Authors in Conversation: Big Sur and Point Reyes National Seashore


Thursday, August 9, 2018 6:00PM

Authors in Conversation: Big Sur and Point Reyes National Seashore





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Authors in Conversation: Big Sur and Point Reyes National Seashore


This event will examine two prime California coastal destinations – Point Reyes National Seashore and Big Sur – with an eye toward land use and management. One is a public park with generations-old dairies operating on land now leased from the federal government, the other encompasses private residences and businesses alongside state parks and national forest lands; both attract millions of visitors each year. This presentation will consider evolving land preservation policies, including conceptions of whom this land should serve, how it should be enjoyed, and who should manage it. Watt and Brooks will provide historical context for understanding the contrasting management structures in these two places and examine how these structures have affected the communities, the tourists, and the land itself, as well as what this history suggests for the future of these two beloved coastlines.

About Our Speakers:

Shelley Alden Brooks is a scholar of California and environmental history, and Big Sur is her first book. Her interest in the Big Sur coastline began when she worked for the Monterey History and Art Association. She holds a doctorate from the University of California, Davis, where she develops history-social science curriculum for California’s K-12 schools. Brooks serves on the statewide Environmental Literacy Steering Committee to integrate California’s Environmental Principles and Concepts into classroom learning.

Laura Alice Watt is a professor of environmental history and policy at Sonoma State University, in Northern California. Outside of school she is an avid photographer and sailor. Her long-term research agenda is to explore the history of protected landscapes to bolster their long-term sustainability in terms of both natural and cultural systems. In contrast to most land policy research, she uses landscape as a tool for understanding the complex interactions between people and their environments, tracking historical changes in protected areas as indicators of shifting social dynamics and structures. A firm grounding in property theory contributes to her interest in the interplay between public and private ownership in protecting rural landscapes. Much of her research work has been done at Point Reyes National Seashore, examining the impacts of National Park Service management on the local ranching landscape. Prior to coming to SSU, she worked as an environmental consultant in San Francisco for four years with EDAW, Inc., specializing in writing resource management plans for the Bureau of Land Management, as well as historic landscape analyses for a variety of government agencies.

About the Books

Big Sur embodies much of what has defined California since the mid-twentieth century. A remote, inaccessible, and undeveloped pastoral landscape until 1937, Big Sur quickly became a cultural symbol of California and the West, as well as a home to the ultrawealthy. This transformation was due in part to writers and artists such as Robinson Jeffers and Ansel Adams, who created an enduring mystique for this coastline. But Big Sur’s prized coastline is also the product of the pioneering efforts of residents and Monterey County officials who forged a collaborative public/private preservation model for Big Sur that foreshadowed the shape of California coastal preservation in the twenty-first century. Big Sur’s well-preserved vistas and high-end real estate situate this coastline between American ideals of development and the wild. It is a space that challenges the way most Americans think of nature, of people’s relationship to nature, and of what in fact makes a place “wild.” This book highlights today’s intricate and ambiguous intersections of class, the environment, and economic development through the lens of an iconic California landscape.

Point Reyes National Seashore has a long history as a working landscape, with dairy and beef ranching, fishing, and oyster farming; yet, since 1962 it has also been managed as a National Seashore. The Paradox of Preservation chronicles how national ideals about what a park “ought to be” have developed over time and what happens when these ideals are implemented by the National Park Service (NPS) in its efforts to preserve places that are also lived-in landscapes. Using the conflict surrounding the closure of the Drakes Bay Oyster Company, Laura Alice Watt examines how NPS management policies and processes for land use and protection do not always reflect the needs and values of local residents. Instead, the resulting landscapes produced by the NPS represent a series of compromises between use and protection—and between the area’s historic pastoral character and a newer vision of wilderness. A fascinating and deeply researched book, The Paradox of Preservation will appeal to those studying environmental history, conservation, public lands, and cultural landscape management, and to those looking to learn more about the history of this dynamic California coastal region.


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