Saved Our National Parks
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THE WITHDRAWAL of the military units from the National Parks marked a major turning point in the development of the National Park idea. Henceforth the direction of the Parks would be in civilian hands and future development would be civilian development. Admitting that, in principle, military control and administration of any civil matters may be undesirable in a democratic society, it was fortunate for the future of conservation in the United States that the Army was given the duty of protecting the first Parks. The Yellowstone Park, itself an experiment, was formed during a time of notorious political corruption; it could well have become a political plaything and in the process might have been destroyed. If it had been manipulated by unscrupulous politicians, it is doubtful whether the constant threat of dismemberment, spoliation, and destruction could have been thwarted. Writing at the turn of the century, the country's foremost naturalist and park propagandist, John Muir, noted this: "In pleasing contrast to the noisy, ever-changing management or mismanagement, of blustering, blundering, plundering, money-making vote-sellers who receive their places from boss politicians as purchased goods, the soldiers do their duty so quietly that the traveler is scarcely aware of their presence." [1]

From the Act establishing the Yellowstone National Park has grown a national park system comprising some 264 units including parks, battlefields, cemeteries, seashores, parkways, and historic sites. A national forest system protects more than 185 million acres of timbered land and some 370 state forests exist under varying degrees of protection. Municipalities and individuals have set aside large areas for recreation and scientific purposes; thousands of wildlife refuges dot the land. Credit for these protective systems obviously belongs to many nonmilitary men and processes. However, the United States Cavalry did protect the beginnings of the National Park system at a time when no other protection was feasible. By 1916 military control and administration of the nation's parks were anachronistic. The embryonic park system had fulfilled, by that time, the expectations of its founders, and the mere presence of protected bits of wilderness justified the wisdom of establishing other parks. The idea of conservation was becoming an established part of the nation's thinking and National Parks were considered by an increasing number of people to be worth preserving. Many individuals, politicians, and corporate interests resisted the idea, but then they still do.

Then and now the major conflict concerning natural resources was between those who would exploit and those who would preserve for posterity. Present, too, were the conflicting views of the Easterners—who viewed the Parks from afar—and the Westerners—who viewed the Parks as a violation of their economic destiny. These conflicts were exhibited in the debates over bills providing for a railroad through the northern portion of the Yellowstone. In one instance, Representative Joseph K. Toole of Montana urged passage of a railroad bill and maintained that "the privileges of citizenship, the vast accumulation of property, and the demands of commerce" should not yield to the "mere caprice of a few sportsmen bent only on the protection of a few buffalo in the National Park." This economic argument was seconded by Lewis E. Payson of Illinois, who found that he could not understand the "sentiment" which favored the "retention of a few buffaloes" over the proposed railroad, which would "lead to the development of mining interests amounting to millions of dollars, giving profitable employment to perhaps thousands of men."

The rebuttal to these utilitarian arguments, calling forth the imagery of Thoreau and Bryant, was quick and harsh. New York's Representative S. S. Cox stated that the railroad measure was inspired by "corporate greed and natural selfishness against national pride and natural beauty." He thought it was not a question for "Montana nor other Territory or locality," but rather should be considered a "question for the United States, and for all that gives elevation and grace to our human nature." Supporting Cox, William McAdoo of New Jersey asked his fellow Representatives to "prefer the beautiful and the sublime and the interests of millions to heartless mammon and the greed of capital." In this case the aesthetic arguments prevailed, but the same conflict remains, even in the present age of intense environmental awareness. [2]

One of the main tenets of the Yellowstone organic Act, a clause consequently applied to the other Park Acts, is embodied in the article requiring the "preservation, from injury or spoliation, of all timber, mineral deposits, natural curiosities or wonders within said park and their retention in their natural condition." Today, in the name of progress, several National Parks and monuments are threatened by proposals that completely ignore the very purpose of the Park system. The planned Bridge Canyon Reservoir would back water through the Grand Canyon National Monument with the water reaching Havasu Creek in the Grand Canyon National Park. An opposite effect is being brought about by the draining of portions of the Everglades National Park, resulting in the slow destruction of its unique plant and animal life. Officials of the State of Arizona have stated their desire to "enhance the beauty and recreational value" of the Grand Canyon by constructing four reservoirs within the canyon. The people of San Francisco, after having once assaulted the Yosemite National Park, now desire to compound the crime by enlarging the Hetch Hetchy Reservoir to include the entire Grand Canyon of the Tuolumne, thus inundating a large area of the Yosemite. Acadia National Park is threatened by the introduction of heavy oil tankers into the Gulf of Maine and the Bay of Fundy. The "Save the Redwoods League" was recently reactivated in order to preserve several groves of the ancient giants threatened by man-made super highways and lumbermen. The history of almost every National Park is filled with attempts by acquisitive individuals to introduce railroads, dams, power generating machinery, reservoirs, tramways, mineral and timber claims, and sundry other schemes that, if allowed consideration, would violate the still not too sacred boundaries of the National Parks.

In the past, threats to the integrity of National Parks have come from interests outside the Parks; today, the Parks are threatened from both without and within. In the second revision of his chronicle of the Yellowstone National Park, made shortly before his death in 1917, Hiram M. Chittenden stated: "If official ambition for innovation and the mercenary ambition for private gain are held under adequate restraint, there is no reason why it [Yellowstone] may not continue to the latest generation a genuine example of original nature ... [3] Today, official ambition for innovation appears to be threatening, if not the existence, the stated purpose of our National Parks. At present, professional Park personnel too often view the nation's Parks as belonging to them and not to the public. This is due, in part, to the evolution of the responsibility of the Park ranger from one of protecting parks for the public, to one of protecting parks from the public. Given the destructive propensities of the visiting tourist, this stance is understandable and perhaps admirable, since employees of the National Park Service are directed by law to provide protection for the Parks "so that they remain unimpaired for future generations." The same law also stipulates that the Parks be managed in such a manner as to provide for the public use of those parks. Since even restricted use of the Parks by the public impairs to some extent protection of their natural state, compromises leaning in one direction or the other are necessary if the conflicting demands of an idealistic law and a demanding public are to be satisfied. [4]

Today the persistent and increasing press of population demands more and more use of the Parks. Park superintendents, as if to justify their efficiency and existence, gleefully report every increase in Park visitation, without noting that increases in visitation and utilization necessarily connote a decrease in protection and a consequent impairment of the assumed enjoyment of future generations. The dilemma is real, and at present, the fluctuating attempts to follow a middle ground between the attitude of the user on the one hand and that of the preserver on the other have been singularly unsuccessful, and have produced a considerable amount of controversy, misunderstanding, and distrust. [5]

Continuing studies and constant re-examination of fundamental Park policies may produce acceptable answers. Some Parks may, of necessity, become "pleasuring grounds" in their entirety; others may be preserved in a pristine wilderness state. Congress attempted to placate both the preservationist and the user when it created the nation's newest Park in the State of Washington. The North Cascades National Park, established October 2, 1968, is part of a larger complex encompassing two national recreation areas, a new national forest wilderness, and an enlarged forest wilderness area. The new Park is bisected by a National Recreation corridor in which most human activity will presumably occur, thus allowing more intensive protection of the natural habitat within the Park. This experiment in use and preservation, if successful, may serve as an example for administrators of the older Parks. The mere presence of man denotes some use of a given area; the differentiation between use and preservation is simply one of degrees of use. A solitary hiker traversing a wilderness is using that area, just as two million people motoring through Yellowstone are using that area. The differences in impact, however, are considerable. The combination of recreation and formal wilderness in the North Cascades resulted from compromises formulated by representatives of the Bureau of Outdoor Recreation, the Park Service, the Forest Service, and a number of conservationists. [6]

Over sixty years ago, a President of the United States remarked that almost no one was opposed to conservation. The same holds true today. Yet the future of conservation may be in greater danger today than it was then. For now, the interested public risks being lulled into complacency by reassuring statements from the White House, the Secretary of the Interior, and major industrial concerns. The urbanization of the United Stares, the increasing population, innovations in transportation, the never-ending worship of progress, and the ever-present personal greed of individuals all point toward more and larger threats to the existence of an inviolate National Park system.

We have admittedly come a long way from the time when wholesale destruction of the nation's resources seemed necessary to achieve our industrial destiny. Then resources were endless and people were few. Today, when the opposite holds true, we must be ready to take advantage of new land management skills, of advanced technology and research, so that what we have left will not go the way of what we once had. If it is true that man must become civilized to appreciate or desire an uncivilized state of being, it is possible that the material society which grew from widespread exploitation of a continent may be the society that is best prepared, both materially and mentally, to appreciate and preserve those extant elements that escaped the destruction of an earlier era. As man increasingly insulates himself and his culture in concrete, steel, and glass, he may develop an increasing awareness and appreciation for the natural world that he has either taken for granted, ignored, or attempted to mold to fit his varying impulses.

Unfortunately, the poet and philosopher, George Santayana, was only partially correct when he stated, "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." Today we seem determined to repeat, if not all, at least some of the errors of the past. A review of conservation literature indicates that the pleas, warnings, and suggestions of today are composed of phrases spoken and words written in ages past. More than one hundred years ago George Marsh pleaded for a commensurate sense of responsibility as man's power to transform the natural world increased. Marsh wrote, "Man has too long forgotten that the earth was given to him for usufruct alone, not for prolifigate waste." His admonitions were eloquently repeated more than fifty years later by Forest Service employee Aldo Leopold, when he called for the development of an ecological conscience and the establishment of an ethic stressing man-land relations. Today, Raymond Dasmann, Fraser Darling, Stewart Udall, and William O. Douglas are repeating essentially the same pleas.

We need not, however, be ashamed of our conservation record, for it stands in remarkable contrast to that of many older—and some younger—nations. We admittedly have not yet reached the point where man is in accord with his natural surroundings, but we did change our destructive direction sufficiently to allow the preservation of some elements of our natural heritage. The fundamental significance of the Yellowstone, Sequoia, Yosemite, and General Grant National Parks lies in the fact that they represented a marked innovation in the traditional policy of governments: the government purposefully set aside portions of the public domain, and permanently excluded settlers and exploiters. The great naturalist, John Muir, recognized that the United States Cavalry aided the successful realization of this innovation when he wrote: "Blessings on Uncle Sam's soldiers. They have done the job well, and every pine tree is waving its arms for joy." Although materialistic members of society still attempt to vitiate the National Park system, bits of a once seemingly endless wilderness have been preserved; trees and mountains have been saved from the ax of the lumberman, the pick of the miner, and the greed of avaricious men. Some pine trees are still waving their arms for joy.


How the U.S. Cavalry Saved Our National Parks
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hampton/epilogue.htm — 09-Apr-2004