January 29, 2007

Four Walls Do Not a Wilderness Make

Hatched by Dafydd

This story jumped out at me precisely because I don't think most bloggers will cover it... yet it cuts right to the heart of the conflict between Right and Left -- more specifically, between conservationists and environmentalists.

Back in July of 2006, a "small group of environmentalists" won a victory in federal court, when U.S. District Judge Anthony Ishii ordered a halt to seven reconstruction projects in Yosemite National Park. The projects had begun pursuant to two major plans: the Merced River Plan and the Yosemite Valley Plan.

Both plans were written shortly after a devastating flood of the Merced River back in 1997; the flood wiped out campgrounds, employee housing, hotels, trails, roads, sewer and water lines, electrical lines -- virtually the entire infrastructure of the park in that area.

The rebuiding aimed to restore much of what was lost -- while simultaneously relocating most employee housing outside the park, reducing the number of hotel rooms, and designating more areas off-limits to private cars, forcing visitors to park and ride on more environmentally friendly buses:

Together, the documents provided an ambitious blueprint to reinvent Yosemite. The Wilderness Society, the National Parks Conservation Association, the American Alpine Club and the Natural Resources Defense Council eagerly endorsed them....

Californians, too, overwhelmingly approved of the plans, according to a statewide poll commissioned by the defense council shortly after the plans were announced.

But two small environmental organizations, Friends of Yosemite Valley and Mariposans for Environmentally Responsible Growth, opposed the plans. They sued, arguing that the Merced River Plan was hastily written, used flawed data and favored development [Note that last cause of action; it is the key to this entire case].

U.S. District Judge Anthony Ishii agreed and rejected the plan in July. He ordered the Park Service to draft a new plan, a process the Park Service says will take 33 months. In October, Ishii shut down several construction projects until the new plan is drafted.

The ruling by Judge Ishii -- a Clinton appointee -- followed a 2004 ruling by the notoriously liberal Ninth Circus Court of Appeals overturning an earlier Fresno judge's ruling against the environmentalists. The Ninth issued an injunction, also stopping construction; Judge Ishii's ruling last July was whether the Merced River plan could be "tweaked," or whether it would have to be completely junked and a new plan started from scratch.

Judge Ishii held the latter. Now any reconstruction must await an entirely new plan -- and nearly three more years of planning (during which more lawsuits can be filed, possibly "delaying" the rebuilding indefinitely).

Reading a bit between the lines, the real agenda of the environmentalists appears to be to wall off Yosemite from tourism:

The case may come down to the challenge facing all of America's parks: Should they remain open to everyone, or should access be limited in the interest of protecting them?

The SFGate story goes into more detail about the same basic conflict:

[The environmenatlist plaintiffs] believe the Park Service has crafted a plan to urbanize Yosemite and create a theme park resort. They argue it will expand Yosemite Lodge, cede the valley to tour buses and push traditional campers aside in favor of RVs. They say the plan does little to restore the valley's beauty....

"We see the proposals at Yosemite as benefiting the wealthy and the corporate interests over the people," he said. "It's mass-transit, tour-bus tourism."

Note the irony: the entire point of the "mass-transit, tour-bus" plan is to dramatically reduce the number of private cars driving up and down the valley... a goal with which Friends of Yosemite Valley and Mariposans for Environmentally Responsible Growth both agree. They're opposed to private-car tourism in Yosemite.

But they're also opposed to tour-bus tourism. About the only conclusion left is that Friends and Mariposans simply want nearly all ordinary people to stop coming to Yosemite altogether, leaving it "protected" from everyone but hikers who are intrepid enough to hike all the way into the area -- dozens of miles -- a trek that would take many days: that's what they mean when they say reject any plan unless it "respects the river and works toward protection."

Here is the basic dichotomy; it's between conservationists and environmentalists:

  • Conservationists want to protect nature for humans;
  • Environmentalists want to protect nature from humans.

The Yosemite park planners are at a loss for what the environmentalists want them to do:

The plaintiffs' reading of the plans stuns park officials and their supporters. Yosemite Superintendent Mike Tollefson says Adair's claims are "so bogus."

"Before the flood, we had twice the number of rooms at the lodge," he said. "Cutting the number of rooms in half is not urbanization. We've lost more than 300 camping spaces. That's not urbanization. We've got a plan to move 600 more employees out of the valley. That's not urbanization. We've got a shuttle system that gets people out of their cars. That's not urbanization."

Yet the environmentalists' position has now been read into law, first by the Ninth Circuit and now by Judge Ishii. At this point, it would seem the only relief for the people of the United States, who might think they had some claim on land set aside especially for them, would have to come from the U.S. Supreme Court. And this is the central issue: to whom does federal land belong? To the people, collectively, of the United States of America? Or to nature-elitists, high priests of the cult of misanthropic environmentalism?

The bizarre coda to this legal danse macabre is that tourism to Yosemite National Park has been declining anyway for many years. According to AP:

In 1996, when the park had a record 4 million visitors, rangers shut gates when all parking spaces were filled. But last year, the nation's third-most popular park hit a 16-year low with 3.36 million visitors.

Park tourism has dropped a worrisome 16% in ten years; and even mainstream conservationist groups (the Wilderness Society, the NRDC, and so forth) approved the Merced River and Yosemite Valley reconstruction plans -- which actually reduce the "urbanization" of the park. Still, the environmentalists evidenly won't be satisfied until the only people who can visit Yosemite are members of Friends of Yosemite Valley or Mariposans for Environmentally Responsible Growth, many of whose members actually live near enough to hike into the area.

This is an astonishing position to take: that the purpose of the National Park System is to protect the wilderness areas from human beings, rather than to afford ordinary people the opportunity to experience nature without having to be mountain men or wilderness scouts. But it fits well with an environmentalist movement that has become less concerned about the full environment (which of course includes human beings) and simply opposed to people, ordinary people, instead.

Sachi has often asked me why, if environmentalists care so much about pollution, they aren't in China and Russia, protesting the massive contamination of water and air. I believe this case is a window into their souls: they're not all that concerned about curing environmental damage in areas where people actually live (especially not in Socialist or quasi-Socialist countries); rather, they want to rescue wild Earth from people altogether... environmentalists see humans themselves as "the problem" that needs to be cured.

Yet another in the seemingly endless chain of contradictions on the Left.

Hatched by Dafydd on this day, January 29, 2007, at the time of 10:53 AM

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The following hissed in response by: Mr. Michael

It's not a contradiction at all - as long as you realize the core elitism of the Left: The beliefs that an elite few can better determine what is best for the many.

The above hissed in response by: Mr. Michael [TypeKey Profile Page] at January 29, 2007 11:56 AM

The following hissed in response by: ShoreMark

Yet another in the seemingly endless chain of contradictions on the Left.

There's nothing "seemingly" about it.

The above hissed in response by: ShoreMark [TypeKey Profile Page] at January 29, 2007 5:29 PM

The following hissed in response by: DocScott

One wonders if the injunction violates the Americans with Disabilities Act?

The above hissed in response by: DocScott [TypeKey Profile Page] at January 29, 2007 5:59 PM

The following hissed in response by: snochasr

The real travesty here is that the existing plan was highly restrictive for average tourists just wanting to see THEIR National Park. Even as it was before the flood, all the campgrounds were full three months in advance, and that only because the Park service would not take reservations more than three months in advance. With fewer campsites, there will simply be that many fewer people who get to enjoy a night in the Valley. The hotel and Lodge are too expensive for most of us, and those are often fully booked a /year/ in advance. And now there are still fewer rooms, as well. The existing plan simply does not fit most people, because we do not, and even cannot, plan our vacations that far ahead.

The second restriction is the closing of a part of the Valley Loop Road and the imposition of bus service. There are (fewer) parking lots in the Valley, but they quickly fill, forcing people to either drive around aimlessly or to exit the Valley and come back on one of the buses. Yosemite Valley is NOT well-suited to bus service. Unlike Zion and Bryce National Parks, Yosemite Valley is large -- buses take over an hour to make the loop -- and does not have a small number of clearly defined stopping points. Tough luck if you want to stop and take a picture of the deer in the meadow. The bus doesn't stop there and, even if it did, there would not be another one along for at least 15 minutes. Now imagine trying this with two small children and an infant, with all their paraphernalia, in tow. It's just not practical. Not only that, but these kids are going to get hungry before the bus gets back to where you parked, and that can be unpleasant. In other parks, you would simply catch the next bus, in a few minutes, and it would shortly be back at your starting point. You could go back later and pick up where you left off.

Yes, the only people these elitists want to see the Valley are those rich enough, in health and wealth and time, to hike in, pitch their garish tents, and spend two weeks doing it. Most of us cannot do it, and that's just what these wackos want-- a private preserve. They haven't the right.

The above hissed in response by: snochasr [TypeKey Profile Page] at January 30, 2007 8:53 AM

The following hissed in response by: Dafydd ab Hugh


To be fair, some of that is dictated by the geography of Yosemite itself. Most of the public stays in the valley; when we went up to Tuolumne Meadows, it was remarkably uncrowded (but not deserted).

The reason they forbade cars in the first place was that Yosemite had become one gigantic traffic snarl. It took longer to traverse the valley then in a private car than it takes now with the buses. And in the valley itself, we took the bus all over (and walked) and didn't find it as inconvenient as did you.

The change from private cars to buses is explainable as a simple zoning decision: they were trying to maximize the number of people who could enjoy Yosemite without being aardvarks to elbows with so many other people, you'd feel like you were slithering down Broadway in midtown Manhattan.

We figured out that, if you want to go to Yosemite, you must do two things:

  • Plan a longer holiday; make the park your main holiday that year, rather than a short side trip, so you can spend two weeks skiing in Aspen.

    Yosemite was the only holiday we took that year, so we spent two weeks in Yosemite, including a 5-day hike in Tuolumne Meadows and a 3-day horse-camping trip through Yosemite and the Ansel Adams wilderness;

  • Plan way, way, way in advance. Read lots of books about it, figure out what you can do (especially with kids), and do everything imaginable in advance.

    For example, plan to spend a few days at one of the High Sierra camps (you get breakfast and dinner, you only have to bring lunch) or camping in a tent (you have to remember that all food, and even items like toothpaste, must be in secure bear cans -- which are heavy, so you have to carry them for the kids as well as yourselves!)

But this lawsuit is entirely different; it seeks, ultimately, to deny access to the park altogether. And if it works, it will be extended to Grand Canyon, Bryce, Yellowstone, and everywhere else... no peons allowed!

Get all the people (except for environmentalists with the Vision) out of our fine, natural parks, so that the litte fuzzy animals can frolic and gambol and kill and eat each other without being offended by our presence. After all, in the mind of the environmentalist, the animals "own" the park, not we.


The above hissed in response by: Dafydd ab Hugh [TypeKey Profile Page] at January 30, 2007 2:16 PM

The following hissed in response by: snochasr

To be fair, most of the great "attractions" are in the Valley, too. And the imposition of busses wasn't so much to relieve traffic as it was, I am convinced, as a means of discouraging visitation or, at minimum, forcing people to make a greater effort to see the park. I find this attitude widespread within the NPS, though it is more or less justified, depending on the park. Cars are a problem in Yosemite; busses are not necessarily the solution.

I would offer some other "tips":
First, plan to see the park as soon as Tioga pass opens in the spring (if you're coming from the east, otherwise you can come earlier. Avoid July and August like the plague; the Falls dry up and the Valley floods with tourists.
Stay in the high country-- Tuolumne Meadows or Wolf Creek on the north or Bridal Veil or Glacier Point on the south. You may still need reservations well in advance, but they don't always fill up.
Drive into the Valley early in the morning, see a couple of things (like Bridal Veil falls) and then park. See what you can see from there, and be prepared to leave the Valley (go back to the high country) when you get back to the parking lot-- all of them will likely be full by then. Repeat as needed on following days.
If you don't like backpacking but can hike reasonably well, the High Sierra camps (at least when I was there), are planned to be one day's hike apart. There you can sleep, have dinner and breakfast the next day and (again, at the time), they will pack you a lunch. All you need is a few clothes and a camera. Waterwheel Falls was a great delight.

Again, my objection isn't to solving the problem of too much "love" of the park, and the too many automobiles that result. My objection is that busses are not the best solution of that problem. Like banning the busses and leaving it for those who can hike the thirty miles, it is a solution that will keep some people out.

The above hissed in response by: snochasr [TypeKey Profile Page] at January 30, 2007 4:11 PM

The following hissed in response by: RRR

One might take note these groups operate under the protection of IRS code 501.c3 organizations, TAX FREE!

As such much of what they do and get involved in is in reality against the terms of the 501 rules! They routinely ignore such and go at it like nothing was wrong. It's time some of them get their wings clipped!

Oh and yes, this is about CONTROL of OUR public lands for the near EXCLUSIVE use of a few!

That judge needs to get out more and see there are other living on the planet and THEY jointly are the owners of those lands!

The above hissed in response by: RRR [TypeKey Profile Page] at January 30, 2007 5:21 PM

The following hissed in response by: Dafydd ab Hugh

One comment deleted for being a completely off-topic special-interest commercial.

Please don't do that again, commenter.


The above hissed in response by: Dafydd ab Hugh [TypeKey Profile Page] at January 30, 2007 9:04 PM

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