Paul Bonnifield: Public lands help preserve American frontier |

Paul Bonnifield: Public lands help preserve American frontier

Sarah Jones’ article, “Public lands critical to way of life,” is well worth reading; but, if you will, let me add another dimension.

The census report of 1890 stated there was no longer a Frontier Line in the United States. That announcement profoundly impacted the thinking of Americans.

From the time the first colonists landed at Jamestown or Plymouth Rock, pioneers moved west to renew themselves. In his paper titled “The Significance of the Frontier in American History,” Frederick Jackson Turner asked what America’s future was without a frontier. He argued, and most Americans agreed, that the frontier formed America’s unique character.

Each time individuals or groups moved beyond the settlements onto the public domain, necessity required a new social, economic and political way of life. The repeated rebuild resulted in the American way of life.

The American way was more democratic, resourceful, individualistic, pragmatic, compassionate, optimistic and materialistic. Americans were people who acted rather than entangled in philosophic theories. They mixed and blended capitalism, socialism, communism, Darwinism and so on.

The question of that day and beyond was what would happen to America’s unique character without the frontier? Thoughtful national leaders realized that the basic ingredient of the frontier was the public domain. They began setting aside and protecting vast areas of the public domain to provide a place Americans could go to renew and regenerate themselves and the spirit of pioneering.

The public domain was far more than conserving resources and environment. It helps save the American way of life.

Over time we have forgotten one of the fundamental reasons for maintaining the public lands. But I’ll bet a few of us can stop on a high point, or sit by a stream, or feel the wind and sun, or see the night sky and not experience a renewal of the pioneer inside us.

Paul Bonnifield



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