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Economic Greed Tarnishes Our National Park System


Wyoming officials want more snowmobiles in Yellowstone. NPS Photo by Jim Peaco.

For longer than the National Park Service has been in business, capitalists have pulled and prodded at national parks, looking for a way to get their financial cut of the natural resources. Indeed, it was the Northern Pacific Railroad that lobbied Congress to set aside Yellowstone National it would have a new tourist market.

That capitalistic hunger continues to this very day, seemingly blind to how it just very well might cut its own throat.

Should we be surprised at this behavior? Of course not. Disappointed? I'd like to think so.

In the late 1800s, Harper's Weekly also was disappointed. It was so disappointed that it ran a political cartoon and story titled, "Desecration of Our National Parks," that imagined what would happen if Yellowstone was "leased to speculators."

The cartoon depicts a gateway to the park on which hangs a sign proclaiming, "None but the company's carriages can enter this gate." Elsewhere in the frame is a store-front sign selling advertising space "on the rocks" and "steam baths at the geysers."

Fast-forward roughly 125 years or so. Snowmobile and motorized recreation interests have succeeded in convincing the Bush administration to allow recreational snowmobiling in Yellowstone to continue despite $10 million worth of studies that have demonstrated that snow coaches are the environmentally preferred solution for winter transportation in the park.

But that's not good enough for the state of Wyoming, which surely in the best commercial interests has asked a federal court to review Yellowstone's latest winter use plan. Why? Because the state objects to the plan's requirement that all recreational snowmobiles in the park be led by commercial guides, because the plan calls for no more than 540 snowmobiles to enter the park on any one winter day, and because the state for some reason does not like the park's plan for avalanche management across Sylvan Pass.

In writing about this turn of events for the Casper Star-Tribune, Brodie Farquhar adds that:

The state attorneys allege that Yellowstone violated a slew of laws, including the National Environmental Policy Act, the National Park Organic Act and the U.S. Constitution in making their decision.

The petition further requests the court to set aside the above decisions and order the Park Service to revisit those issues and develop a revised plan by Sept. 1, 2008.

This marks at least the second challenge to the winter use plan, as six conservation groups previously had announced their intention to challenge the legality of Yellowstone's plan.

How much is too much? That's a question that should be posed to those interests who only ask more and more of the national parks, whether it's Yellowstone or Yosemite or Great Smoky Mountains or Everglades.

How long will it take them to cook these golden geese?


Appealing to emotion rather than fact is what has propelled this argument for decades now. It is not simply a case of one footstep in a meadow. These public lands are "our" lands - 300+million of us in this country alone. Add to that figure all of the foreign tourism our nations best idea generates and you have significant crowd control issues, even in the most remote areas of our public lands. That is a lot of footsteps. Moreover, it seems that lands already set aside for consumptive, controlled use are not enough to satisfy an appetite for consumption, as if we are suffering from shortages dire enough to warrant raping our parklands, thereby denigrating the very reason for their existence.

The Earth is certainly capable of recovering from most types of human impact, but that does not convey the right for careless subjugation of it's resources. At best this practice as advocated by Gerald is disrespectful to the earth, our nation, and subsequent generations; and at worst, it is patently immoral, misguided, disingenuous, and embarrassing.

The NPS and DOI are responsible for keeping these parks in perpetuity for us, and like it or not, it involves regulating how we use our land and protecting the future us from our current selves. Those are facts. Think in terms of long-term sustainability before calling for the easing or repeal of use policies.

What about the study that said " cross country skiers and snowshoers have a greater chance of spooking and causing injury to bison and elk than a motorized vehicle." I guess we should ban them too, or make them wear bells so the animals are forwarned. If the Park service was that concerned about pollution and it is the main reason for the snowmobile ban they should clean up there own act before casting stones. Not only is the fleet of vehicles the Park uses aging and not up to the highest standards that they are holding the snowmobiles too, the Parks own concessionaire Xanterra is using vehicles year round that are so old and produce more emissions than would be allowed in most staes that have emission requirements. Next diesels cars and pickups won't be allowed to enter the park and another concessionaire who is related to a politician or a higher up in the DOI will make more money off the people who visit who have paid for the park with taxes. I see it coming, guided tours only is what the sign will say.

After seeing the picture of all those snowmobiles, I certainly wouldn't want to be anywhere after the first one.

They need to hand out oxygen masks from the looks of things.

I just love a good cynic!
Careful there Bob, some people are going to misinterpret your closing line as though you actually DO support corporate charges within the system. I've tried "leaving it between the lines" before, and rarely does anyone read the intent, only the words. Whatever happened to interpretative thought anyway?

Selfishness. Greed. Consider that these might be exactly the words to use here. They are human dispositions, and for some they are the most powerful driving force in life. Me! Me! Me! Me! More! More! More! More! You have thousands of miles of miles of groomed snowmobile trails that you can use on private property and in the national forests and the state parks. But you must ALSO be able to use your snowmobile on groomed trails atop the Yellowstone National Park loop road. There are hundreds of thousands of miles of roads in the national forests and BLM lands that you are welcome to use for your four-wheeling and off-roading. But you ALSO must be able to take your ATV and your SUV into the backcountry of America's most precious and sacred places -- the places that Congress (meaning the American people) have consecrated and pledged to defend from all who would degrade them to their own ends. When those of us who don't share your rapacious view of the world voice our objections, you insist that it's high time we turned the national parks over to the private sector so they can be run "properly" (meaning with your personal best interests in mind). Ya, right. We should have a corporation in charge of Yosemite National Park. An entity with no soul to save and no ass to kick is just what we need for managing the most precious, fragile, and irreplaceable of America's resources. Best darn idea I've heard in a long time.

Gerald, your statements are for the most part on the mark. One exception; National parks are basicly set asides for "preservation" while other public lands are to be managed for the good of all and for economic purposes that benefit the nation, not just a few. Radical greenies , rather than good public policy, have dominated public lands issues for decades. Arguing with radical greenic logic is like arguing with a stump that's on fire.

I'm glad here that we are talking about the history of the parks - and Yellowstone, in particular - in terms of the harsh reality behind their birth and their present. Capitalism created the national park system that we know; without it, we wouldn't have the national parks that we know, we wouldn't have the need for the parks that we have, and we wouldn't be having the discussion about snowmobiles in Yellowstone. The same force that destroyed a continent was the same force that worked to protect Yellowstone for the profit of some and is the same force that is cannibalizing itself now.

You've put it so well, Kurt.

The question I have is whether we really need to live like this, whether this force can be resisted. Is it a force of nature, or is it an imposition of some humans on others and on the land itself?

It's also funny that people who resist against capitalists are often labeled socialists or communists; Marx taught that socialism arose out of capitalism, suggesting that capitalism is a force of nature that gives rise to socialism. I sure hope not; what a bleak worldview, where the places we love are reduced to machines. If it is true, then snowmobiles or the mechanisms behind geysers might as well be the same thing. Let's hope that there is nothing natural in capitalism, in the forces that have given rise to destruction, to parcels of preservation, and more destruction.

In the choice of buffalo wandering on the trails or along groomed roads, wandering with intentions we shouldn't worry about fully understanding, we too can find the magic and romanticism because we come to terms with a harsh reality. In the harshness of Yellowstone, in the bitter cold, the volcanism, the food chain, and the noise and pollution of those who think they are entitled to the land, there is still such potent beauty. In seeing both, in recognizing things for what they are, we cannot but be in awe of these places and this place among all, which coaxes us to do better. Let's do better; we too can erupt. I think it's about time.

Jim Macdonald
The Magic of Yellowstone
Yellowstone Newspaper
Jim's Eclectic World

It appears to this observer that the real sticking point lies within the phrase "varied use of the parks", which like the terms "federal" and "national" can be defined to reflect the intentions and peronsal interests of the beholder. I, like most other posters to this site, have my own definition of the "varied use" terminology, but I'm guessing that since my interests lie in a usage concept grounded more around the original intentions of land usage as proclaimed by the original charter of the NPS, my stance as a proponent of limiting ORVs, ATVs, snowmobiles, snowcoaches, jet skis, houseboats, and most other motorized crafts is certain to rankle some feathers. It's not the stance of a "tree hugging enviro-manic", but rather that more of a purist or traditionalist. Am I out to slash the tires and linseed oil the fuel tanks of those who choose to pursue such activities in general? Hell no. But as I, and many others have repeatedly stated on this thread and others, isn't there enough acreage available elsewhere without resorting to utilization of the National Parks? If one of the supporters of the "opposition" side would kindly explain why they feel the NPS is obligated to opening these lands to those activities that I've stated I'm against, and do so clearly succinctly and as eloquently as possible, maybe your thoughts could persuade my limited intellect into an about-face of my current position. I doubt it, but I would sincerely appreciate your best efforts, for my personal edification and that of the others who side with me on this issue.

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