Reflections on the Exclusionary Zoning of American Nature

Joseph Sax’s Mountains Without Handrails: Reflections on the National Parks deserves more serious scrutiny than does the typical pro-wilderness treatise about the optimum future of our nation’s public lands. That is because beneath its elegant form lies a unique argument. Sax’s stated central aim is to test the core “preservationist” position concerning nonbusiness use of public lands to determine whether it is a position that Congress, administrative agencies, and the public “should be inclined to follow” (p. 3). The question is, given the “enormous growth of recreation in recent years” (p. 2), whether the national parks, forests, and deserts should “basically be treated as recreational commodities, responding to the demands for development and urban comforts that visitors conventionally bring to them; or should they be reserved as temples of nature worship, admitting only the faithful” (p. 2)? The latter view, the preservationist one, constitutes a ”bold claim [which] … has often been concealed in a pastiche of argument for scientific protection of nature, minority rights, and sentimental rhetoric” (p. 104). Sax explicitly eschews any argument based on either protection of the environment or concern about the quality of life bequeathed to future generations. His aim is to “isolate and make explicit the political claim, as it relates to the fashioning of public policy, and leave it to sail or sink on that basis” (p. 104).