Park Profiteering Has Always Been Unethical

You are probably familiar with the saying that goes "take only photographs, leave only footsteps". The idea behind that statement is, of course, to leave a place as you found it. It is obvious to most visitors that you don't pack pieces of petrified wood found in Petrified Forest in your pack as a souvenir, just as it is probably obvious to leave a discovered arrow head on the ground where it was found. It would not only be illegal to take these things, it would be unethical. The idea of preserving a place from detrimental human impact goes back nearly 175 years ago from George Catlin, as described in the brief history of the National Park Service:
On a trip to the Dakotas in 1832, he worried about the impact of America's westward expansion on Indian civilization, wildlife, and wilderness. They might be preserved, he wrote, "by some great protecting policy of government... in a magnificent park.... A nation's park, containing man and beast, in all the wild and freshness of their nature's beauty!"
Fifty years later, in 1882, the idea was confirmed again by well known Civil War General Philip Sheridan who positioned his troops to prevent hunters from taking trophies from within Yellowstone.
"I will engage to keep out the skin hunters and all other hunters by use of troops from [three nearby forts], and, if necessary, I can keep sufficient troops in the park to accomplish this object, and give a place of refuge and safety for our noble game." 1
The effort to keep the objects of our national heritage away from treasure hunters was bolstered in the early 1900s with the adoption of the Antiquities Act. As described in this NPS paper, the Antiquities Act was needed, in part, to stop looting.
Rising public interest in the history and art of the southwestern Indians in the 1890's was accompanied by a swelling demand for authentic prehistoric objects. The desires and needs of growing numbers of collectors and dealers, exhibitors and curators, teachers and students, added to the native curiosity of cowboys, ranchers, and travelers, created an avid demand for original objects from the cliff dwellings and pueblo ruins of the Southwest. ... There was no system of protection and no permit was needed to dig. ... The eager seeker for artifacts had one chief worry -- that some one else would reach a ruin rich in valuable objects before he did. The result was a rush on prehistoric ruins of the Southwest that went on, largely unchecked, until about 1904.
As these examples make clear, the original idea that parks should not to be exploited for their resources remains true today, and has been reinforced over time. Where does the threat of resources exploitation within our National Parks come from today? I would argue that it is at the hands of groups wishing to privatize the parks, from corporations which would like to profiteer from the lands and resources belonging to the American people. I'm not talking about companies which provide services to parks for a fee (like garbage pick-up for instance). I'm talking about a systematic effort to break down the protections provided by the Park Service bit by bit and replace them one at a time with for-profit replacements. There is a school of thought going around that "if the Park Service can't keep its own house in order, maybe corporations should be asked to step in and take over." That argument is easier to make every time the Park Service budget is reduced, every time volunteer help is necessary to complete park operations, every time personnel cuts are made in interpretation, law enforcement, maintenance, curatorial, and management. Later this week, in the House Subcommittee on National Parks, it may be argued that lower park visitation is a measure of National Park Service operational success or failure. With a budget of more than $2.25 billion, with visitation service wide at 273 million, and with American icons including Old Faithful, Half Dome, Mt Rushmore, the National Mall and more, the target is too sweet for corporate America to ignore. But just as we would condemn the antiquities trader collecting arrow heads in park land, we must also condemn the actions of for-profit groups who wish to turn our national parks into their own private cash machine.

1quoted from Scorched Earth (Rocky Barker, Island Press, 2006) which references Phil Sheridan and His Army (Hutton, University of Nebraska Press, 1985)
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