You are here

Economic Greed Tarnishes Our National Park System


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


The abundant extractive resources that exist in these parks are already off-limits to the American people (yes, the corporations are the American people via the fact that most of us own mutual funds in mining, oil, & timber companies). But that's O.K....we want to see them a common-sense point.
Nothing humans can do short of mining, pumping or cutting (although I have always felt that many of the larger parks could self-sustain thru timber on a few set-aside acres in limited watersheds) can damage the parks...the 60's-spawned junk-science "holistic" enviro movement thinks that one footprint in a meadow will...OH MY!...not allow any flora to exist there ever again! Oh, the humanity!
Good science says that deer, bear and other critters also trample the meadows and therefore we know that that one visitor who steps in the meadow for a good angle for a picture is O.K., just don't do a dance out there, O.K?
Likewise, snowmobiles, jet-skis all have their place and should be allowed and monitored. No harrasing wildlife, and in the case of sleds, make sure there is enough snowpack to not cause damage to flora.
I keep repeating, if the American people cannot have varied use of the parks, then they need not exist; sell them off for development. 60's era junk science (some would say it's a pagan religion) cannot be allowed to reign in the parks...spending hundreds of thousands of taxpayer money for a friggin EIS to fix a road washout is unacceptable. Here common sense vs junk science is epitomized: Adding dirt fill, some of which may go in the river and "damage the fishery" is way less than THE WASHOUT ITSELF! Duh!
All said, I hope to go to Yellowstone myself soon and both ski and snowmobile.

What Gerald seems to be proposing is that the national parks should function like the national forests, national grasslands, and BLM lands when it comes to accommodating recreational use. I submit that Congress knew exactly what it was doing when it ordered the National Park Service to adhere to a higher standard of resource protection than that which prevails in these other public lands.

Wyoming is a damn big state -- there's plenty of snow to snowmobile elsewhere without abusing the National Parks. Lots of National Forests and lots of BLM land in Wyoming and surrounding states, and Wyoming is the least populous state per square mile, so there's room to rumble just about anywhere they are. The National Park belongs to the entire country, not just Wyomingites.

More of the greed factor -- just say "no" to every park's "Made in China" souvenir outlets. The amount of junk sold in the larger parks is way out of control. And how many national parks need that same revolving rack of stuffed birds that tweet when you push the button? My kids and I laugh every time we see them at EVERY park we visit. Look there's the cardinal and the robin again -- they don't even have cardinals or robins in this park!

Gerald, give me a example of "good science" and give me a example of "junk science" in regards to you comments (without the Bush slant). It appears to me you have no concept in what your talking about, instead you go on this anti-environmental tirade of nonsense. I get the impression that you don't venture outdoors enough to really appreciate it's intrinsic value, unless you can bring in every motorize contraption with four wheels (or motorized sled) on it. Read Aldo Leopold's essay's on Land Ethics, perhaps it might help with your backward thinking.

Aldo Leopold was a hippie socialist.
What "Bush slant" did he use?

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

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

You've put it so well, Kurt.

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

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

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

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

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

Add comment


This question is for testing whether or not you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.

National Parks Traveler's Essential Park Guide