There is a delight in the hardy life of the open. There are no words that can tell the hidden spirit of the wilderness that can reveal its mystery, its melancholy and its charm. The nation behaves well if it treats the natural resources as assets which it must turn over to the next generation increased and not impaired in value. Conservation means development as much as it does protection.”
– Theodore Roosevelt
President of the United States
Today is my third full day as a Grizzly Bear Educator/Camp Host. I meet every camper and, after the bear talk, I ask how they like the area, where they visited in Yellowstone, and what they saw. Faces light up. I hear about a bear sow and 3 cubs or a wolf with 6 pups, or those cute baby bison. The campers talk about the sharp sulfur smell that precedes dramatic geothermal activity from fumaroles. Oh, those geysers and mud pots! I see the same delight as the campers talk about the mountains, rivers, and meadows, which light up at night now thanks to a nearly full moon.
Yes, these folks are happy campers. People from around the world have spent dearly to get here. One couple from The Czech Republic flew into Salt Lake City and rented a car for three weeks. Students celebrating the end of finals week pool their money and come in eager groups. I hauled my camper 1600 miles! The pull to be here is strong, and the payoff is measured in something other than money.
Our public lands, including National Parks (Department of the Interior) like Yellowstone and National Forest Land (United States Dept of Agriculture) like the Gallatin National Forest where I am, are part of what makes America great. Teddy Roosevelt ( a Conservative) established Yellowstone as the first National Park and fought for conservation. We have been a role model for countries around the world, who are conserving important tracts of their own land.
So why the attempts to reverse the status of preserved land by the fossil fuel administration? If you measure the outdoors in monetary terms, the answer is simple: those lands have resources that can be extracted. However, if Zin- or Tr–came out here and spent the day talking to people and the night roasting marshmallows over the campfire, they might come to realize that our public lands offer other gifts: joy, peace, awe, a connection to nature. Families unwind. People of all ages refresh their souls. Kids learn about nature and animals. Photographers and other artists find ways to express the beauty. These are the antidotes to hectic lives. Enjoying the grandeur of the outdoors and having access to pristine spaces is part of our heritage. Bear’s Ears may not mean much to people in Washington, but it is sacred, ancestral land for Native Americans.
If that has no value in Washington, let’s go back to money. Not every country provides what our National Park Service and National Forest Service offers to us. So, those people come here! They bring money and create jobs. Local communities thrive on the tourism. Here is a quick breakdown of Yellowstone economic impacts:
# visitors 4 million +
Spending $493 million + (half a billion)
Paying Jobs 7,700
Of course, the administration is not planning to close down Yellowstone, so maybe this is an unfair comparison. They are looking at smaller tracts that have valuable minerals, oil, or coal. However, the plan also includes major budget cuts for National Parks and National Forests, and all our national lands will suffer. Without staff, services will be cut. Infrastructure will fall into disrepair. Jobs will disappear, local communities will suffer. As I sit gazing upon incredible grandeur or when talking to all the happy campers, I feel so proud to help make their experiences magnificent. Sometimes, a tinge of bitterness seeps in when I think about what lies ahead for our public lands.
In the meantime: I will keep looking for the happy faces and listening to the daily stories which fill visitor hearts and my own soul.
“If future generations are to remember us with gratitude rather than contempt, we must leave them something more than the miracles of technology. We must leave them a glimpse of the world as it was in the beginning, not just after we got through with it.”
“We must not only protect the countryside and save it from destruction, we must restore what has been destroyed and salvage the beauty and charm of our cities … Once our natural splendor is destroyed, it can never be recaptured. And once man can no longer walk with beauty or wonder at nature, his spirit will wither and his sustenance be wasted.”
– Lyndon B. Johnson
President of the United States