By John Mattingly
Until recently, sustainability has been a foreign concept in the American West. Those who initially settled the West encountered a vast resource where everything was there for the taking: a settler could receive allodial title to land by homesteading, ranchers could freely graze the unfenced plains, and miners could dig a hole and patent a claim. Though this is a simplification, it’s fair to suggest that until the early 1970s when the environmental movement got some political traction, the attitude in the American West toward resources was, to put it nicely, driven by the twin principals of private control and maximum utilization.
Settlers endured some hardship and stresses in homesteading and civilizing the West. Few today would have the right stuff to do it. And, drawing loosely on John Locke’s principal that ownership of property was morally tied to the human being who worked that property, settlers of the American West, and their descendants, have successfully promoted rugged individualism, private stewardship, and a hard work ethic to justify, and to some extent glorify, their successes.