Where Land and Water Meet

A Western Landscape Transformed

Nancy Langston
Foreword by William Cronon

  • Published: July 2015
  • Subject Listing: History / Environmental History; Environmental Studies
  • Bibliographic information: 248 pp., 30 photos, 6 x 9 in.
  • Territorial rights: World Rights
  • Series: Weyerhaeuser Environmental Books
  • Contents

Water and land interrelate in surprising and ambiguous ways, and riparian zones, where land and water meet, have effects far outside their boundaries. Using the Malheur Basin in southeastern Oregon as a case study, this intriguing and nuanced book explores the ways people have envisioned boundaries between water and land, the ways they have altered these places, and the often unintended results.

The Malheur Basin, once home to the largest cattle empires in the world, experienced unintended widespread environmental degradation in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. After establishment in 1908 of Malheur National Wildlife Refuge as a protected breeding ground for migratory birds, and its expansion in the 1930s and 1940s, the area experienced equally extreme intended modifications aimed at restoring riparian habitat. Refuge managers ditched wetlands, channelized rivers, applied Agent Orange and rotenone to waterways, killed beaver, and cut down willows. Where Land and Water Meet examines the reasoning behind and effects of these interventions, gleaning lessons from their successes and failures.

Although remote and specific, the Malheur Basin has myriad ecological and political connections to much larger places. This detailed look at one tangled history of riparian restoration shows how-through appreciation of the complexity of environmental and social influences on land use, and through effective handling of conflict-people can learn to practice a style of pragmatic adaptive resource management that avoids rigid adherence to single agendas and fosters improved relationships with the land.
Nancy Langston is associate professor of environmental studies at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. She is the author of Forest Dreams, Forest Nightmares: The Paradox of Old Growth in the Inland West.

"In the remote wetlands of eastern Oregon's Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, Nancy Langston has found a new western parable. Where Land and Water Meet is an engaging history of desolate high desert wetlands with vital implications for natural landscapes everywhere."
-Ann Vileisis, author of Discovering the Unknown Landscape: A History of America's Wetlands

"Tightly argued, cogent, and eminently readable . . . Where Land and Water Meet will find a wide readership among . . . historians, range managers, ranchers, and environmental groups."
-Mark Fiege, author of Irrigated Eden: The Making of an Agricultural Landscape in the American West

"Where Land and Water Meet, in a profoundly insightful manner, details the story of social forces at play in managing the ecology of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in southeastern Oregon. I grew up in the same territory, in agriculture, managing land and water, responsible for mistakes just like those made at Malheur, and it looks to me as if Nancy Langston's got the story dead right. But she gives us more than history, she also proposes a useable problem-solving model. This book is a gift. The American West, and the world, need many more like it."
-William Kittredge, author of Owning It All

Foreword/On the Margins, by William Cronon


1/Ranchers in the Malheur Lake Basin
2/Conflicts between Ranchers and Homesteaders
3/Buying the Blitzen
4/Managing Ducks
5/Grazing, Floods, and Fish
6/Pragmatic Adaptive Management

Selected Bibliography

"In Where Land and Water Meet, environmental historian Nancy Langston delivers an intricate, well-researched exposé of how changes in human values and social goals have informed land use and land management decisions at the present-day Malheur National Wildlife Refuge..[T]his is an excellent example of environmental history by an experienced researcher and writer."
-Ecological Restoration

"Where Land and Water Meet is a thoughtful journey along the borders between land and water, between the human and the natural. A timely examination of the creation and evolution of Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, it coincides with the centennial of the refuge system and more recent conflicts involving the water resources of the Pacific Northwest."
-Environmental History

"A sophisticated yet accessible analysis of the intersection of nature and culture. More importantly, however, it moves beyond simple criticisms of the problems inherent in wildlife and natural resource management and advances a nuanced program for those invested in land management, outdoor recreation, farming, ranching, and the environment."
-H-Net Book Review

"A scholarly gem linking past, present, and future land policies..[T]his much needed case history effectively links the management history of wetlands with modern theories of landscape ecology and adaptive management. It is concise, well written, and compelling."
-Pacific Northwest Quarterly

"As with her previous work, Langston demonstrates a knack for using detailed case studies to reflect on changes throughout the West, and indeed, the relationship between people and the natural world. Though trained in ecology, Langston is also a skilled historian and graceful writer. Environmental historians pride themselves on their ability to synthesize scientific and historical knowledge. Once again, Langston demonstrates that she does this better than almost anyone in the field."
-Journal of the History of Biology