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Sunday, February 7, 2016

National Park Bowl! The Flyers vs. the Dinosaurs!

Today is the 50th playing of the Super Bowl.  To mark the historic season , Park Thrillers mashed up all 32 NFL teams with their national park counterparts.  Today we are down to two, the Carolina Flyers and the Denver Dinosaurs.

Carolina's mashup park is the Wright Brothers National Memorial in North Carolina, the site where the Wright Brothers taught the world to fly.  Meanwhile, Denver's mashup park is Dinosaur National Monument in the Northwest corner of Colorado. Dinosaur National Monument is the site of one of the world's largest collection of dinosaur fossils.

Who are you rooting for in the first National Park Bowl?

Sean Smith is a former Yellowstone Ranger, and an award winning conservationist, TEDx speaker, and author. He writes national park thrillers from his home in the shadow of Mount Rainier National Park. To learn more about his thrillers click here or follow him on twitter: @parkthrillers

Friday, February 5, 2016

The Presidency and National Parks: Two Great American Ideas

President Obama and family in  Acadia National Park.
White House Photo
February 15th is President's Day, the one day we honor all the people who served in America's highest office. At the time of the Constitution's ratification, a country's highest executive office serving as president was a unique and radical idea. Many founders, before adopting the idea of a president, flirted with a chief executive akin to a dictator or king. But having just fought a war to overthrow one king, the founding father's rightly rejected this idea.

A presidency is an idea that Americans have truly made their own. Another truly American idea is that of the national park. With President's Day fast approaching, here are my top five favorite presidential national parks.

5. Yellowstone: This park may surprise some for making this list.  However, given that it was the world's first national park, requiring congress and President U.S. Grant to set precedent makes a perfect candidate for a presidential national park.

4. Devils' Tower: Another park that wouldn't come to mind of most. Yet, Devil's Tower most definitely deserves to be on the list. In 1906, Teddy Roosevelt used presidential power to create the Devils' Tower national monument. This was the first time a precedent used executive power to expand federal protection to public lands.  Roosevelt went on to establish numerous monuments including the Grand Canyon national monuments. Many of these monuments later were elevated to national parks by Congress.

3. Mount Rushmore is the first obvious choice. This massive granite edifice would likely make everyone's list of presidential national parks. The park memorializes some of America's greatest commanders in chief. Many however don't realize why the president who are carved in South Dakota's Black Hills were chosen for this honor, in short its because each in their time in office set a precedent that still impacts us today.  Washington was chosen for his example of stepping down from office and peacefully transferring governmental power after two terms. This peaceful power transfer is an example of good government that Americans can be rightly proud.  Jefferson was chosen for his negotiations with France to purchase the Louisiana territory. This like Washington was an example of the federal government's policy of using negotiation and compensation to expand its domain. Lincoln was obviously selected for his saving of tbalkanized state that could be easily picked off by larger powers. Lincoln always realized the injustice and threat slavery represented to our national soul and rightly worked to abolish it.  Finally, Teddy Roosevelt was carved onto Mount Rushmore because of his desire to leave not just political goods but natural resources for future generations. Roosevelt was among the first to see the limits of our public domain and the need to conserve some it for Americans yet unborn.
he Union. Lincoln knew with great clarity and conviction that if the south was allowed to leave the Union, the United States would not long survive this cleavage. Rather, the previous United States would likely be cast into a

Civil Rights March on Washington, D.C
National Archives
2. The Lincoln and Jefferson Memorials, and Washington Monuments are the second obvious
choice. These Greek and Egyptian inspired monuments enshrine three of the presidents who help shape not only the nation but what it means to serve as president. Serving as the first Commander and Chief, everything George Washington did was precedent setting and is why he is rightly referred as the father of our country. Thomas Jefferson penned the Declaration of Independence and set down for the entire world to see that America believes all are created equal.  Abraham Lincoln followed Jefferson's lead and committed America to the path that Jefferson's ideal extended to all Americans.  While are nation isn't perfect, no one can deny that progress has been made on nearly every front, and national parks such as the Lincoln Mermorial have been the setting for much of this progress.

White House and South Lawn
Daniel Schwen
1. The White House is my last choice as a presidential national park.  Unknown to many, the White House is part of the National Park System. The National Park Service is responsible for its upkeep and maintenance, as Barack Obama recently stated one of the perks of being president is getting to live in a national park. The White House serves not only as the focus of the federal government, but its fitting that the symbol of that power is part of the national park system which has a mission to preserve and protect America's most treasured ideas,hopes, and places for present and future generations.

Sean Smith is a former Yellowstone Ranger, and an award winning conservationist, TEDx speaker, and author. He writes national park thrillers from his home in the shadow of Mount Rainier National Park. To learn more about his thrillers click here or follow him on twitter: @parkthrillers

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

What's Old is New in the Sagebrush Rebellion

Malheur NWF Headquarters: By Cacophony
For the past several weeks there has been a little dust up taking place in Southeastern Oregon.  Several “local” ranchers, wise use, and other militia types have occupied the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge. These self-labeled patriots led by the Bundy’s out of Nevada contend the federal government does not have the authority to own or manage public lands.

The Bundys in their standoff are the latest in a long line of “patriots”, who have taken it upon themselves to “return” public land to the people.
Many contend the roots to this predominately western conflict date back to the Sagebrush Rebellion of 1979. The rebellion according to some was a “virtual war” over control of federal lands. It only lasted a short while however; the rebellion’s spirit inspired others like Nevada’s Richard Carver, a former Nye County Council Member. In 1994 as Tim Egan wrote in the New York Times, Mr. Carver took a bulldozer and opened Forest Service roads and declared the county now owned the property. 

These rebellions were followed by others in IDNMMTAK and UT.
Fast forward to today, the Bundy’s and the rest of the Malheur occupiers are trumpeting similar arguments. At its heart they assert the federal government does not own federal land, federal land management agencies are illegitimate, and that public use of federal lands cannot be prohibited.
But if the Bundy’s had solicited the help of a first year law student, they may have saved everyone a lot of time and energy.

Let’s look at their first argument; the federal government cannot set aside lands in federal reserves. The courts answered this question back in 1911 in Light vs. United States. In this case the court found that Congress has the authority to permanently establish federal reserves such as National Forests, Wildlife Refuges, and National Parks.

Okay, but obviously the founders never intended for the creation of federal agencies like the Park, Forest or Fish and Wildlife Services. Wrong again. In fact, in the same year as the Light case, the Court the United States vs. Grimaud ruled the constitution allows for the creation of federal resource management agencies with the power to determine what actions can take place on public property.

Fine, but obviously public lands belong to all, the Bundy’s and others assert therefore all public activities and uses must be accommodated.

Strike three.

In the 1984 case of Organized Fisherman vs. Watt the Court found that the task of weighing the competing uses of federal property has been delegated by Congress to the Secretary of the Interior.  As such, the Secretary has "broad discretion in determining what actions are best calculated to protect park or public land resources." This power extends up to prohibiting activities that are deemed counter to the public interest.
One would assume, that at least some in the Bundy camp know the law. They know their position is legally weak. If so, what do they actually want? Back in 1996 in my Master’s Thesis I coined the term “subsidized anarchy” to describe what Wise Use, Militia, Patriot, White Supremacist and other rightwing groups actually want. In a nutshell these groups want control of federal lands given to them, removing any “outside” opinions or issues that get in the way of their preferred use. Historically, that preferred use has centered on extractive activities such as logging, mining, and ranching. However they also want federal funds to still be spent on programs such as firefighting and predator control, so that their preferred use may continue.

In other words, they want federal funds and resources without the strings.

Yet, any person who has studied federal land management realizes these “dust ups” appear to occur every 20 years. This is just enough time for the leaders of the new rebellion to have forgotten or never learned the lessons of the previous one. Why do we seem to have this pattern of reoccurring unrest?

It’s because the federal government doesn’t take these rebellions seriously. Often administration officials fail to press charges. In those instances where cases are brought, the courts fail to impose little more than a slap on the wrist. This failure to take resources crimes seriously is also due to congress which in many instances has determined these crimes to be minor offenses.

What can be done?
First, we must support and defend federal ownership and management of our public lands. Second, we must demand that federal officials arrest and prosecute rebellion leaders. A failure to do so, only breeds contempt among for federal law. Finally, we must demand that congress reclassify federal resources crimes such as wildlife and timber poaching, and chronic trespass as felonies. This reclassification would provide prosecutors more tools to use against sagebrush scofflaws.

Federal lands belong to all of us, not just those who happen to live nearby. As such, national interests, values, and wishes must be taken into account when managing for their future.  The public domain is a great gift we have inherited from our ancestors; we owe it to future generations to pass it along in equal or better shape.

Sean Smith is a former Yellowstone Ranger, and an award winning conservationist, TEDx speaker, and author. He writes national park thrillers from his home in the shadow of Mount Rainier National Park. To learn more about his thrillers click here or follow him on twitter: @parkthrillers

Sunday, January 3, 2016

Dear Mr. President

Dear Mr. President:

It's 2016, and shortly you will deliver your final State of the Union. This speech provides an opportunity for you to set the tone and course for your last year in office.

Over the past seven years, under your leadership the country exited its worst economic recession since the great depression. It has seen expanded health care coverage for millions of Americans, and brought Osama Bin Laden to justice.

Yet, during your tenure the country has seen deep divisions. You ran on the hope that America is not separate states of blue and red, but rather one country of purple. It's a noble vision. However, it has yet been achieved.

Thankfully, there is still time to set the course toward unity. The answer lies in remembering our country's past and looking toward its future. In our past, the times of greatest unity occurred when the nation was confronted with significant challenge such as World War II or set a national purpose such as the Apollo Program.

Mr. President you have a similar opportunity before you to unite the American public.

The National Park System is described by some as America's best idea, its greatest gift to world culture. Each year, hundreds of millions of people flock to the national parks because they are responding to what national parks truly are, the physical manifestation of all that the country values and holds dear. They represent universal values of freedom, democracy, progress, and equality.  National Parks such as the Constitution Gardens  and Independence Hall physically embody our national goal to "form a more perfect union."

In August, the National Park Service will mark its 100th birthday.  Over the next several months the National Park Service will mark this anniversary with numerous celebrations, events, and parties. As President, this centennial presents numerous opportunities to articulate the truly American themes and values in a way that brings people together.

Specifically, I ask you to advocate for increased park funding, expanded resource protection, and the addition of new parks, especially large natural parks in the Western United States. I'd also encourage you to designate the Apollo landers as national monuments.

As a former park ranger, I saw first-hand the power national parks have to bring people together. At  evening programs, it was customary to ask people where they were from. Asking this question revealed the farther a person was from home the more people they were likely to identify with. For example, people from Boston would say they are from Massachusetts, while people from Dallas would claim Texas. Someday when people visit the lunar lander monuments and park rangers ask where they are from they will point to the earth and say "I'm from there." We need more reminders that we live on one planet, we share the same air and water. National Parks do just that. They reveal our shared humanity.

I encourage you Mr. President to make it a priority this last year in office to find and focus on unifying themes and efforts. America can be a country of purple, your last year in office can set us on a path to make this happen.


Sean Smith

Sean Smith is a former Yellowstone Ranger, and an award winning conservationist, TEDx speaker, and author. He writes national park thrillers from his home in the shadow of Mount Rainier National Park. To learn more about his thrillers click here or follow him on twitter: @parkthrillers

Sunday, December 27, 2015

Biggest National Park Stories of 2015

Old Faithful Geyser and spectators,
Yellowstone National Park, Acroterion |
This past year was big for national parks and national park system including the establishment of new park units, record visitation, and huge wildfires.  Here in no particular order, are the top national park stories of 2015.

1. New National Parks: The creation of new national park units was a top priority for the President this past year. Along with Pullman Historic Neighborhood, Browns Canyon, and the Honouliuli Internment Camp site, the federal government also created Manhattan Project National Historic Park. These parks preserve some of our most threatened landscapes, protect former slave housing, tell of the story of the world's entering the atomic age, and help us never forget the internment of some of our fellow Americans.  National Parks preserve and protect not only what we hold dear, but also some of our are hardest lessons.

2. Record Visitation: The national park system saw a record number of people coming through the park entrances. As of the start of this month, the national park service had welcomed more than 272 million people and was on pace to see more than 300 million people for the first time in its history. These numbers are up nearly 4 percent from last year. The park service broke visitation numbers despite a shaky economic recovery, terrorism threats, and the belief that they are no longer relevant. The public seemed to vote with their feet this year, that not only are parks relevant, they are more loved than ever.

3. Huge Fires: Another number that was up this year was the cost of fighting wildfires. The federal government spent more than $1.7 billion fighting fires across the country this past year. This is up more than $100 million from 2014.  Fires raged throughout much of the country including large fires in Montana, Alaska, Washington, and California. Sadly, 2015 was a deadly fire season seeing seven firefighters killed battling the blazes. Congress is responding to the crisis by proposing additional federal resources  to fight these monster blazes.

4. Politics: Like any other aspect of our lives, the national parks are no refuge from political fights and squabbles. This year, the battles over the confederate flags spilled over into our national heritage. Debates over how to correctly portray civil war history including Confederate efforts were hotly debated. Confederate memorials and Statues were removed across the south. The effort reached a crescendo with the removal of the confederate battle flag from the South Carolina state house grounds. The park service also struggled with how best to convey Civil War history, without being seen as promoting or making light of the South's complicity in the promulgation of Slavery. In response, the Park Service ordered the removal of confederate flag merchandise from its gift stores. It's likely the debate over the South's role in the civil war will continue. The flag flap is a reminder that national parks are often on the front lines on how America represents, honors, and tells its story. The park service will likely be called repeatedly to provide leadership on many socially and politically controversial issues.

5. Centennial: The national park system will turn 100 years old next year. As such, the park service is rightly making plans to celebrate the milestone. As well as, 16 free days, the park service is planning countless events, specials, parties, and celebrations to mark the centennial.

Yellowstone is the worlds first national park, and Americans can be rightly proud of the national park system they have created since then.  Park thrillers is looking forward to the next hundred and can't wait to see what's in store for our national parks.

Okay, that's our list of the top National Park Stories for 2015. What did we get right? What did we miss? Tell us in the comment section. Also, please check out the national park thrillers Unleashing Colter's Hell and Lost Cause, two of Amazon's top selling political/terrorism thrillers.

Sean Smith is a former Yellowstone Ranger, and an award winning conservationist, TEDx speaker, and author. He writes national park thrillers from his home in the shadow of Mount Rainier National Park. To learn more about his thrillers click here or follow him on twitter: @parkthrillers