The idea of sustainable development was popularized in the 1970s as a result of the burgeoning environmental movement. Yet questions about the best way to use natural resources have been a key part of debates about economic development for much longer. This session will examine the complex relationship between nature and economic development in Mexico, rural Ethiopia, Japan’s Central Alps, and the U.S. South during the twentieth century. Each of these places faced similar challenges in moving from an economy widely seen as “underdeveloped” to one that would provide a greater measure of prosperity for residents. Among these challenges were questions about how each area’s natural resources should be used, and there were many conflicting visions. Because the stakes are so high, conflicts between what Elliott West calls “imagined environments” are particularly intense in areas traditionally seen as underdeveloped. This session explores how people in developing economies balanced the imperative of immediate job creation with the dream of long-term prosperity. Boosters, policy makers, technocrats, and even philanthropists found that their vision for economic development often clashed with the ideas that farmers, tourists, sharecroppers, and other stakeholders had for the best way to use each area’s resources. These conflicts frequently pitted locals against outsiders as each struggled to shape economic development to their own ends. Whether examining disputes between southern and northern entrepreneurs in the United States, American cattle technicians and Ethiopian farmers, Japanese government officials and mountaineers along the Kurobe River, or Mexican peasants and scientists, this panel sheds light on the negotiations between groups about their often-conflicting visions of the best ways to use natural resources. Yet humans were not the only players, and this panel suggests the many ways that resources themselves—both living and nonliving—influenced debates over economic development. By addressing a range of approaches to development occurring over the course of a century and four diverse regions, this panel also sheds light on how ideas about resource use and development are shaped by differing cultural and political climates. It suggests how the terms of debate shifted as plans for economic development moved from contexts marked by resource conservation to those marked by environmentalism. Ultimately, this session seeks to understand how and why people value resources differently, and how these different valuations shape the process of economic development in developing areas.