Recent comments

  • Freeze On New Regs Could Impact Efforts to Expand Mountain Biking in National Parks   5 years 27 weeks ago

    @ Warren Z: Is your preferred mode of travel in the national parks "appropriate," as you put it? If so, why it is so and mountain biking not?

    I emphasize Warren Z's use of "appropriate" with quotation marks because it and "inappropriate" are, as the writer J.M. Coetzee has alluded to (and I will argue directly) the ultimate obfuscatory adjectives. They are often invoked when the writer wishes to make a value judgment but is uninterested in defending it, or unable to do so, with more precise language. So whenever someone invokes either adjective my linguistic brain module sounds an alarm.

  • Freeze On New Regs Could Impact Efforts to Expand Mountain Biking in National Parks   5 years 27 weeks ago

    At the risk of sounding elitist, I must take exception with the above. The fact that parks are the common property of the American people does not necessarily mean that all must be equally accommodated when it comes to access preferences. Cycling is generally permitted on established roads in the parks but may be excluded from less developed areas. There are other public lands, including national forests and BLM managed areas, where access is more liberal, and mountain biking may be allowed. Parks are special. That is why they are called parks.
    If national parks (or federal Wilderness) are that special, why should hotels, paved access roads, large parking lots, long motorways, commercial amusements, etc., be allowed in the former, and why should commercial luxury horseback and packstock operations be allowed in the latter?

  • Freeze On New Regs Could Impact Efforts to Expand Mountain Biking in National Parks   5 years 27 weeks ago

    A very reasonable comment, Ray. National Parks are special places. And full recreational use, mountain biking for instance, just isn't appropriate for all NPS lands.

    But some folks just aren't used to hearing "please wait", or "no" in response to their wishes, no matter how reasonable or harmless they think they are.

    While I do agree that some of the opposition to expanded mountain bike access is based on a bias against non-walkers, this is not an issue of special rights for some, as the IMBA would have one believe.
    Neither is the current assessment and approval process too cumbersome; sometimes redundancy is a good thing. Why not be absolutely sure a trail (and the surrounding landscape) can handle the additional usage? Why doesn't that seem reasonable? Because one might have to wait a little longer before they can add a new trail to their biking score card?
    I think the real motivation for a quicker, easier approval process is financial.

    A direct quote from a "Sample Letter" IMBA website visitors are encouraged to use:
    "Improving opportunities for bicycling and promoting trails tourism could benefit economic conditions for nearby communities."
    There's money to be made by the bikers themselves if they can market and sell bike tours in National Parks for which their communities happen to be a gateway... how dare the NPS stand in the way of their pursuit of commerce.
    Well I'll tell you why the NPS should keep a thorough, redundant process: read the Organic Act for your answer.

  • Freeze On New Regs Could Impact Efforts to Expand Mountain Biking in National Parks   5 years 27 weeks ago

    Ray, I ride my local parks on a regular basis. I had no idea that the term "park" automatically banned bikes... :) Just be honest, and tell us that you don't want to share these taxpayer funded trails with other users. That would make more sense than making up illogical arguments.

    BTW, the proposed rule does not take away public input. It simply delegates the decision making power to the people closest to the field, and hence most likely to know what's going on. The indirect consequence of this will probably to see more trails opening to mountain bikers where parks supervisors support cyclists. Parks headed by bike hating management will see the status quo remain. Simple as that.

  • Freeze On New Regs Could Impact Efforts to Expand Mountain Biking in National Parks   5 years 27 weeks ago

    At the risk of sounding elitist, I must take exception with the above. The fact that parks are the common property of the American people does not necessarily mean that all must be equally accommodated when it comes to access preferences. Cycling is generally permitted on established roads in the parks but may be excluded from less developed areas. There are other public lands, including national forests and BLM managed areas, where access is more liberal, and mountain biking may be allowed. Parks are special. That is why they are called parks.

  • Freeze On New Regs Could Impact Efforts to Expand Mountain Biking in National Parks   5 years 27 weeks ago

    You know it's my opinion that our national parks belong to us all and I can see no reason why it's not possible for responsible use of the parks for literally all of us. Isn't this really about respect of each other and the park? To me, this is a great opportunity for literally everyone to come together and join in that endeavor of mutual gratification and mutual respect. My favorite mode of transportation is hiking and I am always so happy with the congeniality of those I encounter on the trails. Additionally I love the peace and quiet. Yet I support a place for everyone especially in our parks.

  • Interior Secretary Salazar Uses the "S" Word On Second Day at the Office   5 years 27 weeks ago

    Jim, so who decides which values are legitamite? You ask if both sides of an issue are equally legitamite and then answer your own question with, "I don't think so". You naturally believe (as I do) that our values are correct; yet individuals on the other side may be just as convinced that theirs are. Not all "value" issues are as cut and dried as racism, sexism etc. We believe that, as you say, the value is: ".... that Yellowstone recreation must not harm the environment, wildlife, and features of Yellowstone National Park." Others might argue that the value is, "to protect the recreational opportunities within Yellowstone National Park and the livelihoods of those individuals who eek out a living renting snowmobiles, and guiding and catering to winter visitors; while doing a MINIMUM (caps for emphasis) amount of damage." They might even point out, as snowmobile advocates often do to me, that the sign on the arch says, "For the enjoyment and benefit of the people". Or that any damage done (such as air pollution etc.) is only temporary, and does not impair the park for "future generations". Are both sides values legitamite? Very possibly. Isn't this, as you say, "....where letting science hold sway has its place"?
    I am simply playing devil's advocate here. I agree that science is not the answer to everything, and that the last thing we want to do is make science god to the exclusion of our core values. But the opposite is also true, because that is exactly what we have been doing for the past eight years. Making decisions in ones personal life based solely on values is one thing. Make public policy that way is another, because the only person's values that count are the person making the decision; as we have seen. Science can be peer reviewed. A person's values, not so much. Especially when that person is in a very powerful position.

  • Freeze On New Regs Could Impact Efforts to Expand Mountain Biking in National Parks   5 years 27 weeks ago

    Questions for those who oppose this proposed rule:

    1. Would it be acceptable to you to have alternate-day use of trails by cyclists in national parks, so that there would still be days on which you would encounter no bicycle riders?

    2. Would you accept a permit system so that the number of people you could expect to encounter on a given day, whether on a bicycle, on foot, or on a horse or packstock, would be predictably limited?

    3. Would you accept a system under which cyclists would use service roads in national parks to proceed downhill and would be limited to riding trails in the uphill direction? (Assume for purposes of this question that cyclists would be proceeding at walking speed in the uphill direction.)

    4. Do you believe it is never acceptable for a bicycle to be ridden on a narrow trail on public land, no matter what conditions are imposed?

    5. What, if anything, do you find most objectionable about seeing or encountering a cyclist on a trail? (E.g., loss of sense of solitude, fear of collision, revival of memories of past unpleasant encounters (including road cyclists in this), a feeling that the presence of any mechanical device sullies the nature of a wild area, the typical age cohorts of cyclists, and/or fears of erosion or other environmental consequences?)

    These are not rhetorical questions. I am interested in your answers. This might begin a dialogue by which people could come to some sort of understanding of one another's complaints and objections, and begin to try to resolve them. Thanks.

  • Freeze On New Regs Could Impact Efforts to Expand Mountain Biking in National Parks   5 years 27 weeks ago

    Unfortunately it isn't that simple. This proposed rule takes away public input at the national level and leaves it up to local interests, who occasionally apply inappropriate influence on the park manager. Not sure why requiring rulemaking, which opens up comments to a national audience, allowing all interests to be heard, is so objectionable. What's up with transparency in government?

  • Interior Secretary Salazar Uses the "S" Word On Second Day at the Office   5 years 27 weeks ago

    I agree that science is not the answer to everything, however when it came to science during the Bush administration his line of thought reminded me of Mary Shelley's book "Frankenstein." Shelley was concerned that medical science had gone to far and doctors were now "playing God." Under the Bush administration scienctific advancement was sacrified because of his religious beliefs. I am glad he is no longer around to get in the way of progress.

  • A Major Overhaul at Ford's Theatre National Historic Site Raises a Few Eyebrows   5 years 27 weeks ago

    The collection on exhibit in the basement of Ford's Theatre in 2005 (when I left my position there) was a mixture of artifacts owned by the NPS, and those on loan from the Smithsonian; this collection included the Derringer. I would imagine it will be part of the newly refurbished museum at the theatre.

  • Help Ken Burns Chronicle the Parks   5 years 27 weeks ago

    One of the elements that might be considered when searching for who we are as Americans should look at who we first set out to be. In the preamble to our constitution for instance, we are betrothed to insure “Domestic Tranquility”....what does that mean?...what should it mean?...what does it currently mean to many? Is anyone really working to "insure" it?

    Personally I feel that if we hold fast to who we have set out to be, and to include insuring domestic tranquility in that equation, it needs to be defined better so that we would all make sure that we protect it....insure/ensure it.

    So this is the premise for what I think could be a great movie by Ken Burns. Maybe it is a documentary where Americans are asked to give their definition of domestic tranquility. Maybe it would include historic intentions and definitions. To me domestic tranquility is nature...protected...the ability to venture out and be a lone human in a vast, native, and natural landscape. It is a National Park...but it is more that that.

    You (Ken Burns) would be great at presenting the “domestic tranquility” thing in some way. I feel that it could be a strong platform from which to launch nationwide support for the protection of wilderness, habitat...open space.

    PS...seeing the preview of your series last night at the Emerson inspired me to share this.

  • Interior Secretary Salazar Uses the "S" Word On Second Day at the Office   5 years 27 weeks ago

    Jim's dead on. Science is not an oracle that can be consulted for the answers to all of life's conundrums. Policy decisions are value decisions, and the Bush administration got to influence those value decisions for eight years because they had been elected. That's how our system works. Now, the Obama administration gets to influence those value decisions, for the same reasons. But because of an idiosyncrasy of public rhetoric, the Obama team will be able to get away with calling their value judgments "scientific."

    It does not take much observation to recognize that in the field of public policy, science is a code-word meant to evoke a confident emotional response. "You can't argue with science," they will say. But a true scientist knows that science is argument. If you don't argue (argument meaning a connected series of statements intended to establish a proposition--not the automatic gainsaying of anything the other party says), you're not doing science. And even when you've played the argument out and settled on a practical conclusion, scientific conclusions do not automatically become policy prescriptions.

  • Humans as "Super-Predators" – New Study Offers Startling Information about Hunting and Fishing   5 years 27 weeks ago

    Scot -

    Good question. At the time I wrote the article, I had to rely on the abstract for the study, which you'll find at http://www.pnas.org/content/early/2009/01/12/0809235106, and on e-mails with the author of the study and the press release.

    There were some links on that page for some additional information in .pdf format, but they weren't loading correctly at that time, so I was reluctant to include them and have readers be frustrated.

    Hope the above link will help.

  • Freeze On New Regs Could Impact Efforts to Expand Mountain Biking in National Parks   5 years 27 weeks ago

    MRC, I've stopped more than once to let a hiker pass, especially if I'm by myself going slowly uphill and big group of hikers is coming down. It makes more sense. Now, whether you feel second rate or not is frankly a non issue, a national park is not your own private Idaho. We just have to learn to share. Furthermore, there are plenty of ways to do it in ways that are fair. The odd/even day rule is a great one. It guarantees access to everyone and gives you the opportunity to hike on days when people are not riding their bikes if that's important to you.

  • A Major Overhaul at Ford's Theatre National Historic Site Raises a Few Eyebrows   5 years 27 weeks ago

    Superb article! I'm confused though, where is the Derringer used to assisinate Lincoln? Last time I saw it, it was in the Smithsonian. Few years ago --- like forty(?).

    Articles like this make me want to load up the 4X4 and hit the road to head for civilization. Presently reside in the Kommunist Republik of Kalifornia, but am a native Texian.

  • Humans as "Super-Predators" – New Study Offers Startling Information about Hunting and Fishing   5 years 27 weeks ago

    Jim, your article's link to the study takes you to a press release about the study, but not the actual study. Do you have a link to the actual study?

  • Interior Secretary Salazar Uses the "S" Word On Second Day at the Office   5 years 27 weeks ago

    "Wouldn't it be great if the Obama administration could solve world hunger, create world peace, find a cure for the common cold!!" Hail Obama - he has the answer to everything!!! Too bad he appeared out of no where, hasn't released any records and has no history of accomlishments... I really don't get it.

  • Interior Secretary Salazar Uses the "S" Word On Second Day at the Office   5 years 27 weeks ago

    Frank,

    Your view is essentially moral relativism. Of course, everyone has different values; that doesn't mean that each person's values are coherent. A racist has values; certainly, we need to say those values are wrong. A sexist has values. Are we to say that there are no standards on which values can be evaluated? At the very least, can't values be evaluated based on their internal coherence?

    Science also has the ability to be different since it is based ultimately on induction; experiments can be falsified. Two people can see the very same experiment and experience it very differently. To mitigate that, science depends upon repeatability and consensus. And, we are fools to dismiss the strength of that process; however, we have to be careful how science relates to the underlying values. In the 19th century, some scientists made a lot of studies about the biological differences of the races. Those questions produce evidence and results, but what can anyone do with it on the basis of science? Absolutely nothing meaningful because it was based on the premise that there was an a priori evaluative difference between races.

    It's all too common to assume that because each of us has values that each of our values is legitimate. (There's also the threat on the other side that some who hold to objective values carry it too far and claim that something is definitely right or wrong when no one can possibly know - assuming no objective values leads to moral relativism; assuming too many leads to moral dogmatism). Values are not the same as preferences of taste. Even the idea that our policy should be consistent with science is based on the value of coherence and consistency. Certainly, that value is true, though there are some who disagree with it; they are wrong.

    Almost no decisions are based clearly on science; the science almost always assumes a set of values. In the snowmobile case, the value is that Yellowstone recreation must not harm the environment, wildlife, and features of Yellowstone National Park. To the extent that it does to a particular level where there is too much harm to the one at the expense of the other (also not clearly a scientific assessment), then we will reject it. Science is supposed to tell us what empirical reality meshes with those values. However, not everyone agrees on where the balance is, what constitutes harm, etc. And, then, there was the Bush Administration, who pretended that they shared the same values as articulated here and then ignored what their scientists told them was consistent with those values. That's where letting science hold sway has its place. Yet, even there, you have to ask why the Bush people rejected the science? My sense is that they were politically scared to articulate values that they were afraid the majority of people would reject. They would prefer to support a vision of Yellowstone that was more concerned with recreation than they are with protecting the ecology, but they didn't want to articulate that. If they had, we could have argued about their values. Instead, we have the relatively easy job of blasting them for ignoring the science. But, if we don't call the value bluff as well, we won't really get anywhere.

    That goes for bison as well. Everyone knows that brucellosis isn't a significant cost to ranchers or significant threat to the health of cattle. It's easy to let science hold sway, but the problem wouldn't go away because many bison advocates will not be content with bison being allowed to stop at the next boundary outside of Yellowstone. Ranchers won't want them to have even an inch outside of Yellowstone (they are even fighting bison that have been quarantined and with very little doubt don't even have brucellosis going to native reservations). There is a differing set of values on the grass and our relationship with the land. Are both views equally legitimate? I don't think so, and we'd better be able to make that case one way or the other. If we can't, how is science supposed to settle this? All the science does is expose that the issue that people claim is at the center of this is not really at the center of it. Science exposes the smokescreen of a cultural divide.

    That's true with snowmobiles as well, though there's a lot more confusion people have over the actual science. My sense, though, is that Bush's sin was double - incoherence with science combined with incoherent values.

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

  • Humans as "Super-Predators" – New Study Offers Startling Information about Hunting and Fishing   5 years 27 weeks ago

    When asking whether human evolutionary impacts on other species should just be treated as another natural selective force, the question we should fundamentally be asking is whether that force is tending to undermine the broader health of the system. And I'm defining health here not in some aesthetic sense, but whether biomass and complexity are decreasing. Such a trend over time will also undermine our own health.

    Biologists have shown that the extinction rate resulting mostly from our growing land use has increased 1000-fold over what they sometimes call "natural" rates, what we might here call pre-industrial rates. The effects of this apex species do not appear to be benign and something that will be just a part of the evolutionary mix over time. Was that asteroid that hit earth 65 million years ago and caused the extinction of most species "natural"? Of course. If another was heading this way and we had a chance to deflect it, should we?

    Also, as to "the government that governs least, governs best" may have been commented on by Thoreau, but it was spoken by Jefferson. Bu Jefferson's belief in that motto applied to when things were going well. He supported much stronger government action if things weren't going so well. He called for high property taxes in France to deal with unused land owned by the wealthy when tenant farmers had no land. Land redistribution in such a situation would not have been so foreign to him. In the runup to the Louisiana Purchase, he knew that he did not have the authority to do it. Initially he wanted a constitutional amendment. But when told that Napoleon would not wait, and might sell it to the Spanish in the interim, he set his principles aside and bought it. He was quite pragmatic.

  • Interior Secretary Salazar Uses the "S" Word On Second Day at the Office   5 years 27 weeks ago

    "Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted" - Albert Einstein,

    Science is not the answer to everything...

  • Interior Secretary Salazar Uses the "S" Word On Second Day at the Office   5 years 27 weeks ago

    Of course another arguement againt snowmobiles in Yellowstone is the problem of bison following groomed roads out of the Park and into trouble in Montana, though I guess the roads have to be groomed for snow coaches as well. Wouldn't it be great if the Obama administration could find solutions for both of these problems? I know that these are minor blips on the Obama radar (if they are blips at all), but sooner or later decisions will have to be made. I feel like a newlywed on his honeymoon. Sure hope I'm not disappointed on my wedding night!

  • 4-Year-old Dies in Fall off South Rim of Grand Canyon   5 years 27 weeks ago

    "An adult has to hold onto a 4 year old at all the Grand Canyon overlooks. Constantly and tight."
    I agree, but I also agree that accidents happen. Sometimes in the wink of an eye. When I was little my family and I visited the Grand Canyon. I was clearly told to stay back away from the edge. My sister and I were playing on a hill perhaps a hundred yards or so away from the edge while my mom and dad were taking photographs. My sister was chasing me and I ran down the hill. My momentum was such that I couldn't stop at the bottom and almost ran off the edge of the canyon. My dad grabbed me at the last instant. One second we were well back away from danger, no reason for my parents to be concerned, the next I had one leg hanging over the precipice and my arm nearly being ripped out of its socket by my dad. I am forever grateful that he was able to react so quickly.

  • Interior Secretary Salazar Uses the "S" Word On Second Day at the Office   5 years 27 weeks ago

    Of course you're right, Jim. Science can't be held in a vacuum as a cure-all. And neither can values. The trick is to find a balance.

    In the case of Yellowstone snowmobiles, the Bush administration seemed to completely ignore the science and kowtow to a surprisingly small special interest. I think it just as easily, and no doubt more legitimately, have held that the science and public opinion overwhelmingly dictated a phase-out of snowmobiles in favor of snow coaches.

    Of course, the wild card in this case is also the blinders to developing science in terms of cleaner and quieter snowmobiles. A few years back a Utah-based company had developed an electric snowmobile that was as powerful as a 2-stroke, and yet no one jumped on it (no pun intended).

    And in March this year the 10th Clean Snowmobile Challenge will be held at Michigan Tech. Teams of engineering students from participating schools will be given a stock snowmobile and re-engineer it to reduce emissions and noise while maintaining or improving performance. A record 18 teams have registered, the most since the first Challenge was held, in Wyoming. Thirteen will compete in the internal combustion division, with five in the zero-emissions division, formed in 2006 for electric sleds.

    Perhaps it wouldn't hurt to see the snowmobile industry send a rep or two to this event, and have the NPS at least monitor it to see what's possible. When and if an emission-less snowmobile is commercially produced, I'm not sure how effectively folks could argue against the machines in Yellowstone.

  • Interior Secretary Salazar Uses the "S" Word On Second Day at the Office   5 years 27 weeks ago

    The problem with making decisions based on values is that everyone's values are different. My values may be different than yours, and both of our values are no doubt different from former (don't ya love it!) President Bush. Science is science. While I would agree that you cannot blindly follow science wherever it leads, decisions clearly based on it are hard to dispute.