I have written or edited these five books. Several of them have received accolades and awards, noted below. I am always excited to hear from readers and eager to talk about this work. Feel free to contact me.

Making America’s Public Lands: The Contested History of Conservation on Federal Lands

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America’s public lands began in paradoxes that each generation has had to renegotiate. Adam Sowards deftly traces this complex narrative and shows the pressure points most vital today. Thoughtful, judicious, graceful, accessible – Making America’s Public Lands is a great place to begin any inquiry into the curious creation of a public estate in a country committed to private property.

Stephen Pyne, author of Between Two Fires: A Fire History of Contemporary America

With care and discernment, historian Adam Sowards listens to the cacophonous stories of these remarkable landscapes, amplifying their legacies and lessons for all those with a stake in “the public’s land.”

Michelle Nijhuis, author of Beloved Beasts: Fighting for Life in an Age of Extinction

This book is a must-read for every aspiring land manager and every American who values their public lands. Adam Sowards takes readers on a well-written and engaging journey through the history of these lands, highlighting the sometimes glorious and sometimes complicated nature of their evolution. His depiction of them as places around which we all physically, emotionally, and spiritually gather is essential for moving us beyond thinking of our own individual relationship to these lands and considering our relationship to others and to our nation through them. Adam’s poignant and timely work reminds us how precious our public lands are and how delicate an endeavor preserving them has been and continues to be.

Leisl Carr Childers, author of The Size of the Risk: Histories of Multiple Use in the Great Basin

Articles and Interviews about Making America’s Public Lands

Discussion with Stephen Hausmann on the New Books Network in May 2022. You can listen to our conversation here.

Michael Weinreb, “A Complicated History,” Arches (Spring 2022).

Discussion with Michelle Nijhuis sponsored by the US National Archives:

An Open Pit Visible from the Moon: The Wilderness Act and the Fight to Protect Miners Ridge and the Public Interest

Winner of the 2021 Hal K. Rothman Prize from the Western History Association for the best western environmental history book.

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Rothman Prize Citation

In An Open Pit Visible from the Moon, Adam Sowards tells the complicated story of one of the early challenges to the 1964 Wilderness Act. Set in the Glacier Peak Wilderness Area of Washington’s North Cascade Mountains, Sowards’ compelling narrative of this critical moment in the struggle over the nation’s wild places pits the “usual suspects” – extractive industry and environmental activists – against one another in a most un-usual and unpredictable economy vs. environment showdown. With grace and clarity, Sowards guides readers through the morass of economic and political relationships that shaped public land management policies and ideas about wilderness in the 1960s to reveal that this was “no simple morality play.” Instead, Open Pit makes a powerful case for the centrality of place in history by revealing not only the entangled politics guiding the National Park Service, the U.S. Forest Service, the Sierra Club, and the Kennecott Copper Corporation, but also the unexpected role of the economy that ultimately resulted in Miners Ridge becoming part of the Glacier Peak Wilderness and not the site of “an open pit, big enough to be seen from the moon.” With humility and nuance, Sowards’ story underscores the contingent nature of history and the possible consequences of acting for conservation in the common good. 

Hal K. Rothman Prize Committee, Western History Association


With a clear love for the wild place that caused this historical ruckus . . . Sowards spins a campfire-worthy tale about a controversial fight that has been largely relegated to “footnote” despite its critical role in America’s conservation legacy.

Laurel D. Angell, JD, Montana: The Magazine of Western History

An Open Pit Visible from the Moon is remarkably well organized, weaving many disparate elements into a cogent whole; it is written clearly in a relaxed and easy-to-read style. . . . [I]n our current times, such citizen action is of critical importance in protecting and preserving both specific landscapes and the public interest in public land.

Peter Landres, Pacific Northwest Quarterly

[W]e . . . have Sowards’s illuminating and well-written book, which joins the recent work of James Morton Turner, Mark Harvey, and Paul Sutter to cast new light on the importance of wilderness in shaping American culture, society, and politics.

George Vrtis, Journal of Arizona History

Sowards provides insight into the real on-the-ground struggle and immense obstacles and uncertainties faced by conservationists where the outcome was not preordained or predictable. He tells the story through the eyes of the conservationists involved. It goes beyond just the public and published records and digs deep into their personal files, recollections, newsletters and publications of the conservation groups so that the reader gets a complete picture of the grave challenges they face.

Ronald Eber, The Wild Cascades: The Journal of the North Cascades Conservation Council

Dr. Sowards has produced an intriguing, well-researched and well-documented historical accounting of the fight—initiated at the most basic level of American society—to prevent development of an open-pit mine in a relatively unspoiled area. . . . Sowards has told an intriguing story that occurred at a time when public advocacy, at a considerably basic level when compared to that existing today, was a moving force.

Vernon C. Bleich, California Fish and Wildlife

Articles and Interviews about An Open Pit Visible from the Moon

Idaho Professor Tells Story About A Mine That Never Happened, Idaho Matters, Boise State Public Radio, August 19, 2020.

New Books Network, Podcast Interview with Crawford Gribben, May 21, 2020.

Eli Francovich, “New book details history of contentious Cascade mine,” Spokesman-Review, May 10, 2020.

Julie Muhlstein, “An open-pit mine that wasn’t: Ridge near Glacier Peak spared,” Everett Herald, April 26, 2020.

Idaho’s Place: A New History of the Gem State

Idaho Book Award (Honorable Mention)–Idaho Library Association, 2015

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The Environmental Justice: William O. Douglas and American Conservation

Association for American University Presses Books for Understanding, U.S. Supreme Court, 2010

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United States West Coast: An Environmental History

Choice Outstanding Academic Title, 2008

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