Thesis ID: CBB001562032

Fill the Earth and Subdue It: The Environmental Consequences of Intensive Agriculture in the Palouse (2003)


Duffin, Andrew Philip (Author)

Washington State University
Hirt, Paul W.

Publication Date: 2003
Edition Details: Advisor: Hirt, Paul W.
Physical Details: 278 pp.
Language: English

This dissertation examines the environmental history of a unique corner of the American West. The Palouse, an expanse of rolling hills in southeastern Washington and northern Idaho, has been intensively cropped, mostly in wheat and other small grains, since the late nineteenth century. Because of this activity and the region's topography, climate, and soil types, massive amounts of soil have eroded from nearly every acre of farmland since Euro-American settlement. The result has been a steady depletion of soil fertility and the deterioration of surface water quality. This project seeks to uncover why this situation persisted through the twentieth century. Based on evidence gleaned from the archival material of regional experts and farmers, numerous government reports, and local newspapers, farmers have been reluctant to change practices to reduce erosion for several reasons: many early settlers believed that the topsoil was inexhaustible; financial concerns drew farmers' attention away from soil conservation; technological improvements increased yields and made some farmers think erosion was tolerable; ineffective government programs; and an absence of land stewardship. The post-World War II proliferation of farm chemicals complicated the environmental picture. Powerful new fertilizers, herbicides, and pesticides vastly improved yields of all crops, but they also gave farmers another excuse to avoid soil conservation. The higher returns implied that erosion had no short-term impact on productivity. This fallacy persisted for decades while erosion continued to deplete the soil. The environmental movement of the 1970s and 1980s spawned new legislation designed to reduce erosion and improve water quality. But state and federal laws aimed at coercing farmers into adopting conservation practices were not thoroughly implemented at the local level. Farmer opposition to land use restrictions and an ongoing lack of stewardship values in addition to financial pressures, derailed legislative remedies and perpetuated erosion and abysmal water quality. From the earliest days of Palouse settlement, farmers were raised on an ethos of independence and the value of unlimited growth. Although this spirit allowed intensive agriculture to thrive, it simultaneously threatened long-term sustainability and irrevocably altered an entire ecosystem.


Description Cited in Diss. Abstr. Int. A 64 (2004): 4176. UMI order no. 3110853.

Citation URI

Similar Citations

Book Boyer, Christopher R.; (2012)
A Land between Waters: Environmental Histories of Modern Mexico (/isis/citation/CBB001421939/)

Thesis Cushman, Gregory Todd; (2003)
The Lords of Guano: Science and the Management of Peru's Marine Environment, 1800--1973 (/isis/citation/CBB001562088/)

Book Sellers, Christopher C.; (2012)
Crabgrass Crucible: Suburban Nature and the Rise of Environmentalism in Twentieth-Century America (/isis/citation/CBB001201256/)

Book Taylor, Joseph E., III; (1999)
Making Salmon: An Environmental History of the Northwest Fisheries Crisis (/isis/citation/CBB000500166/)

Book Herring, Margaret; Greene, Sarah; (2007)
Forest of Time: A Century of Science at Wind River Experimental Forest (/isis/citation/CBB000950132/)

Article Bowcutt, Frederica; (2011)
Tanoak Target: The Rise and Fall of Herbicide Use on a Common Native Tree (/isis/citation/CBB001034500/)

Book Schneider, Daniel; (2011)
Hybrid Nature: Sewage Treatment and the Contradictions of the Industrial Ecosystem (/isis/citation/CBB001221124/)

Book Cinotto, Simone; (2012)
Soft Soil, Black Grapes: The Birth of Italian Winemaking in California (/isis/citation/CBB001320946/)

Book Frank, Jerry J.; (2013)
Making Rocky Mountain National Park: The environmental history of an American treasure (/isis/citation/CBB001420363/)

Book Beeman, Randal S.; Pritchard, James A.; (2001)
A Green and Permanent Land: Ecology and Agriculture in the Twentieth Century (/isis/citation/CBB000100163/)

Article Kingsland, Sharon E.; (2009)
Frits Went's Atomic Age Greenhouse: The Changing Labscape on the Lab-Field Border (/isis/citation/CBB000932218/)

Book Marianne Sullivan; (2014)
Tainted earth: Smelters, public health, and the environment (/isis/citation/CBB422208077/)

Book Smith-Howard, Kendra; (2014)
Pure and Modern Milk: An Environmental History since 1900 (/isis/citation/CBB001452074/)

Article Peter A. Coclanis; (2019)
Field Notes: Agricultural History’s New Plot (/isis/citation/CBB528754241/)

Book Tom Philpott; (2020)
Perilous Bounty: The looming collapse of American farming and how we can prevent it (/isis/citation/CBB168245542/)

Authors & Contributors
Beeman, Randal S.
Pritchard, James A.
Taylor, Joseph E., III
Kingsland, Sharon E.
Greene, Sarah
Herring, Margaret
Environmental History
Journal of the History of Biology
French Historical Studies
Agricultural History
Journal of Interdisciplinary History
University Press of Kansas
University of Washington Press
Oregon State University Press
University of North Carolina Press
The MIT Press
New York University Press
Environmental history
Forests and forestry
Science and culture
Environmental protection
Shelford, Victor Ernest
Time Periods
20th century
19th century
21st century
18th century
United States
Washington (state, U.S.)
Oregon (U.S.)
New York (U.S.)

Be the first to comment!

{{ comment.created_by.username }} on {{ comment.created_on | date:'medium' }}

Log in or register to comment