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← Who owns the "wilderness"? - Elyse Cox

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Showing Revision 2 created 10/14/2020 by lauren mcalpine .

  1. In 1903, the President
    of the United States
  2. took a three-day camping trip
    in California’s Yosemite Valley.
  3. President Theodore Roosevelt slept
    in a grove of towering Sequoia trees,
  4. camped in a snowstorm, and spent hours
    talking around the campfire
  5. with his host and guide,
    conservationist John Muir.
  6. Roosevelt famously loved the outdoors,
  7. but Muir had invited him there
    for more than just camping:
  8. Yosemite was in danger.
  9. Though Yosemite became
    protected land in 1864,

  10. the valley was still at risk
    for overdevelopment in 1903.
  11. It was at the heart of a decades-old
    struggle to set aside land
  12. for both preservation and public use—
  13. two goals that were much easier
    said than done.
  14. The battle over Yosemite began
    with the 1849 gold rush,

  15. when miners surged west, seeking gold
    in the Sierra Nevada foothills.
  16. In 1851, a state-sanctioned militia,
  17. drove the Ahwahneechee tribe
    from Yosemite Valley.
  18. Those who managed to return witnessed
    white settlers claiming the land,
  19. felling giant sequoias,
    and building hotels and saloons.
  20. In response, a small group
    of concerned Californians

  21. lobbied senator John Conness to protect
    the valley from private interests.
  22. In 1864, Congress passed Conness’ bill,
  23. granting the Yosemite Valley
    to the State of California,
  24. marking the first time the U.S. government
    brought land under public protection.
  25. But the management of that land remained
    an open question,
  26. one that would only become
    more complicated
  27. as more lands came
    under similar protection.
  28. Seven years later,
    geologist Ferdinand Hayden

  29. led an expedition
    to the Yellowstone Plateau,
  30. which many Native American tribes used
    for ceremonies, hunting, and trade.
  31. The expedition’s scientists and artists
    brought back news
  32. of spectacular geysers and hot springs,
  33. inspiring widespread support to bring
    Yellowstone under government protection—
  34. and restrict native people’s
    access to the land.
  35. However, unlike Yosemite, Yellowstone
    couldn’t be granted to a state—
  36. it was part of three U.S. territories
    that hadn’t become states yet.
  37. Instead, Congress brought Yellowstone
    under federal stewardship in 1872,
  38. creating the world’s first true
    National Park.
  39. During his presidency,
    Teddy Roosevelt was instrumental

  40. in expanding the lands
    under public protection.
  41. By 1916, there were
    fifteen national parks.
  42. But the problem of management
    remained unsolved,
  43. and maintenance of the park
    was handled haphazardly
  44. over multiple government departments.
  45. Straightforward tasks like building roads
    and hiring personnel
  46. required inefficient
    bureaucratic maneuvering.
  47. None of the departments had set rules
    for conduct in the park,
  48. so hunters killed park wildlife,
    cattle overgrazed fields,
  49. and visitors vandalized landmarks.
  50. The solution came from Canada,

  51. which had a highly effective
    centralized park service.
  52. In 1916, the United States established
    the National Park Service
  53. based on this model.
  54. To this day, the mission for the park
    service is comprised of two goals
  55. that sometimes conflict:
  56. to conserve the parks for the future
  57. and to allow the public to enjoy them.
  58. That’s a delicate balancing act:
    roads, trails, and other infrastructure
  59. make the parks accessible to visitors,
    but also alter the landscape,
  60. while visitors themselves can contribute
    to pollution, erosion,
  61. and damage of delicate ecosystems.
  62. The very history of preservation
    can also be at odds with this mission.
  63. Many parks were not,
    at the time of their founding,
  64. the uninhabited wilderness that’s become
    the standard for their preservation.
  65. Instead, many were homes or places
    of worship for native peoples,
  66. who lost access to these lands
    in the name of public use.
  67. Only recently has
    the National Park Service
  68. begun to reckon with this legacy
    and engage Native Americans
  69. in park management.
  70. Around the world, indigenous communities
    play crucial roles
  71. in land management and preservation.
  72. Today, there are thousands
    of national parks worldwide,

  73. and each must balance public use with
    historical and ecological preservation.
  74. Parks in New Zealand, Iceland, Australia,
    and South Africa
  75. have experienced severe erosion
    as visitor numbers have skyrocketed.
  76. Some, like Mu Ko Similan National Park
    in Thailand,
  77. have closed sections to tourists entirely
    to allow the ecosystem to recover.
  78. National Parks have preserved
    irreplaceable landscapes

  79. for future generations.
  80. They also force us to reckon
    with hard questions:
  81. what are our responsibilities
    to this planet, and to each other?