Lectures #16-17: Parks, Wilderness, and the Land Ethic

Suggested Readings:

Roderick Nash, Wilderness and the American Mind, 4th ed. (2001)
Alfred Runte, National Parks: The American Experience, 4th ed. (2010)
Alfred Runte, Trains of Discovery: Western Railroads and the National Parks (1990, 1994)
Ken Burns & Dayton Duncan, The National Parks (2009) Louis Warren, The Hunter's Game: Poachers and Conservationists in Twentieth-Century America (1999)
Karl Jacoby, Crimes Against Nature: Squatters, Poachers, Thieves, and the Hidden History of American Conservation (2001) Curt Meine, Aldo Leopold: His Life and Work (1988)
Susan L. Flader, Thinking Like a Mountain: Aldo Leopold and the Evolution of an Ecological Attitude Toward Deer, Wolves, and Forests (1974)
For online Leopold Archives, see https://uwdc.library.wisc.edu/collections/AldoLeopold/
Paul Sutter, Driven Wild: How the Fight against Automobiles Launched the Modern Wilderness Movement (2002)
James Morton Turner, The Promise of Wilderness: American Environmental Politics since 1964 (2012)
John McPhee, Encounters with the Archdruid (1971) (about David Brower)


I. Creating Parks

There are numerous historical threads leading to the origins of national parks and protected wilderness areas in the United States. These trace back to the 19th century, and we've already encountered several of them in this course:

  • Frederic Law Olmsted's Central Park in Manhattan (which had its own precursors in the rural cemetery movement exemplified by Mount Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge, MA): the park as a pastoral retreat within the bounds of city, serving as the "lungs of city" by freshening air, rejuvenating the spirit, recovering lost spirit of community. The park as a place for recreation (re-creation).
  • The monumentalism of Niagara Falls: a "natural wonder" as America's best alternative to European culture and the ruins of classical antiquity, embodying romantic nature and recalling the Edenic landscapes of God's creation, especially in the romantic sublime. But by the late nineteenth century, Niagara was perceived as crowded, commercialized, and developed for industrial waterpower by 1900 in ways that seemed to undermine its romantic beauty.

1864: the US gave Yosemite to California as a state park at the urging of Frederic Law Olmsted; he wrote a report describing how it should be managed and developed, and was responsible for laying out the first carriage roads on the floor of the valley. The uplands surrounding Yosemite Valley became a national park in 1890, and the valley itself was eventually returned to the US as a national park in 1906. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yosemite_National_Park http://www.yosemite.ca.us/library/olmsted/report.html

1870: the Washburn-Langford-Doane expedition to Yellowstone prompted Cornelius Hedges' idea to set aside "a great National Park" so as to prevent its development and commercialization along the lines of Niagara. He and Nathaniel P. Langford lobbied extensively for its protection. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Washburn–Langford–Doane_Expedition https://archive.org/details/diaryofwashburne00langrich

They were aided in this effort by the report of Ferdinand Hayden expedition in 1871, with illustrations by Thomas Moran and William Henry Jackson: landscape painter and photographer working together to create images that could be used to increase public awareness of Yellowstone and argue for its protection. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hayden_Geological_Survey_of_1871

Lobbying efforts in Congress were significantly benefited by the efforts of the Northern Pacific Railroad, which saw the park as a way to promote tourism (and passenger traffic) along its route. (Railroad access to the park would begin in 1883.)

March 1, 1872, President Ulysses S. Grant signed bill making Yellowstone the nation's 1st national park: "a public park or pleasuring ground" https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yellowstone_National_Park

Alfred Runte's "worthless lands" thesis (in his book National Parks: in early debates, the strongest argument for parks was that there was no other good use for lands set aside for this purpose (though tourism itself was a formidable economic use, as sustained lobbying efforts by railroads and other recreational interests demonstrated).

1894: "Act to Protect the Birds and Animals of Yellowstone National Park" declared that the protection of wild game was another purpose for setting aside parks (and would ultimate lead to the wildlife refuge system of the twentieth century).

II. Promoting Parks

Once Yellowstone was set aside in 1872, it would be several decades before a separate government bureaucracy was created to manage them. In the interim, such management was provided by US Army.

Note the difficulty of reaching Yellowstone and other western parks: purchase expensive tickets to take the railroad to Montana, then travel by coach to Mammoth Hot Springs, with tours starting from there as a base camp. The provision of infrastructure--transport, lodgings, provisions--became one of the early challenges of the parks.

Railraods became the most important early promoters of travel to parks by virtue of their interest in selling train tickets. They invested capital not just in branch lines, but also in great railroad resort hotels and promotional literature. The Northern Pacific Railroad promoted Yellowstone as a key part of the "Wonderland" that lay along the route of that line. You can sample these Northern Pacific publications here: https://archive.org/search.php?query=yellowstone%20wonderland

Railroads provided the capital for constructing and managing major hotels in key western parks, handling much of the tourist movement there. Among the great railroad resort hotels were Old Faithful Inn at Yellowstone, Northern Pacific RR, 1904; El Tovar at Grand Canyon, run by Fred Harvey for the Santa Fe Railroad, 1905. (Fred Harvey, with his "Harvey Girls," created wage employment opportunities for women in the various restaurants he managed.)

The Union Pacific & Northern Pacific provided passenger service to Yellowstone; the Santa Fe to Grand Canyon; Great Northern to Glacier National Park and the Pacific Northwest with its "See America First" campaign.

Additional parks: 1890: Yosemite; 1899 (with Yosemite Valley added in 1906): Mt. Rainier; 1902: Crater Lake; 1906: Mesa Verde; 1910: Glacier; 1915: Rocky Mountain; 1916: Mount Lassen; 1919: Grand Canyon. For full list, see: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_national_parks_of_the_United_States

1906: the Antiquities Act allowed President to set aside national monuments to protect endangered archaeological sites and natural areas. (Grand Canyon was first protected by Teddy Roosevelt under this law.) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Antiquities_Act

There were massive promotional outpourings from railroads on behalf of parks along their lines; selling points included romantic sublime; recreational playgrounds; education; romance; quaintness; Indians, etc.

The arrival of the tourist automobile (first reached Yellowstone in 1915) liberated travellers from railroads and their expensive hotels: less expensive "motels" ("motor hotels") began to appear en route, along with campgrounds catering to cars.

Travel in general became more oriented to the mobility of the highway. In the past, tourists had gone to a large hotel and used it as a base station for a week or more of touring from that single location; auto-based tourists could travel every day or two, not lingering in any one place for long, and not concentrating in large numbers as was typical of rail-based tourism.

1916: National Park Service Act created an administrative bureaucracy to manage the parks (NPS), partly in response to Hetchy Hetchy, with Stephen Tyng Mather (1867-1930) as its first Director. Mather had made his fortune running a borax company, served as Director from 1917-1929 until his health failed. Parks increased from 14 to 21 during his tenure. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stephen_Mather

NPS under Mather's leadership promoted parks as democratic playgrounds for recreation and education amid natural wonders.

It sought to widen public access through road construction, building of scenic overlooks, using landscape architecture to design a rustic experience for park visitors.

Mather also sought to publicize the wonders of the parks through widespread promotional efforts. One of his early efforts as the National Parks Portfolio, expensive publication filled with beautiful photos at expense of $48,000. Mather couldn't use government funds for the publication, so contributed $5000 of his own money and got the rest from seventeen railroad companies. 275,000 copies printed in all. I quoted extensively from this publication in lecture, and you can peruse it for yourself here: https://archive.org/details/nationalparkspor1916unit

Parks increasingly seen as playgrounds for auto-based tourists.

III. Aldo Leopold and the Problem of Game Management

At same time that NPS was trying to turn the national parks into recreational playgrounds for auto-based tourists, the US Forest Service (USFS) was seeking also to sell itself as the nation's playground. The Secretary of Agriculture began issuing vacation house permits at $10-$25 per year for lots in national forests, with widespread enthusiastic response.

Landscape architect Arthur C. Carhart (1892-1978) was hired by USFS Denver headquarters to plan a vacation development at Trappers Lake in Colorado, but after visiting the site, he, argued that no development at all would be better. The lake was set aside in 1920. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arthur_Carhart

Carhart allied with Aldo Leopold, who argued for a new "special primitive area" designation for Gila National Forest in New Mexico, saying that it should remain be roadless. His vision was that there should be primitive areas where back-country travelers could escape cars and other mechanized devices.

Leopold (1886-1948) would emerge as the major theoretician of wilderness in first half of the 20th century: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aldo_Leopold

Born in Burlington, Iowa, Leopold received his BA in 1908 and then an MA in Forestry from the school that Pinchot's father had founded. His first post with the Forest Service was in the Southwest to work on forestry and game preservation, with a brief period with the Albuquerque Chamber of Commerce to promote predator control. In 1924, he moved to Madison, Wisconsin to help lead the USFS Forest Products Laboratory, but left in 1928 to conduct wildlife surveys as a game consultant for the Sporting Arms and Ammunition Manufacturers Institute.

The "disaster" of deer overpopulation on the Kaibab Plateau (on the north rim of the Grand Canyon) in the early 1920s led Leopold to reverse his position on predators, and to argue against eliminating them. (The data documenting the size of the Kaibab deer herd are problematic, and causes other than predator removal probably also contributed to changes in the deer herd: removal of livestock from the national forest as a competing grazing population, and elimination of hunting by native peoples.)

Leopold would nonetheless later argue that people should be "Thinking Like a Mountain": wolves as much as deer were essential to the health of ecological community, in order to prevent ungulate overpopulation that would threaten the range.

Leopold went on to become Professor of Wildlife Ecology at the University of Wisconsin in 1933, the first such position in country. He authored a classic textbook on Game Management that same year, and worked to systematize state efforts at regulating hunting via game wardens, license fees, wildlife refuges, raising of pheasants, etc.

The Izaak Walton League, founded 1922, would be play central role in promoting a national wildlife refuge system where breeding populations of wild birds could safely reproduce.

Pelican Island in Florida was created by Teddy Roosevelt in 1903 as the nation's first wildlife refuge. Wisconsin’s Horicon Marsh was protected for this purpose in 1941.

1934: the first federal duck stamp was created (by cartoonist Jay "Ding" Darling) to raise funds for the federal game refuge system, including land acquisition and management. This is also about the time that wetlands began to be preserved, even though they had not previously been perceived as "sublime" in the original romantic sense. (Everglades National Park was created as the first such park in a wetland in 1947.)

Note the role of wildlife managers in protecting wildlife: managing wild populations for the sake of protecting the hunt, even to point of breeding certain species like pheasants (introduced from Asia in 1881, with the first official hunting season in 1892, creating a very popular game target). Hunters' licensing fees helped fund the management system, financing creation and maintenance of refuge system.

In 1935, the Leopold family acquired the Wisconsin River property in Sauk County that they called "The Shack", a worn-out farm that they sought to restore (simultaneous with the creation of the UW Arboretum, also an exercise in ecological restoration in which Leopold was involved). The story of the family's efforts at ecological restoration is contained in in Leopold's posthumous Sand County Almanac (1949), along with his defense of what he called "the land ethic."

The Shack was an exercise in the private stewardship of an ecosystem, manipulating abandoned agricultural land to reproduce healthy biota, cultivating a variety of native plant species to support a mixture of game and non-game animal species. Leopold's vision was of humans as members of a biotic community with an ethical responsibility to maintain its health.

Leopold died of a heart attack while fighting a brush fire on an adjacent farm on April 21, 1948. A Sand County Almanac, the manuscript for which he had largely completed, appeared the following year from Oxford University Press. (A later mass-market paperback edition, published by Ballantine Books in 1970, brought the book to a vastly larger number of readers.) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/A_Sand_County_Almanac

IV. Preserving Wilderness: The Battle for Dinosaur

Leopold was not alone in his passion for wilderness. Robert ("Bob") Marshall (1901-39) trained as forester, worked for USFS & the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA), becoming one of the most successful New Deal proponents arguing for setting aside wilderness areas before dying of a heart attack at age 39. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bob_Marshall_(wilderness_activist)

1929-39, USFS L-20 regulation sets up wilderness, wild, and roadless areas, with total acreage rising from .4 to 14.2 million acres by 1939. New U-regulations after 1939 much more restrictive, slowing this growth and frustrating wilderness activists.

There were also significant efforts at protecting wild landscapes on private land: in 1921, landscape architect Benton MacKaye proposed the creation of a long-distance Appalachian Trail along the crest of the Appalachian Mountains, leading to massive volunteer efforts. The Appalachian Trail Conference was created in 1925 and the trail was completed by 1937, much of it on private land.

Marshall, MacKaye, Leopold joined Harvey Broome, Bernard Frank, and Robert Sterling Yard in 1935 to found the Wilderness Society: elite, wealthy, well-connnected, very effective in advocating for the protection of wild places on lands owned by the federal government. Initial impulse to found the organization happened when several of them met at a conference of the Society of American Foresters and visited TVA's new Norris Dam on one of the new highways being constructed, leading to a debate about whether such roads were a good idea.

Paul Sutter, in his important book Driven Wild, argues that the founders of the Wilderness Society were principally concerned with the impact of motorized recreation and road construction on roadless areas, with the National Park Service as a key offender.

Hence: the growing campaign for wilderness protection in the United States would increasingly focus by after the 1930s on roadlessness as a defining characteristic of wilderness.

The linkage of wealth with wilderness and park preservation would prove to be persistent feature of movement.

For instance, John D. Rockefeller, Jr. (1874-1960) used his immense wealth to buy up large acreages that he deemed worthy of being protected as national parks, helping acquire or giving outright Acadia, Grand Tetons, Shenandoah, Great Smoky national parks to nation, along with the New Jersey Palisades on the Hudson River.

Governor Percival Baxter of Maine (1876-1969) likewise spent a small fortune over the course of his life to purchase, ultimately, 202,000 acres to preserve and give to the state of Maine the lands surrounding Mt. Ktahdin after the legislature refused to do so. These are now Baxter State Park.

In the East, protecting wild places often involved acquiring or regulating private land; in the West, more often than not it involved setting aside government land.

John Muir's Sierra Club was still largely an outing club in the 1930s, but was poised to become a major player in advocating for wilderness protection.

David Brower (1912-2000), an enthusiastic California mountaineer with a background in publishing, became editor of the Sierra Club Bulletin in 1946, executive director of the Club in 1952. He would soon emerge as one of the most energetic and charismatic conservation leaders of his generation, immensely skilled in drawing public attention to the causes he supported and led. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/David_Brower

The Sierra Club's major fight of the 1950s involved a proposed dam at Echo Park in Dinosaur National Monument. Would this be Hetchy Hetchy all over again? Brower recruited the novelist and conservationist Wallace Stegner to edit a book, heavily illustrated with landscape photography, entitled This is Dinosaur (1955) to educate members of the public about why a national monument that few of them had even heard of, let alone visited, should be protected.

Brower's testimony before Congress demonstrated that the Bureau of Reclamation had miscalculated its own data regarding loss of water by evaporation from the reservoir and aquifer that would be created by the proposed dam. In 1956, Congress approved a number of dams on the Colorado River, and declared that none of them could be built within the boundaries of national park units.

In effect, defenders of Echo Park had compromised in accepting the principle that although national park units should remain unflooded, dams could be built elsewhere on the river; there was also an implicit acceptance that nuclear power plants would be preferable to dams at certain locations. Brower would ultimately come to regret both of these compromises.

V. Promoting Wilderness: Toward the 1964 Act

In 1960, the photographer Ansel Adams and the poet (and photography critic) Nancy Newhall collaborated to produce This is the American Earth as the first volume in Brower's new Exhibit Format book series, sponsored by the Sierra Club. Based on the model of Stegner's This Is Dinosaur, it used beautiful landscape photography to educate readers about the value of wild nature even for those who could only visit it in their living rooms. Brower began to publish a growing number of these volumes, sparing no expense to make them as beautiful as possible.

Ansel Adams (1902-84) started photographing Sierra Nevada in the late 1920s, soon emerging as country's most popular landscape photographer. He joined the board of the Sierra Club in 1934, and would serve for many years. He was hugely influential not just as an advocate for park and wilderness protection, but also help popularize serious amateur photography in the US.

In response to Newhall's question in This Is the American Earth, "What is the price of exaltation?" a 1962 volume in the Exhibit Format series respond with a famous quotation from Thoreau as its title: In Wildness is the Preservation of the World. Gorgeous color photographs by Eliot Porter coupled with words from Henry David Thoreau's journal.

Exhibit Format Series can be seen as an invocation of romantic nature as a source of secular faith a redemption in the face of the crisis of modern world: nature as way to recover spiritual values.

The high cost of the book series eventually led to increasing resistance to Brower on the part Sierra Club board members.

By the late 1950s, the Wilderness Society began to advocate for legislative authority to give formal legal protection to designated wilderness areas in the US. The first such bill was drafted in 1956, but would undergo myriad revisions over the next seven years.

1962: the hugely influential report of Outdoor Recreation Resources Review Commission, chaired Laurance Rockefeller, paved the way not just for creating wilderness areas, but creating national recreation areas near major urban centers; protecting wild and scenic rivers; creating a Land and Water Conservation Fund to support recreational land acquisition.

The series of draft bills for protecting wilderness areas were principally authored by the executive director of Wilderness Society, Howard Zahniser (1906-64). Zahniser had an editorial and journalistic background like Brower, and made the Society's magazine, The Living Wilderness, an eloquent vehicle for publishing the work of writers and artists interested in wilderness and wild nature. Unlike Brower, who loved the public eye, Zahniser preferred to work quietly behind the scenes. He was a tireless lobbyist in Washington, dying just a few months before the act finally became law in 1964.

Sept 3, 1964, President Lyndon Johnson (LBJ) signed the Wilderness Act into law. It defined wilderness as a place "where earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man, where man himself is a visitor who does not remain." 9.1 million acres were initially set aside, creating a system of protected areas. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wilderness_Act https://www.nps.gov/subjects/wilderness/upload/1964-Wilderness-Act.pdf

VI. Flooding the Sistine Chapel: Canyons of the Colorado

There was little time to celebrate. The flood gates at Glen Canyon Dam closed on Jan 21, 1963, flooding The Place No One Knew -- the title of a Sierra Club Exhibit Format book published in 1963 to lament loss of wilderness to a dam whose construction Brower had compromised to accept at the time of the Echo Park controversy.

In response, Brower mounted a nation-wide fight against the Bureau of Reclamation's announcement that it intended to build dams in Marble Canyon and Bridge Canyon that would result in floodwaters in the Grand Canyon that would essentially tame the wild rapids for which the Colorado River was famous.

On June 9, 1966, Brower ran a full-page ad in the New York Times declaring that "Only You Can Save Grand Canyon"; the next day, the Internal Revenue Service revoked the tax-exempt status of Sierra Club, eventually leading to Brower's ouster by the Club's board in 1969.

Brower's response was another full-page NYT ad asking "Should We Also Flood the Sistine Chapel so Tourists can get Nearer the Ceiling?" You can view the ad and read its text here: http://www.infomarketingblog.com/sistine-chapel/

On Feb 1, 1967, Secretary of the Interior Stewart Udall reversed his earlier position, rejected the Bureau of Reclamation's proposed Grand Canyon dams, and accepted as an alternative a new coal-fired power plant in the Four Corners region on the Navajo Reservation, eventually polluting air in canyon.

Paradox of wilderness: defended by an urban population seeking an escape to nature (using cars and the new Interstate Highway System to get there), in conflict with its own material support system and diminishing solitude in the very act of seeking it, leading inevitably to paradoxical need for "wilderness management": Leopold's stewardship.