Where conflicting interests must be reconciled, the question shall always be answered from the standpoint of the greatest good of the greatest number in the long run.
– Gifford Pinchot, Chief Forester of the United States, 1905
Most people are on the world, not in it — have no conscious sympathy or relationship to anything about them — undiffused, separate, and rigidly alone like marbles of polished stone, touching but separate.
– John Muir, July 1890
It was the afternoon of Friday, September 12. After our picnic at the site of Theodore Roosevelt’s Elkhorn Ranch, the “Walden Pond of the West,” as it has been called, Sean and I were keen to continue on to the final destination of our journey through the Dakotas, the North Unit of Theodore Roosevelt National Park.
From the Elkhorn, we drove west up the bluffs and back into the the Little Missouri National Grassland, administered by the Forest Service under the “multiple use doctrine” advanced by Gifford Pinchot, its first chief. Pinchot also successfully advocated moving the National Forests from the Department of the Interior to the Department of Agriculture so that they could be managed as a commodity. While commercial drilling for shale oil is prohibited in National Parks, National Forests, including the Little Missouri National Grassland, are exempted from such prohibitions. Many of the oil wells encroaching on Theodore Roosevelt National Park are on land administered by the Forest Service.
The image above is both particular in that it is literally on the doorstep of Elkhorn Ranch and also generally representative of the wearily monotonous pump jacks and burn-off plumes found throughout the oil patch of the Bakken. Theodore Roosevelt National Park and the Little Missouri National Grassland that surround it sit atop a vast oil reserve known as the Bakken shale deposit for the farmer on whose land oil was first discovered in the 1950s.
The Badlands Loop Road, which is not actually a loop, twists for over twenty-five miles above and below the Badlands Wall, offering an almost overwhelming density of scenic views, both from the windshield and at a series of interpretive overlooks and pullouts. It is a classic example of making the wonders of a park easily accessible to motorists, a philosophy that dominated the Park Service’s thinking in its first half century. On my previous visit, Lisa and I had motored along the road from east to west. This time, Sean and I would take the drive from west to east.
Isle Royale National Park is currently accepting public feedback on what to do, if anything, to conserve the island’s dwindling, inbred wolf population. Currently there are eight adult wolves and an unknown number (two or three) of pups.
Three options are under consideration:
- do nothing, even if wolves go extinct
- allow wolves to go extinct and then introduce new wolves
- introduce new wolves through genetic rescue (introducing adult wolves to the island to offset inbreeding)
President Obama just signed legislation upgrading Pinnacles National Monument to National Park status, making it the 59th park.
From the press release:
Rising out of the Gabilan Mountains east of central California’s Salinas Valley, Pinnacles is the result of millions of years of erosion, faulting and tectonic plate movement. Within the park’s boundaries lie nearly 27,000 acres of diverse wild lands. Visitors delight in the beauty and variety of its spring wildflowers and more than 400 species of native bees. The Pinnacles rock formations are a popular destination to challenge technical and beginner climbers alike.
Designated as a national monument in 1908 by President Theodore Roosevelt, the park’s management will not change by the legislation. The Pinnacles National Park Act recognizes the broader significance of park resources, specifically the chaparral, grasslands, blue oak woodlands, and majestic valley oak savanna ecosystems of the area, the area’s geomorphology, riparian watersheds, unique flora and fauna, and the ancestral and cultural history of native Americans, settlers and explorers.
Joshua Tree National Park
In his engrossing Wilderness in National Parks: Playground or Preserve, John C. Miles, professor of environmental studies at Western Washington University, traces the history of wilderness protection in the parks from their earliest days to the book’s present, 2008.
The history of the National Parks and other protected lands in the United States is the story of continually evolving ideas about how and why natural and historical areas should be protected for the common good. At its noblest, it is an acknowledgement that the people, collectively, own and administer the wildest, most beautiful and most historically important areas in the nation. The hows and whys of acquiring and administering these places is intrinsically tied to the concept of land held for the common good.
Almost 150 years ago, on June 30, 1864, Abraham Lincoln signed a bill granting scenic Yosemite Valley to the state of California to be held in the public interest as a park (eventually the valley would return to federal control as part of Yosemite National Park). Eight years later, when Congress moved to protect the geothermal features around the headwaters of the Yellowstone River in a region that lay in Wyoming, Montana and Idaho territories, there was no state to give the park to, so by default it became a national park. The concept of the national park was born out of necessity.
The title of this blog is an adaptation of Theodore Roosevelt’s words upon seeing the Grand Canyon for the first time:
Leave it as it is. You can not improve on it. The ages have been at work on it, and man can only mar it. What you can do is to keep it for your children, your children’s children, and for all who come after you, as one of the great sights which every American if he can travel at all should see.
Roosevelt was talking about a great natural site before it would be protected. Already there were mining designs on sections of the canyon. Parts of it were no longer pristine wilderness, and they aren’t now, nor will be. Now, as then, there are parts of the park designated wilderness and others for heavy tourist use.
I have no illusion that the parks as my traveling companions and I will experience them are truly pristine (save for perhaps the remotest of the Alaska parks), but they are somewhere on a continuum between civilization and wilderness.