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The Western Landscape
Peter Matthiessen

The American Prairie

In his journals, Catlin talks about the bigness of the West, the breadth of the Plains, the distance to the horizon, the vastness of the sky. The concept of space here is different from the one held by inhabitants of the forested regions of the East. Catlin marvels at the spectacular geological wonders and turns his attention to the distinctive characteristics of the prairie, admiring the wonderful variety of plants and grasses. He talks at length about the wild animals he encounters. Of the prairie that once spread across one and a half million square kilometers of the Great Plains, less than two percent remains today. Prairie wildlife has also diminished—the bison and wolf and grizzly bear, the golden eagle and the whooping crane. But the Endangered Species Act, passed in 1973, requires federal agencies to develop recovery plans for threatened wildlife.

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