Laura Alice Watt

Laura Alice Watt is the author of The Paradox of Preservation: Wilderness and Working Landscapes at Point Reyes National Seashore (University of California Press).

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 adopted 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 does not always reflect the needs and values of local residents. Instead, the landscapes produced by the NPS represent compromises between use and protection–and between the area’s historic pastoral character and a newer vision of wilderness. Her book will appeal to those studying environmental history, conservation, public lands, and cultural landscapes management, and to those looking to learn more about the history of this dynamic California coastal region.

Laura Alice Watt is a professor of environmental history and policy at Sonoma State University. 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. Outside of school she is an avid photographer and sailor.