Freelance writer Christopher Ketcham passed through Moab recently, touring Utah and Colorado to promote his new book, “This Land: How Cowboys, Capitalism, and Corruption are Ruining the American West.”
“This Land,” which early reviews have called “the ‘Desert Solitaire’ of our times,” was inspired by Ketcham’s stay in the Moab area years ago. (“Desert Solitaire” is an iconic autobiographical work by the writer Edward Abbey on his time as a ranger in Arches National Park, first published in 1968.)
Ketcham grew up far from vast tracts of public land. Born and raised in Brooklyn, New York, his first experience with protected areas was visiting national parks with his family as a child.
He returned to Utah for the first time as an adult in his late 20s. During a summer backpacking trip in the La Sal Mountains, Ketcham described his shock at finding the hiking area “stripped of vegetation” from grazing cattle.
He describes that moment as discovering that public land is “not protected as it should be, as shared property of all Americans.”
Ketcham resided in Moab for a portion of the 10 years he spent researching America’s public lands issues. Some of the interviews and material he gathered over a decade were incorporated into his book.
In "This Land," Ketcham examines the history of federal agencies like the Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management, pointing out policies that cater to the livestock, timber and mining industries to the detriment of preserving and protecting the land.
Since stopping by Moab during his southwest book tour, Ketcham, 46, is back home in New York’s Catskills Mountains where he lives “in a cabin in the woods.” He said he writes from 11 p.m. to dawn, when he’s not distracted by phone calls or emails.
His recent work includes reporting on France’s “yellow vests” movement, during which he experienced tear gas and violence. Other recent work includes articles on social media-driven impacts on natural sites.
Currently, Ketcham is working on a story about the harmful effects of radiation from cell phones.
“As a freelancer I write about all different topics,” he said. “I have to be eclectic.”
Back of Beyond Books owner Andy Nettell has noted a “buzz” surrounding the book.
“It is timely, considering what’s going on in the American West,” Nettell said.
Ketcham said he hopes his book is a “good exposé of corrupting and capitalistic interests in public lands as it undermines ecological and environmental health of our land.”
Although he criticizes both major political parties for policies that harm the environment, he is passionate about urging people to stay politically active.
“We have to become enraged and engaged,” Ketcham said. “We have to stand up for the richness of wild things.”
Copies of “This Land: How Cowboys, Capitalism, and Corruption are Ruining the American West” are available at Back of Beyond Books, 83 N. Main St.