"Nature Should Be Free!" Public Claims to Public Lands in the 21st Century

During the 2013 shutdown of the United States government, when public lands were gated and closed, a protester spray-painted words of outrage on a road block at a national park: “Nature should be free!” Limiting access to iconic landscapes for 17 days struck upon long-held ideals of free, public nature. Do claims that people have rights to nature or common spaces have standing in our current political climate, particularly as competing demands upon public lands increase? Dr. Melanie Armstrong, Public Lands Coordinator at Western Colorado University and a former National Park Service employee, will explore the gulf between ideals of untouched nature and the reality of day-to-day administration of public lands, as embodied in modern management activities like permitting, entrance fees, and resource education.

Dr. Melanie Armstrong is the Public Lands Coordinator in the Master of Environmental Management Program at Western State Colorado University. She teaches courses in environmental policy, public lands, politics of nature, and environmental history. Her 2017 book, "Germ Wars: The Politics of Nature and America’s Landscape of Fear", examines the politics enabled by the belief that nature—in this case microbes—can be managed through cultural practices. She co-authored "Environmental Realism: Challenging Solutions", arguing for new approaches in the language and practice of environmental management. Her research interests include political ecology, governance and public lands, and science and technology studies. She worked for the National Park Service for 15 years, participating firsthand in the political actions that shape the landscapes of the American West.

Melanie will also be presenting on Wednesday, January 17th at 5:30PM at Carbondale's Third Street Center. 

Naturalist Nights are made possible through a partnership between Wilderness Workshop, Aspen Center for Environmental Studies (ACES), and Roaring Fork Audubon. In addition, we thank the following sponsors for their support of the Naturalist Nights program: