Recent comments

  • Interior Secretary Salazar Uses the "S" Word On Second Day at the Office   5 years 26 weeks ago

    "Wouldn't it be great if the Obama administration could solve world hunger, create world peace, find a cure for the common cold!!" Hail Obama - he has the answer to everything!!! Too bad he appeared out of no where, hasn't released any records and has no history of accomlishments... I really don't get it.

  • Interior Secretary Salazar Uses the "S" Word On Second Day at the Office   5 years 26 weeks ago

    Frank,

    Your view is essentially moral relativism. Of course, everyone has different values; that doesn't mean that each person's values are coherent. A racist has values; certainly, we need to say those values are wrong. A sexist has values. Are we to say that there are no standards on which values can be evaluated? At the very least, can't values be evaluated based on their internal coherence?

    Science also has the ability to be different since it is based ultimately on induction; experiments can be falsified. Two people can see the very same experiment and experience it very differently. To mitigate that, science depends upon repeatability and consensus. And, we are fools to dismiss the strength of that process; however, we have to be careful how science relates to the underlying values. In the 19th century, some scientists made a lot of studies about the biological differences of the races. Those questions produce evidence and results, but what can anyone do with it on the basis of science? Absolutely nothing meaningful because it was based on the premise that there was an a priori evaluative difference between races.

    It's all too common to assume that because each of us has values that each of our values is legitimate. (There's also the threat on the other side that some who hold to objective values carry it too far and claim that something is definitely right or wrong when no one can possibly know - assuming no objective values leads to moral relativism; assuming too many leads to moral dogmatism). Values are not the same as preferences of taste. Even the idea that our policy should be consistent with science is based on the value of coherence and consistency. Certainly, that value is true, though there are some who disagree with it; they are wrong.

    Almost no decisions are based clearly on science; the science almost always assumes a set of values. In the snowmobile case, the value is that Yellowstone recreation must not harm the environment, wildlife, and features of Yellowstone National Park. To the extent that it does to a particular level where there is too much harm to the one at the expense of the other (also not clearly a scientific assessment), then we will reject it. Science is supposed to tell us what empirical reality meshes with those values. However, not everyone agrees on where the balance is, what constitutes harm, etc. And, then, there was the Bush Administration, who pretended that they shared the same values as articulated here and then ignored what their scientists told them was consistent with those values. That's where letting science hold sway has its place. Yet, even there, you have to ask why the Bush people rejected the science? My sense is that they were politically scared to articulate values that they were afraid the majority of people would reject. They would prefer to support a vision of Yellowstone that was more concerned with recreation than they are with protecting the ecology, but they didn't want to articulate that. If they had, we could have argued about their values. Instead, we have the relatively easy job of blasting them for ignoring the science. But, if we don't call the value bluff as well, we won't really get anywhere.

    That goes for bison as well. Everyone knows that brucellosis isn't a significant cost to ranchers or significant threat to the health of cattle. It's easy to let science hold sway, but the problem wouldn't go away because many bison advocates will not be content with bison being allowed to stop at the next boundary outside of Yellowstone. Ranchers won't want them to have even an inch outside of Yellowstone (they are even fighting bison that have been quarantined and with very little doubt don't even have brucellosis going to native reservations). There is a differing set of values on the grass and our relationship with the land. Are both views equally legitimate? I don't think so, and we'd better be able to make that case one way or the other. If we can't, how is science supposed to settle this? All the science does is expose that the issue that people claim is at the center of this is not really at the center of it. Science exposes the smokescreen of a cultural divide.

    That's true with snowmobiles as well, though there's a lot more confusion people have over the actual science. My sense, though, is that Bush's sin was double - incoherence with science combined with incoherent values.

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

  • Humans as "Super-Predators" – New Study Offers Startling Information about Hunting and Fishing   5 years 26 weeks ago

    When asking whether human evolutionary impacts on other species should just be treated as another natural selective force, the question we should fundamentally be asking is whether that force is tending to undermine the broader health of the system. And I'm defining health here not in some aesthetic sense, but whether biomass and complexity are decreasing. Such a trend over time will also undermine our own health.

    Biologists have shown that the extinction rate resulting mostly from our growing land use has increased 1000-fold over what they sometimes call "natural" rates, what we might here call pre-industrial rates. The effects of this apex species do not appear to be benign and something that will be just a part of the evolutionary mix over time. Was that asteroid that hit earth 65 million years ago and caused the extinction of most species "natural"? Of course. If another was heading this way and we had a chance to deflect it, should we?

    Also, as to "the government that governs least, governs best" may have been commented on by Thoreau, but it was spoken by Jefferson. Bu Jefferson's belief in that motto applied to when things were going well. He supported much stronger government action if things weren't going so well. He called for high property taxes in France to deal with unused land owned by the wealthy when tenant farmers had no land. Land redistribution in such a situation would not have been so foreign to him. In the runup to the Louisiana Purchase, he knew that he did not have the authority to do it. Initially he wanted a constitutional amendment. But when told that Napoleon would not wait, and might sell it to the Spanish in the interim, he set his principles aside and bought it. He was quite pragmatic.

  • Interior Secretary Salazar Uses the "S" Word On Second Day at the Office   5 years 26 weeks ago

    "Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted" - Albert Einstein,

    Science is not the answer to everything...

  • Interior Secretary Salazar Uses the "S" Word On Second Day at the Office   5 years 26 weeks ago

    Of course another arguement againt snowmobiles in Yellowstone is the problem of bison following groomed roads out of the Park and into trouble in Montana, though I guess the roads have to be groomed for snow coaches as well. Wouldn't it be great if the Obama administration could find solutions for both of these problems? I know that these are minor blips on the Obama radar (if they are blips at all), but sooner or later decisions will have to be made. I feel like a newlywed on his honeymoon. Sure hope I'm not disappointed on my wedding night!

  • 4-Year-old Dies in Fall off South Rim of Grand Canyon   5 years 26 weeks ago

    "An adult has to hold onto a 4 year old at all the Grand Canyon overlooks. Constantly and tight."
    I agree, but I also agree that accidents happen. Sometimes in the wink of an eye. When I was little my family and I visited the Grand Canyon. I was clearly told to stay back away from the edge. My sister and I were playing on a hill perhaps a hundred yards or so away from the edge while my mom and dad were taking photographs. My sister was chasing me and I ran down the hill. My momentum was such that I couldn't stop at the bottom and almost ran off the edge of the canyon. My dad grabbed me at the last instant. One second we were well back away from danger, no reason for my parents to be concerned, the next I had one leg hanging over the precipice and my arm nearly being ripped out of its socket by my dad. I am forever grateful that he was able to react so quickly.

  • Interior Secretary Salazar Uses the "S" Word On Second Day at the Office   5 years 26 weeks ago

    Of course you're right, Jim. Science can't be held in a vacuum as a cure-all. And neither can values. The trick is to find a balance.

    In the case of Yellowstone snowmobiles, the Bush administration seemed to completely ignore the science and kowtow to a surprisingly small special interest. I think it just as easily, and no doubt more legitimately, have held that the science and public opinion overwhelmingly dictated a phase-out of snowmobiles in favor of snow coaches.

    Of course, the wild card in this case is also the blinders to developing science in terms of cleaner and quieter snowmobiles. A few years back a Utah-based company had developed an electric snowmobile that was as powerful as a 2-stroke, and yet no one jumped on it (no pun intended).

    And in March this year the 10th Clean Snowmobile Challenge will be held at Michigan Tech. Teams of engineering students from participating schools will be given a stock snowmobile and re-engineer it to reduce emissions and noise while maintaining or improving performance. A record 18 teams have registered, the most since the first Challenge was held, in Wyoming. Thirteen will compete in the internal combustion division, with five in the zero-emissions division, formed in 2006 for electric sleds.

    Perhaps it wouldn't hurt to see the snowmobile industry send a rep or two to this event, and have the NPS at least monitor it to see what's possible. When and if an emission-less snowmobile is commercially produced, I'm not sure how effectively folks could argue against the machines in Yellowstone.

  • Interior Secretary Salazar Uses the "S" Word On Second Day at the Office   5 years 26 weeks ago

    The problem with making decisions based on values is that everyone's values are different. My values may be different than yours, and both of our values are no doubt different from former (don't ya love it!) President Bush. Science is science. While I would agree that you cannot blindly follow science wherever it leads, decisions clearly based on it are hard to dispute.

  • 4-Year-old Dies in Fall off South Rim of Grand Canyon   5 years 26 weeks ago

    Whoa, Rudee, that's pretty harsh. I agree that many groups of inner city kids (and even from other areas of the country) at times seem to be running like wild packs in the parks. But if they don't even get a chance to experience a park how can they learn to appreciate them?

    I remember a trip to Yosemite when there was a large contingent of kids I suspected came from the LA area (or somewhere similar). They were loud and raucous into the night at Camp Curry and early the next morning. But the long hike to Half Dome wore them down. I figured they either came away with a great appreciation for that wonderful place, or determined never to set foot there again. But at least they had an opportunity to see it for themselves and make that decision.

    I don't think we should deny anyone that opportunity.

  • Interior Secretary Salazar Uses the "S" Word On Second Day at the Office   5 years 26 weeks ago

    I wish people were careful about this when they would give hegemony to science without a clear understanding of what science does and doesn't do. Science does not settle value decisions, which must be at the root of any policy decision. It isn't something that takes the place of values or is itself a higher value.

    What we should ask is that people make decisions based on values (and those need to be discussed and settled as well - and they can be unless we are moral relativists) that are consistent with the science. And, not doing so of course, is just one of the sins of the Bush Administration. They would make policy decisions based on values they held that were absolutely incoherent, not only at the values level but when you compare those values with science.

    However, I'm wary of anyone who thinks that policy can simply be a matter of letting science hold sway. You cannot reduce policy to science, and we should be careful about saying it. Western land issues, for instance, are rarely about science, but science is used by both sides to create a smokescreen over deep value and cultural divides. Since people have very little confidence in arguing over values in any meaningful way, they find more comfortable grounds on which to argue - science is a popular and easy catch-all solution for everything (the serious dialogue on values perhaps hurt by centuries of undermining rationalism in ethics by the intellectuals in Academia - an interesting story in itself putting an anarcho-lefty like me in league with right-leaning Catholic types; I did nearly complete a Ph.D. at Catholic U. after all).

    In truth, I think this is all just code from Salazar that there will be policy changes; how far those changes go is anyone's guess.

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

  • 4-Year-old Dies in Fall off South Rim of Grand Canyon   5 years 26 weeks ago

    I have to say, this verifies my cynicism when I toured the South rim once. The place was crawling with urban brats of all kinds who were clueless about being in the outdoors. Kids running rampant, women hiking trails in high heels. It was a ridiculous three ring circus. They were ALL like a bunch of children in need of supervision, not just the 4 year olds. They wer fairly rude and mannerless to boot. The sad thing is that the park system even let's ANY of them in in the first place! There should at least be a dress code! Those kind of people should stay in their city parks in Yonkers or whereever they come from and leave the great outdoors to people that know how to appreciate it.

  • National Park Quiz 38: African Americans   5 years 26 weeks ago

    Congratulations, Barky. This was not a particularly easy quiz. BTW, I'll soon be selecting quiz topics for March. Got any suggestions?

  • A Major Overhaul at Ford's Theatre National Historic Site Raises a Few Eyebrows   5 years 26 weeks ago

    Warren Z-

    Thanks for the comment, and the perspective from someone with first-hand experience at the site. The tip on the publication will be appreciated by history buffs.

  • A Major Overhaul at Ford's Theatre National Historic Site Raises a Few Eyebrows   5 years 26 weeks ago

    Thank you for another excellent article. Your reporting will surely help folks navigate a site that used to be somewhat visitor-unfriendly. I'm eager to return there and judge the experience for myself. I've sat through performances in those old chairs and they are indeed extremely uncomfortable!

    I lived in the Washington, DC area from 2000-2005, and during a small portion of that time period I worked for an NPS partner at Ford's Theatre NHS. It was an incredible place to work, my interactions with visitors were never boring, the days never long (at least during the Spring and Summer months!) The diversity of visitors to Ford's Theatre NHS is rarely matched in other parks across the country, such is the national and international draw of the Lincoln legacy. (And of John Wilkes Booth as well: I was astonished at how many visitors couldn't wait to see the gun that Booth used to assassinate Lincoln, not out of reverence for a fallen president, but out of glee to see the weapon that killed an "enemy" of their ancestors.)

    This article brings to light some important points about Ford's Theatre that were always a challenge for visitors to deal with.

    Until I worked there myself I did not know that the current performance space was in fact a reconstruction. The majority of visitors I interacted with on any given day didn't know this either, but some did indeed care. I wondered why the Park Rangers did not include this piece of information in their talks, but I quickly learned that I could easily have a negative effect on a person's visit by "educating" them about the history of the structure in which they were standing. This piece of information was best left to self discovery.

    Another challenge was access to the theatre space itself. Because the reconstructed performance space is used by a professional theatre company, rehearsals and performances often meant the theatre space itself would be closed to visitors. While this fact was of course advertised, many visitors were not aware of this logistical detail. Even repeat visitors, returning for a second or third or fourth time, were once again not able to enter the theatre space to see the presidential box because they had not realized that the professional company's schedule would have an effect on ability to see the space.
    The new ticketing system not only solves the problem of long lines and wait times, but solves the availability problem as well. The ticketing schedule posted on the FTS website clearly outlines when the performance space itself will be available for viewing and ranger talks. This is a great improvement from a visitor satisfaction standpoint I think. Though surely there will still be some disappointment if the space is unavailable on any given day, proactive management of the process can only help.

    Thanks again for the excellent article, and for providing the forum to add additional comments!

    #########################################################################

    For the NPS/history/architecture buffs out there, I have an excellent out-of-print publication to recommend.
    I picked up a used copy a few years ago at the suggestion of one of the incredibly knowledgeable interpretive rangers on duty at FTNHS.
    "Restoration of Ford's Theatre", Historic Structure Report, by George J. Olszewski, Historian for the National Capital Region at the time the report was published, 1963.
    It contains an incredible wealth of photographs from 1865, 1893, and the 1960s, ephemera, architectural drawings, a full listing of productions that took place at the theatre... just a great resource for anyone looking to fill out their Lincoln collection.

  • Freeze On New Regs Could Impact Efforts to Expand Mountain Biking in National Parks   5 years 26 weeks ago

    @Zebulon: Of course it is the governments role to determine which kinds of use are allowed on which parts of the public lands. Bikes are permitted in National Forests, on BLM land and in more than 40 national parks including spectacular routes like the White Rim Trail in Canyonlands National Park. But other parks are closed to bikes - particularly on single trails. That's perfectly fine and in accordance with the mandate of national parks.

    And regarding the detrimental effect on the experience of hikers: Please think about all your encounters between bikers and hikers on single trails. Who stops, steps aside and lets the other pass? Can you think of a single case in which the biker left the trail to let a hiker pass? I can't. It doesn't happen, not once. This infallible rule makes the hiker feel second rate and this ruins his or her experience.

  • Muir Woods National Monument is More than Really Old, Really Big Trees   5 years 26 weeks ago

    Muir Woods is simply wonderful. I remember going there last year with my wife. Teddy made the right decision to declare this a national monument in the name of John Muir. I must say, it's one of his administration's legacies. Something that the next generations will surely appreciate and preserve.

  • 4-Year-old Dies in Fall off South Rim of Grand Canyon   5 years 26 weeks ago

    LOL! You're right Russell.... they probably haven't had kids.

    I heard this story a long time ago and every once in a while it would drift out of the back of my mind because of just the sheer horror of it and what the parents must go through. I finally decided to try to verify the story and I googled child fell down grand canyon and this story came right up. I was very disaapointed that this wasn't another urban legend.

    We and our kids need a lot of prayers just for them to make it through childhood. I had a young girl child once and we were standing at the crosswalk waiting for the light to turn green when she looses her footing and begins tottering toward the street as a couple cars were approaching. I had to grab her by the hair to make sure she didn't stumble into the street.

    That seems extreme to me but anyone with kids knows how this is! A child restraint leash is good but I don't even think taking a child up to the GC is such a good idea.

  • Freeze On New Regs Could Impact Efforts to Expand Mountain Biking in National Parks   5 years 26 weeks ago

    Joan, all great points. Let me address them if I may.

    "I can still use the trails, I just need to walk them". How would you feel if we turned the argument around and banned hiking? You could still use the trails, you would just to ride a bike like the others. I don't believe it's the government role to decide for us how to use a trail, as long as said usage does not impact negatively the trail/environment.

    Not allowing mechanized transportation. That good old reason to ban bikes from wilderness. Nobody sees any problem with other form of mechanized transportation such cross country skiing, kayaking, carbon fiber hiking poles. This is clearly not a solid reason to ban bikes. As for the difference between a gas powered machine and a bike, it should be self explanatory.

    Destroy the experience of hikers on trails!!! Now, we get to the heart of the matter which is simply that a category of users refuses to share a public good. I can certainly understand how one would not want to share wonderful trails with another user group (personally, I'd love it if there were no hikers or equestrians), but then again, national parks are nobody's private Idaho either. :) This is especially silly since most trails more than 2 miles outside the trailhead are usually mostly empty.

    As for the damage done to trails, I've seen trails torn to bits by horse riders, but that clearly does not bother anyone. I've also seen major damage inflicted by hikers shortcutting a hillside leading to major water erosion. Yet, I'm not asking that hikers be banned from all trails. Multiple scientific studies have simply shown that cyclists don't cause any damage to the trails. That's just a fact, unless of course all these people were out to get hikers. ;)

    To get back to my initial posting, it'll be interesting to see whether Mr. Obama decides to cater to the Sierra Club wing of the democratic party or stick to a more moderate stance and let the rule stand.

  • Don't Try this At Home: Driver's Life Saved By Vegetation and Ledge at Colorado National Monument   5 years 26 weeks ago

    Our local news paper has a slide show of the wreck: http://www.gjsentinel.com/ap/mediahub/media/slideshow/index.jsp?tId=141600

  • Freeze On New Regs Could Impact Efforts to Expand Mountain Biking in National Parks   5 years 26 weeks ago

    Really Joan? Waaaaayyyy more damage than what I'd would see on the foot-travel-only section of popular hiking trails? Say, the Appalachian Trail? The Colorado Trail? The Wilderness sections of the Colorado trail? Come visit the later and take a good look at he sections that allow bikes and those that are restricted to foot travel. Then tell me if the bike sections are more degraded than the foot sections.

    Try it and I think you'll sing different tune on the relative impacts of bike/foot travel. But then you'll likely say, "Well I just don't feel safe near/like to see/believe I can share trails with ... bicycles."

  • Freeze On New Regs Could Impact Efforts to Expand Mountain Biking in National Parks   5 years 26 weeks ago

    Zebulon,

    Nobody is banned when mountain bikes are restricted. You are still able to hike the trail along with the rest of us. It is only your mode of transportation that is restricted.

    There is no reason to allow mechanized transportation, including mountain bikes or snowmobiles, on trails in the parks. They may be appropriate on dirt roads, but they totally destroy the experience for hikers on trails. And despite certain biased studies showing that they do no more damage than hikers, all you need to do is go to a heavily used mountain bike trail, and you will see incredible damage - way more than you ever would see from hikers.

  • It's Not Too Early To Start Planning This Summer's National Park Vacation   5 years 26 weeks ago

    We've been helping families plan National Park camping trips for 10 years and our Trip Consultants have a good feel for when each Park normally begins selling out. In 2008, we reserved about 2500 nights in NPS and NFS campgrouds across the west, but we expected things to progress much more slowly this year. Yet, so far 2009 looks about the same as previous years. Families who may have been planning a trip to Europe, a cruise, or a Disney vacation tell us that they want to simplify this year's summer vacation and save some money. The National Parks are often the first thing that come to mind.

    Dan Wulfman, Founder
    Tracks & Trails - Western Driving Adventures

  • It's Not Too Early To Start Planning This Summer's National Park Vacation   5 years 26 weeks ago

    Kurt -

    Good advice. A friend started checking in mid-summer last year on lodging in Yosemite for this coming summer - and found very slim pickings, with the possible exception of the higher-priced spreads. He was told by a reservations agent for the concessioner to plan a year ahead for peak travel periods in mid-summer at Yosemite.

    It will be interesting to see if current economic conditions change the equation, but I'd second your comments - plan ahead for popular sites or facilities.

    A related suggestion is to go just before or after peak season if it fits a person's schedule - and if things you want to do are open for the season. We had a great experience in Alaska two summers ago in late May and early June. We got some great buys on lodging - one spot we stayed near Denali was significantly cheaper than the same room would have been only two weeks later. An added bonus - we encountered virtually none of the infamous Alaskan mosquitoes, and were told we were about a week ahead of the bugs. I don't know if that was typical or if we were just lucky, but it sure made our time out and about a lot more pleasant!

  • Freeze On New Regs Could Impact Efforts to Expand Mountain Biking in National Parks   5 years 26 weeks ago

    JD, you're misinformed and factually inaccurate. Multiple studies have shown that bicycles do no more damage than hiking and way less than horse riding.

    Betty, our parks belong to all of us and not to a favorite minority of users. Whether there are other places to bike is completely irrelevant to whether local parks should decide whether to let bicyclists on existing trails. Last and not least, lumping a human powered activity like cycling with snowmobiling is at the very least disingenuous.

    This all boils down to the fact that entrenched users simply don't want to share a public good with other legitimate human powered recreational users.

  • Yellowstone National Park: Poster Child For Goofy Gun Laws   5 years 26 weeks ago

    That laws respecting the right to carry arms have been somewhat liberalized by this rule change is a good thing in and of itself. Civil liberties are like that, but their rightful expansion often comes with some confusion and getting-used-to.

    Greatly relaxing carry laws or removing the licensing requirements would surely make for less confusion, but such moves are probably unwarranted or unlikely. I firmly suspect that the best solution is a national reciprocity bill, and we are sure to see one coming along soon. There can really be no other way ... currently, 48 of 50 states issue (in one form or another) licenses to carry protective arms. They too issue driver licenses ... but at this time, carry licenses are not nationally-reciprocal like driver licenses are. There can be no other way but to make the licenses nationally-reciprocal, and draw boundaries around some maximally-restrictive standard.

    Indeed, the best solution is to make all carry licenses nationally-reciprocal, and to define some maximally-restrictive standards. That way, carriers would know what is maximally restrictive ... and more liberal states could relax those maximal standards as they see fit.