Award Date


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy in History



First Committee Member

David Wrobel, Chair

Second Committee Member

Greg Hise

Third Committee Member

Elizabeth Nelson

Fourth Committee Member

Andrew Kirk

Graduate Faculty Representative

Robert Futrell

Number of Pages



Throughout the twentieth century, Congress has managed the nation's public lands for the greater good of the country under a multiple-use construct. Land-use decisions based on serving the nation's public interest entailed federal land management agencies finding the utility of the land in order to put as much of it as possible into some kind of economic production and provide equitable access, as much as was feasible, to all the various public land users. But every federal program enacted on the nation's public lands has had an associated cost; not everyone or every environment has benefited from multiple-use public land programs. The problems associated with these programs include range degradation, radioactive fallout, a lack of protected natural places, and frustrated wild horse management. In considering public land programs across the Great Basin, an area predominately consisting of public domain, this study makes a holistic evaluation of these costs by setting each of the different public land programs across the region alongside each other to better understand their conflicting relationship. The "size of the risk," a term atomic scientist Enrico Fermi used to describe his estimation of the possible problems associated with a continental nuclear test site, is the sum of the collective costs of all the public land programs throughout the twentieth century. Moving between the national and the local by capturing the voices of those residents and federal officials involved in the creation and implementation of public land programs, this work determines the cost of land-use conflicts, the size of which is the Great Basin's human and natural environment.

The themes developed in this work include a closer examination of the multiple-use concept and its impact on the nation's public lands. Multiple-use theoretically promoted maximum efficient and equitable use of public land, but in actual practice, it created a contradictory hierarchical scale of use which privileged national interests over local development, economic value over existence value, profitability over sustainability, and maximization over sufficiency. Persistent efforts by public land users to maximize one or more aspects of their version of land use often required other users to minimize their land-use. Maximization created a pattern of public land management replicated throughout the American West that created conflict over the very purpose of nation's public lands. In one way or another, contention about the use of the Great Basin's lands arose out of people's perception of the region as a wasteland. This region, historically considered the nation's wasted land because it remained in the public domain, was populated by marginal cultural groups including Mormons, Basques, southern European immigrants, and Native Americans. For these groups, the wasteland was their homeland. The tension between those that lived in the Great Basin and used its public lands and those who were responsible for the management of those lands created an insider-outsider, local-national dichotomy that further informed the region's development. Taken together, these concepts fuelled the land-use conflicts that informed the size of the risk.


Atomic testing; Great basin; Outdoor recreation; Public land; Ranching; Wild horses


Environmental Policy | History | Policy History, Theory, and Methods | United States History

File Format


Degree Grantor

University of Nevada, Las Vegas




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