Communities on Nature's Edge

Lincoln Bramwell
Foreword by William Cronon

  • Published: 2014. Paperback March 2016
  • Subject Listing: History / Environmental History; Environmental Studies
  • Bibliographic information: 344 pp., 41 illus., 5 maps, 6 x 9 in.
  • Territorial rights: World Rights
  • Series: Weyerhaeuser Environmental Books
  • Contents

Since the 1950s, the housing developments in the West that historian Lincoln Bramwell calls "wilderburbs" have offered residents both the pleasures of living in nature and the creature comforts of the suburbs. Remote from cities but still within commuting distance, nestled next to lakes and rivers or in forests and deserts, and often featuring spectacular views of public lands, wilderburbs celebrate the natural beauty of the American West and pose a vital threat to it.

Wilderburbs tells the story of how roads and houses and water development have transformed the rural landscape in the West. Bramwell introduces readers to developers, homeowners, and government regulators, all of whom have faced unexpected environmental problems in designing and building wilderburb communities, including unpredictable water supplies, threats from wildfires, and encounters with wildlife. By looking at wilderburbs in the West, especially those in Utah, Colorado, and New Mexico, Bramwell uncovers the profound environmental consequences of Americans' desire to live in the wilderness.
Lincoln Bramwell is chief historian of the USDA Forest Service.

"Delightfully accessible and extremely thought-provoking. . . . Bramwell makes clear the misery that can result from the disconnect between what people think land, property, and environmental resources and conditions should be and what they actually are."
-Ellen Stroud, author of Nature Next Door

"Engaging . . . a new perspective on the transformation of the rural West in the later twentieth century."
-John M. Findlay, coauthor of Atomic Frontier Days

"Lincoln Bramwell offers a cautionary tale about the tensions that invariably exist between the dreams we have for the places we'd love to live and the gritty realities we encounter when we try to bring those dreams down to earth. Nature does not exist to do our beck and call, and is never as much under our control as we imagine. We forget this truth at our peril, and a visit to the wilderburbs can be a salutary way to keep remembering."
-William Cronon, From the foreword

"Wilderburbs explores an intriguing and consequential new variation on the old story of humans imposing their ambitions and hopes on Western landscapes. Tracking the collision of human desire with nature's complexity, Lincoln Bramwell encourages Americans to mix a greater share of responsibility and humility into their visions of how to make a place into a home."
-Patricia Nelson Limerick, author of Legacy of Conquest

"By pointing out the irony of wanting to be close to nature and as a consequence actually destroying it, Bramwell demonstrates that, like it or not, human actions are limited by nature and its resources. The book should be read not only by those already committed to the conservation of nature, but also by those who are not, to see how immersed we all are in our surroundings."
-Daniel B. Botkin, author of Discordant Harmonies: A New Ecology for the 21st Century

"With a firefighter's eye, and a historian's insight, Lincoln Bramwell offers a brilliant and complex reading of the ecological impact and cultural significance of housing hammered into the American West's wildland-urban interface. A stellar achievement."
-Char Miller, author of Public Lands, Public Debates: A Century of Controversy

Foreword / William Cronon
Introduction Moving into the Woods
1. Redefining Residential Development in the Rural West
2. Water in the Wilderburbs
3. Fire on the Forest Edge
4. Wildlife out the Back Door


"Wilderburbs builds on the idea that human culture inherently shaped residents' interactions with their environment. Examining this phenomena and communities in detail uncovers the profound environmental consequences for our desire to live in the wilderness."
-USDA Blog

"A cautionary tale of the ecological challenges in transplanting urban sensibilities in the American West."

"This readable, lively book will prove difficult to classify for those accustomed to arraying the settings for environmental history along a continuum.... Arizonans and historians of the state should definitely read this book. What Wilderburbs does especially well is...good environmental history."
-Jeremy Vetter, Journal of Arizona History

"[T]his book opened my eyes to the broad outlines and intimate details of a ubiquitous trend in the American West. . . and to the unintended consequences of appreciating and loving nature too much. Smart, engaging, and deeply researched, Wilderburbs is a welcome addition to the Weyerhaeuser Environmental Books series and merits a wide audience."
-Jedediah S. Rogers, Environmental History