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Phillip Foss


In the 1930s, dust began to settle across much of the Great Plains. Although much of the blame for the coming Dust Bowl would be laid at the feet of the nation’s farmers, ranchers were also suspect. Ranchers had “enacted decades of rangeland deterioration” on unprotected federal lands. Free and unregulated access also inspired violent disagreements between ranchers, as each fought to maintain control of water and land resources. Infamous range wars served as bloody reminders to ranching families just how precarious land rights in the country had become. In 1934, the government finally reacted by passing the Taylor Grazing Act, just as dust from the Midwest began to fall over Washington, D.C. The act regulated the use of federal grazing permits and established the Federal Grazing Service, which later became the Bureau of Land Management. One of the act’s most influential caretakers was only eighteen at the time.

Phillip Foss was born in Maxbass, North Dakota, in 1916. He wasn’t a rancher, or even a landowner, but became a founder of environmental politics in America, as well as one of the state’s most decorated military heroes. He joined the Amy in 1942 and fought in the Pacific during World War II, and in the Korean War in 1951 as an Air Force pilot. He earned several awards and commendations, including the U.S. Service Medal and the National Defense Service Medal.

Between active service, Foss earned his bachelor’s degree in economics, and his Ph.D. in political science. His dissertation focused on the Taylor Grazing Act and its deficiencies. He conducted a number of case studies that served to highlight corruption and mismanagement between ranchers and federal officers.

In addition to earning the Outstanding Dissertation Award from the American Society for Public Administration, Foss’s work led to a number of amendments to further protect land managed within the Taylor Act. He continued his work in public land policy by creating a doctoral program in Environmental Politics and Policy at Colorado State University.

On this date in 2000, on the fiftieth anniversary of the outbreak of the Korean War, Foss was awarded yet another military honor – the Korean War Service Medal. The following year, only months after celebrating his 60th wedding anniversary, Foss passed away at the age of 85.

Dakota Datebook written by Jayme L. Job


The Billings Gazette . Obituaries. October 25, 2001: Billings, MT.