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It’s Been 100 Years

Written by Dennis Sun

We are coming up on the centennial of our National Park system this summer, so we are going to read and hear a lot about our parks and what the future should hold for them. There is also talk going around about the need for more national parks, as some would have any scenic lands or open spaces in the West as national parks.

Years ago, I think they did a pretty good job of designating national park lands or monuments. Take Yellowstone Park or Devils Tower for instance. They most likely deserve the status, and both are managed under the National Park system. Both designations most likely didn’t harm any private lands or businesses. Yellowstone was mainly federal lands and was seen as a way to market the railroads in the West, as was Glacier National Park and Yosemite National Park. Devils Tower was small, just a little over two square miles, so it didn’t hurt much, and it allowed those neighboring ranches and businesses to keep on operating as they were, even offering some ranchers the chance to develop some tourist businesses.

There is the big push these days to place more and more land as monuments or even as national parks, especially as our president is nearing the end of his term. A number of presidents have done it before him as they think it is a great way to leave a legacy of your presidency. The big issue there is that we have more presidents leaving office than we have available lands. So in that case, some lands not worthy of the designation find their way as a national monument managed by the Bureau of Land Management or Forest Service, whose mission or reason of existence is to manage lands for multiple uses, not parks or monuments.

These days, the public wants our national parks to be wild and scenic like Yellowstone with all of its wild animals and beauty, but they also want the gift shops, rooms with bathrooms, restaurants with gas stations nearby, cell service and good roads. But the wildlife cannot be managed. That is a no-no in their eyes.

So now we have a modern Yellowstone where all the humans are cushy and comfortable while visiting, and the wildlife and their habitats are going to pot. The wildlife and their habitat get by because 99 percent of the public doesn’t recognize the problem.

First, there is the disease issue, mainly brucellosis, which helps to keep the elk and bison populations down. However, when we look at wolves, we see trouble when they leave the park – big trouble. Brucellosis most likely started with a milk cow a settler brought into the area, and it is no longer a human health issue. It’s also no longer a livestock issue, since the state and livestock producers have eliminated the disease time and time again with much cost. Now, brucellosis is just a wildlife issue, with not many treatment opportunities.

We have the beautiful Yellowstone National Park with way too many bison in poor condition in the northern part, which causes the habitat to be extremely overgrazed and degraded. Even the wolves are so mangy you wouldn’t want them in a picture. That is why we have to manage more than just the people.