A View From The Overlook: How Hard Can It Be?

Yosemite Valley, as viewed and photographed from Inspiration Point, is one of iconic, instantly recognizable sights of Planet Earth’s geography. Excited park visitors will call out to the park ranger, “Have I seen this before?” The patient ranger will smile and politely agree that very probably the park patron has seen photographs or videos of this scene.

There is simply nothing quite like the Lost World symbolism of that view. The eye is drawn to the great gray cliffs and the soundless descent of Bridalveil Fall, the softening effect of the forests, and the gate-like presence of Half Dome. Once you see it, you will never forget it.

Unfortunately, closer inspection of Yosemite Valley, the infrastructure behind the trees, so to speak, reveals a threadbare patchwork of missed opportunities. One of the great dreams of the Sierra Club and other environmental groups is the restoration of Yosemite Valley to a condition free of the schlock of industrial tourism and National Park Service infrastructure and as close to the 1851 point of European discovery as is humanly possible.

Alternate Text
Can the Yosmite Valley be returned to the way it looked when Albert Bierstadt painted it in 1864?

How Hard Can It Be?

The great sculptor Michelangelo was asked how it was that he was able to carve his masterpiece “David” from a single block of marble.

Michelangelo deadpanned, “It’s really very simple; all you have to do is chisel away all the marble that isn’t 'David' and then you stop!”

So, all you have to do is remove all the man-made objects and infrastructure that is not Yosemite Valley and then you are done; a task simple enough for the dimmest federal bureaucrat. You simply bulldoze and cart away everything that is not “natural.” That is, the jail, the various hotels and lodges, giftshops, grocery stores, restaurants, NPS offices and NPS housing (including, believe it or not, the superintendent’s house!), the maintenance garage, the bank, the liquor stores, the ice skating rink, the tennis courts, the horse stables, the three swimming pools, the roads, and the bridges, the powerlines and telephone poles.

Then you are done and can go home. Depending on the amount of funding, we should be able to get the job of infrastructure removal done in one summer season, two at the most.

How hard can it be?

Pretty darn hard as it turns out.

John Muir was indeed correct when he said Yosemite Valley was “One of God’s most sublime temples.”

Now the problem with God’s Temples, whether located in Palestine’s Jerusalem or California’s Sierra Nevada, is the temple concessioners; you can’t run a temple without ‘em. Or so it is said.

Consider the minutes of the April 5th, 33 AD meeting of The Jerusalem Temple Concessioners Association, recently discovered in a cave near the Dead Sea: “Friends and fellow businessmen, we are gathered together to discuss what steps can or should be taken against that damn carpenter from Nazareth who is currently raising hell with our concession in the Temple. He and his crazy, ne'er-do-well, and probably subversive, followers are telling the public that we don’t belong in the Temple! That we are defiling the Temple by doing a needed public service like changing money or selling sacrificial animals at a very reasonable price! I am going to recommend to the Roman authorities that this busybody be terminated as soon as possible! Remember! We’ve gottith a contract!”

And the rest, as they say, is history.

The moral of the story is, don’t mess with Temple Concessioners even if you’re God Almighty!

Fast forward a couple of thousand years to Yosemite Valley in the Sierra Nevada and we get to Ms. Barbara Moritsch, a natural resource ranger who wanted to reform the Yosemite Valley Temple and restore its natural rhythms. After all, how hard could it be?

Preservation's The Problem

Ms. Moritsch came well-recommended, having served in Sequoia, Kings Canyon,and Death Valley before accepting a position in Yosemite. Barbara was just chock-full of clever, innovative ideas on how Yosemite Valley could be at least partially restored to the period of BC (Before Cash). Alas for Barbara, while she was a good field biologist, she did not grasp the concept of Money Ecology, the seamless, natural flow of money and power between the National Park Service and its concessioners. Anything that is seen to potentially disrupt this symbiotic flow will be instantly attacked.

That “anything” happened to be Barbara.

According to Barbara, she was called into the chief of resource management’s office, where the Chief told her, “You are too preservation-oriented in your view toward resource management. That might have been OK in Sequoia, but Yosemite is different. I’m letting you go.”

Barbara was hurt and confused. All she had been doing was attempting to restore the Valley. After all, how hard could it be?

She did some research on how hard it could be, and that research melded into a very readable history of the various attempts to restore the valley as well as suggestions as to how that might be accomplished: The book is entitled The Soul of Yosemite: Finding, Defending, and Saving The Valley’s Sacred Wild Nature.

Pick it up at your library or bookstore, it is well worth your time.

The question still remains, “How do you preserve a talismanic mountain valley in a pristine state of nature while at the same time attending to the needs of millions of visitors and making oodles of money for the park concessioner and providing the necessary park infrastructure?"

Well, I don’t know, neighbors! But here is a somewhat controversial thought from the THUNDERBEAR ASSOCIATES, an environmental study group. The THUNDERBEAR premise is based on the wisdom of the National Rifle Association. You will recall, of course, that the NRA believes that the answer to the gun problem in the United States is MORE guns!

THUNDERBEAR ASSOCIATES believes that the answer to people and infrastructure in the Yosemite Valley is MORE people in the valley. Rather than a measly 4 million visitors a year to Yosemite Valley, the valley should be capable of handling over 40 million visitors a year, creating profits beyond the dreams of avarice for both the Concession and the NPS!

“But 40 million visitors would completely destroy the valley!” you say, understandably outraged!

The World's Largest Mall

But not if the visitors and the valley infrastructure were buried 50 feet underground. The surface would be restored to roughly 1850, the time of Chief Tenaya (There would be continuing debate on whether the Ahwahnee Hotel and a few other historic structures should remain. Everything else would be underground.)

What we are talking about is the Yosemite Mall; a mile-wide and seven-mile-long mall beneath the floor of Yosemite Valley. It would be, by far, the largest mall in the world, larger than the West Edmonton Mall in Canada, larger even than the Dubai Mall in the United Arab Emirates, which at 55 square hectares is currently the largest mall in the world. The Dubai Mall attracted 54 million visitors in 2011, surpassing New York’s Central Park (38 million) and Times Square (39.2 million) as well as Niagara Falls (22.5 million)

The Yosemite Mall would have unlimited possibilities: Not only tennis courts and a double Olympic-size pool with wave-making machine, but also the world’s only underground golf course, located conveniently under the Ahwahnee Hotel. All NPS and concession infrastructure, including the 1,200 retail outlets and other activities, would be located underground in the mall.

The surface of Yosemite Valley would be painstakingly restored to its 1851 status. Needless to say, no mechanized vehicles would be allowed. Transport would be by horse, carriage, or Shank’s Mare. With automobiles removed, the Valley would again be huge, a one-by-seven-miles scenic swath of hiking trails.

"Outrageous! Sacriligious! What would John Muir say?" you demand.

Muir, being an innovative inventor and successful Republican businessman, would probably be wondering how he could invest in Yosemite Mall.

Besides, unlike today’s schlock jungle of industrial tourism and government buildings, you would not have to visit Yosemite Mall in order to visit Yosemite Valley. You would first drive your car into the world’s largest underground parking garage where you would park. Shuttles will whisk you to a Decision Point where you will make a choice: one sign will direct you to YOSEMITE MALL and all its shopping and recreational pleasures, another sign will direct you to YOSEMITE VALLEY, where an escalator will lift you to the joys of God’s pristine Nature.

Undecided? No need to fret! There will be unobtrusive, well-concealed, escalator connections every mile or so, should you tire of either Mammon or Nature!

How hard can it be?

PJ Ryan is a retired 30-year NPS veteran having served at Jewel Cave National Monument, Bandelier National Monument, Navajo National Monument, Bryce Canyon National Park, Petrified Forest National Park, Joshua Tree National monument, John Muir NHS, Jean Lafitte NHP and the Washington Office of the NPS. You can read more of his thoughts on the parks at Thunderbear.


I am beginning to understand why you spent an average of 3.3 years at each place of employment. Your bosses evidently took the government method of getting rid of a person they didn't want: promote and transfer.

It wouldn't be hard to do if thats what the people want done. Your problem isn't that it can 't be done its that the people don't want it done. And it has nothing to do with oodles of money. People don't want parks so they can't go there.

Great humor PJ. Maybe instead of escalators, there could just be a live camera showing on a screen below in the mall. That way there would be no one in the way of your view. LOL

ec has just pronounced a pronouncement and let us know that ALL THE PEOPLE OF THE WORLD DISAGREE WITH PJ. End of discussion.

In the meantime, Thank you PJ, for another thought provoking piece of good humor.

Do you think Barbara's book is on sale in any of the bookstores in Yosemite?

Really Lee. I said "all the people disagree"? Perhaps you can show us where I said that. Then you can show us where clean energy is being obstructed.

Brilliant article! Thanks PJ. It's an honor to know you and to have worked with you as a member of a team of dedicated and enthusiastic park ranger-naturalists (1970-71) in Yosemite.

With respect to the eventual restoration of the aesthetic natural beauty of Yosemite Valley: How hard can it be? Well, you might recall that way back in 1980, the NPS finalized the General Management Plan for Yosemite National Park, which included a detailed plan to remove private automobile traffic from Yosemite Valley. That highly regarded plan has now gathered 33 years of dust.

Thanks PJ for the memories!

There are many more

Refusing to subsidize is hardly "obstructing"

I guess those politicians are obstructing my buying a $10 million home because they won't subsidize it.

P.J. - Thanks for another great contribution to the Traveler!

Yosemite Valley, the schlock mall that it is today, is popular because the view is genuine and visitors can get a glimpse of that view as they go about their routine business of shopping, consumption and entertainment. PJ's piece is spot on, insofar as he understands that visitors value Yosemite for those glimpsed views. It's correct insofar as it recognizes that the "pleasures" provided by commercial interests within the valley have nothing whatsoever to do with park values and little to do with the park itself.

As for what makes it extremely hard to improve conditions in Yosemite Valley, the first is that the concessionaires and their partners within the NPS do not wish to detract from the valley's unique opportunities for visitors to experience the setting without having to interact with that setting in any substantive way. The second is that the concessionaires and their NPS partners like mass tourism, like the money it brings in, and have no pressing reason to make substantive changes. The third is that the concessionaires and the NPS do not want to risk messing with the successful parks-as-Disneyland model they have created.

On top of this, one must factor in that those who are now drawn to Yosemite are, by and large, happy customers. The fact that the number of happy customers coming to the park system has been in decline for the past 15 years or so is, for the concessionaires and the NPS partners, a problem. It's a problem the concessionaires, NPCA, the NPS, and President Obama's new Interior Secretary will be addressing. Sadly, they will address it by actively "improving" the parks -- where "improving" means hardening and regimenting the parks to better accommodate additional mass tourism, more commercialism and privatization. "Improving" will mean making the parks less like nature and more like an urban park, such as Central Park: or better yet, a privatized urban park such as New York City's Bryant Park. "Improving" will mean further Disneyfying the parks and doing so, so they will claim, to make the parks "relevant" to a changing population. And "improving" will mean bringing more technology into natural settings so as to make it increasingly difficult to disconnect from the world of commercialism and commerce.

Even if Obama had not selected REI's CEO, Sally Jewell as his choice for Interior Secretary and had selected someone dedicated to preserving traditional park values and even if that person would have installed a better NPS Director than Jon Jarvis, there'd still be the problem of giving the customers what they want. And that's a problem.

Where the National Park Service failed, is in allowing the parks to become more like their ever-changing visitors, rather than using the parks to connect visitors to something permanent, protected and understood to be special. Managers work diligently to make it difficult for park visitors to disconnect from that which is routine, familiar and econo-centric: and that too is a problem.

My prediction is that we haven't seen anything yet when it comes to National Park Disneyfication and that during the next four years as we approach the Centennial a wrecking-ball will be set in motion which will make the mismanagement of the past Century seem almost trivial.

Your best effort yet for NPT; thanks for the laughs P.J.

Mr. Silver, thank you for a thoughtful and thought provoking view. But I'm not sure all visitors to our parks are satisfied. I hear many grumblings from people around me both in and out of the parks. The trouble is that the grumblings are not loud enough.

And I'm really afraid that your last paragraph is entirely correct. Dollars have always had a louder voice than ordinary people or the environment around us. It probably won't change.

Thank you PJ, top fight, look forward to all your posts. Thanks also to Scott Silver, a tireless advocate for wilderness. I must admit ebuck has a point, people do want to visit their parks, but I do not think that is the issue here. At some point, in my own humble opinion, a sustainable capacity is reached, beyond that point, many problems arise. I think many citizens understand that and will agree to some restraints if they are needed and the agency does the groundwork necessary to educate us to the need. The case of the day use auto congestion in Yosemite Valley is classic. Unfortunately we are now advocating (NPS Merced River Plan Draft Comprehensive Management Plan), exactly what PJ is commenting on, that is the answer being proposed to solve the problem of auto congestion in Yosemite Valley is for more parking and the infrastructure to support that for more, in the long run, auto congestion.

Thanks, PJ. Your joining forces with Kurt at NPT has been a good thing and I look forward to your efforts.

Exactly, rmackie. These issues aren't black and white. This isn't an issue of Disneyfication or no development at all. Its about balance and trade-offs. I question whether anyone here really supports the removal of every structure, road and parking lot as PJ suggests.

I appreciate the essay, PJ; it pretty much affirms my decision for July to spend only a handful of days at Yosemite and then just move on to the Circle of Solitude at SEKI.

In answer to PJ's fine commentary, I suggest the answer to the question "How Hard Can It Be?" is pretty hard if not impossible. To my way of thinking, there are at least two approaches to thinking about the question.

A Legal/Policy Approach

The NPS Organic Act has been affirmed and reaffirmed in its exact words many times since 1916 by Congress, courts, and the NPS. The affirmation has always been that "preservation" (sometimes the word "conservation" is used) is the primary fiduciary responsibility of the NPS regarding parks' resources.

None of the words in the Organic Act have been defined by Congress, the courts, or the NPS.

The NPS is not an "expert" agency (e.g., like the EPS) but rather a "stakeholder" agency, which means its duty is as much as it determines appropriate to respond to various stakeholders with interests in NPS matters.

All of the above means that the common interpretation that the NPS has two (primary) duties, i.e., preservation and use, is wrong. The only primary duty is preservation.

However, given the lack of definition of the words in Organic Act, the Administrative Procedures Act pretty much grants a huge amount of discretion to NPS decision making unless it is arbitrary and capricious. Plus, the legal bar for demonstration that the NPS has been arbitrary and capricious is high. Thus, automatic deference is given to NPS decisions.

In a sense, absent proof of being arbitrary and capricious, the NPS can have things both ways regarding preservation and use. As long as it has a reason that an action is not inconsistent with preservation or causes impairment (sound science is not required) NPS decisions will hold up. Given the ambiguity of language of the Act, a related but more complicated explanation is that actions a party may try to use to demonstrate a park manager’s failure to carry out the prescriptive mandate of use may in defense be characterized as ‘preservation’, and thereby arguably comply with the Act.

To a different point, it is true there has been tremendous and successful lobbying by park concessioners. I have made this point in a number of published papers. However, I'm not sure where to spread the blame: the concessioners, the NPS, or the American public.

Unfortunately, it seems clear to me that in most cases the NPS can do pretty much what it wants. Why it has not been more bold in a preservationist sense is not exactly clear to me. My guess is that we have not had a true democracy in this country for quite a while, given the impact of money in elections (and this predates the United decision), and that the conservation organizations long ago began a descent into compromise of preservation in order to attract and keep members. This is one reason David Brower was fired from the Sierra Club (I was in the Board Room when it happened). Then, too, the American public share blame because by and large what exists in parks is what they desire.

Philosophical Musings

Recall that the NPS has not defined in any concrete manner ‘conservation.” But Joseph Sax, a professor of law at the University of California, did. In his remarkably short but insightful and still relevant book Mountains Without Handrails published 33 years ago he managed to distill a lot of the essential problems that had been plaguing national parks since their inception, and still do.

Many people hold a memory of experiences in some of the world’s national parks. These memories have produced impressions that have helped sustain them through good times, or more mundane or even difficult times, providing another value national parks and other special places can provide even as we are distant from them. The point, though, is that quality park experiences are comparable to moments of sensory or aesthetic pleasures or stunning observations that may occur from special experiences, over long time periods. The key for value to be derived from national parks is for our experiences in the actual resources or situations to be sufficiently authentic and profound to etch themselves into our beings. This etching cannot be done in the midst of crowded conditions, excessive development, or traffic jams on narrow park roads.

That existing levels of use and development in most parks degrade the scenery and natural resources is without question (to us). But they do more than this, they degrade the opportunities for visitors to contemplate and reflect on scenery and natural resources because of the distractions of high levels of use and development–and none of the reports mentioned this. Sax built his ideas on Frederick Law Olmsted’s, who would have thought modern hotels and massive traffic jams were anomalies in parks not simply because they intrude on the scenery or even might impair ecology, but because such commercialism and crowding intrudes upon our ability to contemplate the mystery and grandeur of this thing called ‘nature’. Sax defines conservation of national parks as disallowing high levels of use and development because this precisely gives ‘…the ordinary citizen an opportunity to exercise and educate the contemplative faculty that establishment of nature parks and public places is justified and enforced as political duty. The more nature there is in national parks the greater allowance is made for the free roaming of the human spirit and intelligence: Conservation begets freedom. The setting is a precondition for activities that cultivate human independence, curiosity, and self–directed thought because it is only those areas, free from development, that allow contemplation and reflection, and which do not depend on artificial entertainment found in places like modern hotels and bars or ski slopes for our attention. Sax’s ideas provide a strong basis for a non–consumptive and contemplative and reflective experience in national parks, although his views are decidedly anthropocentric.

A wonderful book to read is by Jon Livingston, a Canadian biologist, who wrote 30 years ago The Fallacy of Wildlife Conservation. Sax and Livingston come to many of the same conclusions about the need for parks to be free of development and heavy visitation. However, Livingston wrote that conservation is a fallacy insofar it is rooted in anthropocentric interests, and he reminds us that the human assault on places like national parks is not lessened until we humans change in a manner such that we recognize that we are not separatefrom—not better than—animals. We are only different. Livingston reminds that the onus is on each of us to make an inner change, to accept relatively undeveloped national parks for the benefit of the animals and not for our own selves in a setting of accommodations developed forour comfort. With respect to national parks, technology and politics having to do with complicated public transportation schemes will not provide the solution because, ultimately, if we humans insist on having preeminencein national parks the wildlife and the scenery ultimately will lose, as will our ability to contemplate and reflect; rather, the solution requires a change in our own values and what we accept as our place in nature. Although Leopold Revisited provides us a reminder about the scientific reasons to protect nature in natural parks and the challenges of doing so, The Fallacy of Wildlife Conservation provides a strong philosophical rationale.

Although we tend to call the most significant national park problem the one of conservations vs. use and development, in a sense this is not quite accurate. As mentioned above, Congress has reaffirmed on numerous occasions the primary fiduciary responsibility of the NPS is preservation, and courts have also affirmed this. Consequently, it remains not only to the NPS to resolve the problem but to participatory democracy as well. But in its history the NPS has never done so, and there is no indication that the agency will do so now. The most significant problem might be how to instill appropriate values in people so that they want their national park experiences to comport with an authentic nature with little or no human–manufactured distraction.

It might be naıve to believe national parks can be saved from use and development, which is to say, us. Yet, national parks are the embodiment of an ideal about peoples’ relations with nature and although difficult to achieve the ideal is worth believing in.

Finally, we might question that the problems of parks can be understood or resolved by data regarding use and development. Rather, resolution of problems will require understanding of the need for contemplation and reflection. If national parks are to remain the pinnacle of a nation’s beauty, healthy natural resources, and cultural heritage, then they simply cannot be viewed and treated as typical recreation areas. And if such a pinnacle is achieved, then as Edward Abbey said:

They will complain of physical hardship, these sons of the pioneers. But once they rediscover the pleasures of actually operating their own limbs and senses in a varied, spontaneous, voluntary style, they will complain instead of crawling back into a car; they may even object to returning to a desk and office and that dry–wall box on Mossy Brook Circle. The fires of revolt may be kindled–which means hope for us all.

Best part about Yosemite is one can go in, drive around, hike less than a mile total and enjoy wilderness. :)

Justin - what a balanced approach. Enjoy the amenties of a miniscule portion of the park and then go enjoy the massively larger undeveloped section of the parks.

I wonder if anyone has actually calculated the developed footprint in the California National Parks as a % of the total. I'm guessing you would be talking a fraction of a percent.

Couldn't Yosemite be recreated at 1/4 scale in Las Vegas, with the replica El Capitán being a hollowed-out 4,000-room hotel?

And with air-conditioning, of course. I mean the whole replica valley. Who wants to walk in that heat?

That should detour many of the Yosemite visitors. After all, I once encountered a group of Italians wandering alongside the replica Grand Canal at Las Vegas's Venetian Hotel. The real thing probably has too many cobblestones coated with pigeon droppings and the water is probably polluted and odoriferous. The replica in Las Vegas was as pristine as a swimming pool.

Or maybe, since PJ doesn't want anyone going to the parks, we could just pretend they exist. Since noone is going to them, noone would know it was pure fantacy.


This wording from the act that established the first park, Yellowstone:

as a public park or pleasuring-ground for the benefit and enjoyment of the people

And this wording from the Organic Act

the Service thus established shall promote and regulate the use of the Federal areas known as national parks, monuments and reservations . . . by such means and measures as conform to the fundamental purpose of the said parks, monuments and reservations, which purpose is to conserve the scenery and the natural and historic objects and the wild life therein and to provide for the enjoyment of the same in such manner and by such means as will leave them unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations.

Would seem to refute your contention that the NPS's role is primarily preservation.

EC, courts have held time and again that the primary mandate of the NPS is preservation, and that the enjoyment section is secondary.

A noted historian, Robin Winks, broke down the Organic Act and explained that reasoning. You can find his essay here:


Congress also has come down on the side of preservation first, enjoyment secondary, when there are conflicts between the two:


Ebuck: I have looked at just about every court case involving preservation vs. use and all of them affirm the primary fiduciary responsibility as preservation. And, as I said, on numerous occasions Congress has repeated the reaffirmation as has the NPS.

The words you quote is from Yellowstone's enabling act also have been ruled in several court cases to be consistent with the Organic Act.

jlemons -- that was some very, very interesting and thought provoking reading. Thank you. My poor brain will need to do some more work on digesting it. But you seem to be very much right on the mark.

Yet, I'm not at all sure that our parks are necessarily what people "want." Instead, we may be seeing a reflection of acceptance of what the public has been handed. And, because they know no other options, they feel they must accept what is there. How many in the general public really understand things like the concept of carrying capacity or even the idea of preservation of resources that can never be recreated if they are lost?

Perhaps the real key is better education toward real public understanding of the role parks and wilderness should be playing in our lives. To me, that underscores the vital importance of good interpretation in our parks.

And I don't know if it was PJ or Kurt who made the editorial decision, but anytime an article has a Bierstadt image, it is a Good Thing.

Once again the courts can rule anything they want. It doesnt change the language of the originating acts.

and one needs to keep in mind the difference in "primarily" and "primary". Preservation may be primary to use when they conflict but in is not exclusive of use.


Once courts rule on the meaning of legislation, the ruling is the meaning.

No one has said preservation is exclusive of other use. Only, that is is primary and that other uses cannot take precedence.

John Lemons

John Lemons, glad to read your comments. You seem very wise. I look forward to you being part of the NPT commentors.

I second that, David.

Enabling Act? Organic Act? WTH?? What about the "I just want to go to the park and have cold water available for the wife " Act? Probably what the majority want....

John, thank you also. A question, in my own limited experience with environmental litigation, you are correct, the ruling is the meaning. John, (imtnbke or other attorney's on Traveler), occasionally the issue gets more complicated once the political process enters into the discussion. If my facts are correct, during the height of the Yellowstone snowmobile controversy, the Park was dealing with two conflicting court rulings. In Yosemite, a district court judge asked the NPS Representative, what is it you do understand about our court order, yet years later it is still not enforced and is still a very politically contentious issue. Just recently, in Sequoia/Kings, congress overruled (more or less), a court order (or at least the NPS interpretation of said), in a case on commercial pack stock use on Park Trails. In fact courts, all the way to the Supreme Court, occasionally overturn years of legal precedent, and we find a new meaning to the ruling, good, bad or indifferent. I guess what I am asking is how truly set in stone are these legal precedents, if in fact they become politically controversial enough?

Geez, gutz, if I dunked my wife in cold water, I'd be in hot water! But if that's what you want to do . . . well, good luck.

(And I kind of think I'm in the majority on that one . . . )

Lee-- I didn't mean for dunking my sweet wife-- I was talking the drinking kind. She starts looking for cold water after we go on a hike and has drank her's and all of mine before we've even gone half way... she drinks more water than a camel for Christ sake.... LOL

Oh. Well I hope you use reusable bottles . . . . . ;-:}

Keep smiling!

Once courts rule on the meaning of legislation, the ruling is the meaning.

Which is one of the problems with our courts. They totally ignore the law and the constitution.

So, EC, who interprets the Constitution correctly in your opinion?

EC and only EC. End of discussion.

Hello Ron, nice to hear from you.

Well, you are correct in what you say. I know because of your experience you know all of this, but I'll state for any possible benefit for others. First, you are correct that legal precedents are not set in stone as you suggest. They can be overturned by subsequent court decisions or by subsequenct legislation. They also can be ignored if an agency does not have an appropriate budget to carry out a court decision. And, the can be ignored because the agency does not like the decision and therefore sometimes just waits to see if the court or plaintiffs pursue the matter (Look at 16 USC 55 for any example. This has been established as "good law" but ignored. If you are not familiar with it I urge you to read it. It contains an "eye opener").

Having said this, what I was trying to say is that the wording of the Organic Act (Section 1) remarkably has been affirmed and reaffirmed probably six or more times by Congress in its exact wording, since 1916 and including recently (I am too lazy to look up the exact number), and (very) numerous times by courts. I suppose, so far, as much as legislation can be cast in stone Section 1 USC 16 is an example.

Except, you are correct that despite the legislation remaining governing, there is wide latitude for politics. I tried to hint at this by mentioning the Administrative Procedures Act, which grants a huge amount of discretion to the NPS that (and now I seem to be arguing with myself) it can almost negates the legislation, at least at times. This is one reason why the Yosemite GNP has gathered dust for 33 years. In other words, all the NPS has to do is offer a reasonable grounds for not carrying it out yet. (It will be another matter when it commits to action contrary to the GNP)

As I understand the two conflicting Yellowstone cases, the one that went against the NPS was because the agency explicitly acknowledged that preservation would be harmed, and this is disallowed by the Organic Act and was mentioned by the judge. The case that ruled in the NPS's favor did so, in part, (my interpretation) because the NPS gave reasons for levels of snowmobile use, i.e., it did not admit to harm of preservation and it did not violate rules on being arbitrary or capricious.

I hope this is not terribly confusing. You raise interesting and challenging points and it is difficult for my limited brain to explain myself in a minimum of words.

Be Well


Kurt - those that follow what is says - and only what it says in the way it was meant when it was written.

Kurt - those that follow what is says - and only what it says in the way it was meant when it was written.


How things originally were written, like Section 2 of Article I of the Constitution. It designated "other persons" (slaves) to be added to the total of the state's free population, at the rate of three-fifths of their total number, to establish the state's official population for the purposes of apportionment of Congressional representation and federal taxation. Damn those johnny-come-lately's with their Thirteenth Amendment, freeing the slaves from "what it meant when it was written".

Maybe what we really need is some clairvoyant judges. I'll nominate the lady who runs the palm reading establishment on Washington Boulevard here in Ogden. Her sign advertises "Contact with the Departed."


We don't know "what is says in the way it was meant when it was written." None of the words were defined, and still are not. The interpretation evolves. And, all of the crucial words like "conservation," "use and enjoyment," and "unimpairment" are very fuzzy and non scientific terms. Your wanting to go back to the those writing the legislation I am afraid won't work because those people did not define the words. But as I have said, court have affirmed that they impose a preservtionist duty on the NPS. It remains for the rest of us through persuasion and given the fact that the NPS is a stakeholder agency to make our case.

John, your post very helpful and educational for me , thank you. I must admit I forgot about the "Administrative Procedures Act", need to review the wording on that. I will also look up 16 USC 55. John, thank you again and thank you for all your efforts involving our National Park issues. Very best.

Hello Ron. I worked for the NPS in 1979 at Yosemite because of you. I met you while passing through Yosemite via Tuolumne in 1978 while hiking the entire PCT from Canada to Mexico. I met you at the Tioga Lake Resort cafe. I think you were having lunch with old Ferd (RIP). You talked me into applying to work for NPS the next year. My cabin mate was Colin Campbell. He had just graduated from Cal Poly SLO. I hear he stayed in the NPS and went on to attain big positions in the NPS. He was just a hayseed tobacco chewing cow"boy" when I shared a cabin at Mather with him.

The NPS was not a good fit for me because of the bureaucracy and I locked horn with Wendt(sp?) and Benowese(sp?). Wish I could have worked for you in backcountry. I knew/know that entire park like the palm of my hand, more so than 99% of the rangers.

Anyway, it was an experience I do not regret. I ended up starting three companies and raising four kids, my youngest now a decorated Iraq War hero.

Last time I was in the Yosemite high-country solo (I was always solo) was October of 2004 to celebrate my 55th B-Day by hiking from Tuolumne to Rock Creek via the JMT and Mono Pass. Before I left the parking lot near the Tuolumne RS I asked the rangers when Tioga Pass would close. They said I had over a week. I planned 5 days of hiking then a friend would drive me back to get my car, so I had plenty of time according to the rangers. But four days into my trek a storm hit and a foot of snow was dumped, chasing me out of the high-country. When I got my ride back to Tioga Pass the gate was closed. I had to wait there for an hour before a ranger showed up and took me to get my car. The jerk wrote me a citation that cost $170. Yes, $170 is chump change to me, but it was the principle of it.

My Yosemite has slowly been ruined by the bureaucracy. How fondly I recall the 1960s/70s when I never took out a wilderness permit because I always travelled cross-country where the "tourist" hikers never ventured. Just have to vent my spleen here.

Good to see you're still among the living, Ron.