worth of public lands.
Schmidt, Bergen, "Protected Places: Comparing Valuations of Public Lands in U.S. Conservation Legislation" (2022). Sociology Honors Projects. 67.
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