Recent comments

  • Freeze On New Regs Could Impact Efforts to Expand Mountain Biking in National Parks   5 years 48 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 48 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 48 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 48 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 48 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.

    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, 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 48 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 48 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, 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 48 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 48 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 48 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 48 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 48 weeks ago


    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 48 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 48 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 48 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 48 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 48 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 48 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.

  • 4-Year-old Dies in Fall off South Rim of Grand Canyon   5 years 48 weeks ago

    Whoa, Rudee, that's pretty harsh. I agree that many groups of inner city kids (and even from other areas of the country) at times seem to be running like wild packs in the parks. But if they don't even get a chance to experience a park how can they learn to appreciate them?

    I remember a trip to Yosemite when there was a large contingent of kids I suspected came from the LA area (or somewhere similar). They were loud and raucous into the night at Camp Curry and early the next morning. But the long hike to Half Dome wore them down. I figured they either came away with a great appreciation for that wonderful place, or determined never to set foot there again. But at least they had an opportunity to see it for themselves and make that decision.

    I don't think we should deny anyone that opportunity.

  • Interior Secretary Salazar Uses the "S" Word On Second Day at the Office   5 years 48 weeks ago

    I wish people were careful about this when they would give hegemony to science without a clear understanding of what science does and doesn't do. Science does not settle value decisions, which must be at the root of any policy decision. It isn't something that takes the place of values or is itself a higher value.

    What we should ask is that people make decisions based on values (and those need to be discussed and settled as well - and they can be unless we are moral relativists) that are consistent with the science. And, not doing so of course, is just one of the sins of the Bush Administration. They would make policy decisions based on values they held that were absolutely incoherent, not only at the values level but when you compare those values with science.

    However, I'm wary of anyone who thinks that policy can simply be a matter of letting science hold sway. You cannot reduce policy to science, and we should be careful about saying it. Western land issues, for instance, are rarely about science, but science is used by both sides to create a smokescreen over deep value and cultural divides. Since people have very little confidence in arguing over values in any meaningful way, they find more comfortable grounds on which to argue - science is a popular and easy catch-all solution for everything (the serious dialogue on values perhaps hurt by centuries of undermining rationalism in ethics by the intellectuals in Academia - an interesting story in itself putting an anarcho-lefty like me in league with right-leaning Catholic types; I did nearly complete a Ph.D. at Catholic U. after all).

    In truth, I think this is all just code from Salazar that there will be policy changes; how far those changes go is anyone's guess.

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

  • 4-Year-old Dies in Fall off South Rim of Grand Canyon   5 years 48 weeks ago

    I have to say, this verifies my cynicism when I toured the South rim once. The place was crawling with urban brats of all kinds who were clueless about being in the outdoors. Kids running rampant, women hiking trails in high heels. It was a ridiculous three ring circus. They were ALL like a bunch of children in need of supervision, not just the 4 year olds. They wer fairly rude and mannerless to boot. The sad thing is that the park system even let's ANY of them in in the first place! There should at least be a dress code! Those kind of people should stay in their city parks in Yonkers or whereever they come from and leave the great outdoors to people that know how to appreciate it.

  • National Park Quiz 38: African Americans   5 years 48 weeks ago

    Congratulations, Barky. This was not a particularly easy quiz. BTW, I'll soon be selecting quiz topics for March. Got any suggestions?

  • A Major Overhaul at Ford's Theatre National Historic Site Raises a Few Eyebrows   5 years 48 weeks ago

    Warren Z-

    Thanks for the comment, and the perspective from someone with first-hand experience at the site. The tip on the publication will be appreciated by history buffs.

  • A Major Overhaul at Ford's Theatre National Historic Site Raises a Few Eyebrows   5 years 48 weeks ago

    Thank you for another excellent article. Your reporting will surely help folks navigate a site that used to be somewhat visitor-unfriendly. I'm eager to return there and judge the experience for myself. I've sat through performances in those old chairs and they are indeed extremely uncomfortable!

    I lived in the Washington, DC area from 2000-2005, and during a small portion of that time period I worked for an NPS partner at Ford's Theatre NHS. It was an incredible place to work, my interactions with visitors were never boring, the days never long (at least during the Spring and Summer months!) The diversity of visitors to Ford's Theatre NHS is rarely matched in other parks across the country, such is the national and international draw of the Lincoln legacy. (And of John Wilkes Booth as well: I was astonished at how many visitors couldn't wait to see the gun that Booth used to assassinate Lincoln, not out of reverence for a fallen president, but out of glee to see the weapon that killed an "enemy" of their ancestors.)

    This article brings to light some important points about Ford's Theatre that were always a challenge for visitors to deal with.

    Until I worked there myself I did not know that the current performance space was in fact a reconstruction. The majority of visitors I interacted with on any given day didn't know this either, but some did indeed care. I wondered why the Park Rangers did not include this piece of information in their talks, but I quickly learned that I could easily have a negative effect on a person's visit by "educating" them about the history of the structure in which they were standing. This piece of information was best left to self discovery.

    Another challenge was access to the theatre space itself. Because the reconstructed performance space is used by a professional theatre company, rehearsals and performances often meant the theatre space itself would be closed to visitors. While this fact was of course advertised, many visitors were not aware of this logistical detail. Even repeat visitors, returning for a second or third or fourth time, were once again not able to enter the theatre space to see the presidential box because they had not realized that the professional company's schedule would have an effect on ability to see the space.
    The new ticketing system not only solves the problem of long lines and wait times, but solves the availability problem as well. The ticketing schedule posted on the FTS website clearly outlines when the performance space itself will be available for viewing and ranger talks. This is a great improvement from a visitor satisfaction standpoint I think. Though surely there will still be some disappointment if the space is unavailable on any given day, proactive management of the process can only help.

    Thanks again for the excellent article, and for providing the forum to add additional comments!


    For the NPS/history/architecture buffs out there, I have an excellent out-of-print publication to recommend.
    I picked up a used copy a few years ago at the suggestion of one of the incredibly knowledgeable interpretive rangers on duty at FTNHS.
    "Restoration of Ford's Theatre", Historic Structure Report, by George J. Olszewski, Historian for the National Capital Region at the time the report was published, 1963.
    It contains an incredible wealth of photographs from 1865, 1893, and the 1960s, ephemera, architectural drawings, a full listing of productions that took place at the theatre... just a great resource for anyone looking to fill out their Lincoln collection.

  • Freeze On New Regs Could Impact Efforts to Expand Mountain Biking in National Parks   5 years 48 weeks ago

    @Zebulon: Of course it is the governments role to determine which kinds of use are allowed on which parts of the public lands. Bikes are permitted in National Forests, on BLM land and in more than 40 national parks including spectacular routes like the White Rim Trail in Canyonlands National Park. But other parks are closed to bikes - particularly on single trails. That's perfectly fine and in accordance with the mandate of national parks.

    And regarding the detrimental effect on the experience of hikers: Please think about all your encounters between bikers and hikers on single trails. Who stops, steps aside and lets the other pass? Can you think of a single case in which the biker left the trail to let a hiker pass? I can't. It doesn't happen, not once. This infallible rule makes the hiker feel second rate and this ruins his or her experience.