The more I learn about the national parks, two things become clearer. The first is that the history of the national parks is complicated. If the national parks aren’t America’s “best idea” (Wallace Stegner), they are close. And yet, we started setting aside land even while we were forcing its longtime residents onto reservations. It’s as if we knew we had to protect these special places from ourselves, from our own rapacious appetites.
The second is that there is nothing new or even interesting about the thirty-or-so people who occupied Malheur National Wildlife Refuge earlier this year. Since the creation of the first national parks there have always been people who have tried to turn the “temples of nature” into kitschy carnivals of capitalism. (Malheur is protected by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, which, like the National Park Service, is an agency of the Department of the Interior.) They have killed game wardens and park rangers, cut down and mutilated trees, poached birds and elk and bison, and destroyed park lands by illegally grazing their livestock there.… Read the rest