Doggie

Parks are like small cities, and just about any aspect of city life will happen in some form in a park.

Love? Have you seen the abundance of proposal pictures set amidst the backdrops of America’s most iconic landscapes? Eating, drinking, sleeping, should be obvious – for humans as well as wildlife. How about bathroom cleaning and garbage trucks collecting refuse? You *might* have to get to a visitor center early in the morning, but I can promise those happen things happen too.

So it doesn’t shock me that we have an abandoned dog roaming out site. Rangers find animals, especially dogs, many times a year in most parks. Abandoned pets in the National Parks are not a rare occurrence.

20181116_092831

Our present situation involves a female sheep dog. She doesn’t have a collar, but it is a female. She has figured out that a good place to spend the night is the patch of grass under the picnic table outside of our maintenance building. She is very skittish and generally doesn’t approach people. She runs away when we try to talk to her, but comes back after a while. Mostly, she stands at a distance of maybe 15-20 feet and barks a lot. She wags her tail readily, but will not approach. I think she is scared, as if she is used to a bit of abuse.

We have a couple of local sheep ranchers who have many such dogs. To them, these dogs are tools. They are left outdoors with the sheep (which is to be expected), but what I didn’t quite understand is that these dogs are NOT fed. The dogs learn to hunt smaller mammals like rabbits or squirrels for food if they are to survive. And if the female dogs get pregnant, or any dog gets too old or injured to keep up with the flock, the dog is simply abandoned wherever.

A tool that is no longer useful is thrown away.

Sounds just like any other aspect of our throw-away society.

Except is it?

The dog showed up on our property a couple of weeks ago. Some time after a certain rancher moved more than 600 head of sheep from BLM-managed grazing land, through the national monument (where I work), out to the county road for pick up and transport elsewhere. One of the days this flock movement occurred, I watched for a little bit. There were cowboys on horseback and four dogs running around.

So is our new friend one of that pack? Well, I didn’t get pictures that day. I called the ranchers on the sheep permit to see if they lost a dog. I called – and left voice mail messages – twice, in my professional capacity from my office. No one ever called me back.

Park staff – and a local hunter on his way to finding elk on BLM lands – snapped a few pictures and posted on the local town’s Facebook group. Our staff didn’t mention names in our postings, as we didn’t have 100% proof of where the dog came from. However, when the hunter made his post on Facebook, people responded to it saying that the dog belonged to the same rancher we suspected. Again, that particular family never responded to the Facebook posts either.

This time, people suggested the dog looked either like she was pregnant or had just whelped. We haven’t seen signs of any pups, but she makes a daily trek up the park road about 7:30 a.m. and is back in the maintenance yard by about Noon. Every day.

Some of my readers might wonder why we don’t call the local animal control or the county sheriff. The latter has said he can’t help, since the dog hasn’t harmed anyone, and we don’t have a local animal control. This is rural Wyoming. My NPS unit is small enough that we do not have a law enforcement ranger on staff (although Grand Teton said they’d send down and LE ranger if there was an actual incident where the dog became aggressive towards anyone), and the local BLM agent is too busy with hunting season. Tranquilization is a possibility, but one that we’d like to avoid is possible, since the dog isn’t aggressive.

One of our park staff thinks the dog was abandoned and the family won’t claim it because they don’t want the responsibility. He pointed out that when a sheep gets left behind and we call about it, the rancher never comes back. They just declare a loss and expect the BLM to compensate them. Whatever happens to the sheep or cows? We see them wandering for days or weeks. Either they die or some lucky person comes in the middle of the night for a free bit of livestock. (You can imagine how I feel about that program that offers payment for lack of responsibility.)

Anyway, so we have Doggie now taking up residence in our maintenance yard. No one will claim her. We have one man from town who has rescued other dogs in past situations that were similar. Problem is that Doggie is scared and won’t approach people. She just runs away. We are trying to train her that people can be nice – several of us have successfully left food on the ground that she eventually gobbles down.

Yesterday was my turn. I have never had a pet, and my current apartment lease does not allow pets, so she won’t be mine. However, my heart went out to her. She seems like she wants to talk to people and be around people, but she’s scared. Like really scared. I really do think she was treated badly at some point. So yesterday, after the morning snowstorm passed through, I drove out to the park and brought her some food. A container of leftover pizza crusts with cheese and a bag of Beggin’ Strips (which my parents’ dog LOVES). I figured yummy treats were going to be tasty and win me a few points with Doggie.

She was lying under the porch of park housing next door, but immediately got up and ran behind maintenance when I pulled my car in the driveway. I approached the maintenance yard through the open gate near the back so as not to unlock the front gate (since Saturday is outside of business hours). She ran to the back of the building, and then back out through the gate as I followed her route around maintenance. Eventually, I just held my ground and she circled back, standing at a distance of maybe 30 feet for a good five minutes. I tried talking to her the whole time.

I opened my container of pizza crusts and tossed one on the ground in between us. She didn’t move. After a while, I guess she learned I wasn’t going to hurt her. I was standing right next to the picnic table where she slept. I tossed a second piece of pizza crust on the ground. She still didn’t go after it. But when I got the third one close enough to her (she had walked a bit towards me), she sniffed it and ate it in one bite. I walked a few steps and picked up the crusts from the ground. I tossed one closer to her and she ate it. I did the same with a Beggin Strip. She really liked that treat. So I crumbled up a second strip and sprinkled the pieces on the ground in front of me. She sniffed around and got the bigger pieces. Then she ate another piece of crust. Finally, I left another Beggin Strip on the picnic bench next to me. She came up and snatched it, but moved back about 10 feet to eat it. Then she sniffed around in the grass until she found the last few crumbs from earlier.

She never came close enough that I could pet her. (She did take one milk bone from the rescue guy on Friday before running away from him too.) We don’t know if she’s sick – rabies is always a possibility out here – but she isn’t aggressive towards us. Quite the opposite. She has a tiny limp, but she obviously walks a lot, even around our property. I kind of wonder if the puppy situation is a possibility. Who knows?

I didn’t go out to work today, so I don’t know today’s action. I think one of my coworkers was going to try to give her a snack today. Tomorrow (Monday), the guy who rescues dogs is going to come back out and try to feed her again. We’re hoping that if she learns to trust us, we’ll eventually be able to get her to a vet to get checked out and adopted.

Advertisements

Just Another Day In The Neighborhood

I got a late start today, by hiking standards. In the summer, I generally start my longer hikes around 7 a.m. Today, I hit the trailhead about Noon. I didn’t have the longest trek planned, so a late start was fine. I relaxed this morning, ate a good breakfast and worked on a project until I was well-caffeinated and ready to go.

Bear Lake was fairly busy, but I took the first left turn and headed up to Nymph and Dream Lakes. How many times have I taken this trail? I’ve covered that 1.1 miles in the fresh green of spring, the heat of summer, golden Aspen leaves of autumn, and the blowing snow of winter. Like so many times before, I found myself seeing a few other hikers over and over as we made our way up the hill. Many were on their first visit to Rocky, college students from several states and retirees from Alabama.

You see, this is part of the beauty of the National Parks – they are a great melting pot. People from all over the world, challenging themselves physically and mentally. Learning about history and famous people, teaching themselves to conquer fears and reconnect with the resources that sustain their lives. So often, the National Parks force people to the same level – novices against Mother Nature.

Perhaps I should have challenged myself a bit more. I’ve done the snowshoe to Dream Lake maybe 15-20 times, and I sort of have every curve of the trail memorized. But I needed fresh air and I got a late start. So any miles were better than no miles. Dream Lake never disappoints. (By the way, the trail I did was about 1.1 miles and 450 feet of elevation gain, according to trail guides, although I did a bit of off-trail up at the lake just to get a different view.)

There is one section of the trail, about halfway between Nymph and Dream Lakes, where the winter trail is very narrow on the best of days and on warm sunny days like today, the snow is slippery and the trail deteriorates a little bit with every new set of footsteps. Add to this that the trail often is as wide as only one snowshoe. Going uphill might seem hard to some, but in my experience, downhill is much more nerve-wrecking. Gravity on a downhill slide is far more of an enemy.

IMG_2233.JPG

Looking up the scary, narrow section. It’s steeper than the picture portrays.

After my lovely snack up at the lake, I decided it was time to head down the hill. I made it back down to the scary section, and there were people slipping and falling trying to get up the hill. Since I had snowshoes with crampons, I just waited at the top for a clear trail. A few other hikers lined up behind me, waiting as well. I chatted with them as we waited for the uphill folks to finish. One guy, maybe in his late 20s, looked longingly at my snowshoes. He said he’d not been too afraid going up, but watching folks now, he was a bit freaked. I told him I felt the same, even with my crampons. I pointed to the narrowest section and suggested that it would be fine if someone would just kick in an extra step. I showed him where to put his feet, all the while, telling myself that I could do the same. I could get past the scary bit. With my crazy big snowshoes, it might be really tight, but I’d done it before and I will live to do it again.

Perhaps now is a good time to share a lesson I’ve learned over the years: when on slippery, downhill trails, if I have snowshoes, I let everyone else in boots go ahead of me, even if I can move faster than them (which is usually the case since I have good traction). That way, when they slip and fall, they don’t slide into me and take me down with them. I won’t say how or when I learned this lesson. 😉

Anyway, the guy said he’d try to kick in an extra step. His group headed down ahead of me, and all four of their group slipped and fell a bit. But they managed to kick in an extra step with only one scream uttered between them. He looked back up at me and said something about wanting to go back uphill. Other folks came around the bend, making their way up the hill at that moment and there was a time of crowding, confusion and nerves. I stepped to the side (thank goodness for those snowshoes) and let the uphill folks plow on. I was very thankful that the guys kicked the trail wider; it calmed my nerves quite a bit.

By letting groups pass me, I had a peaceful snowshoe down the trail. Back at Bear Lake, I decided to walk up to that lake – maybe only 200 feet further than my trail junction. It was very slick due to the high volume of traffic all winter, and melting and refreezing of snow. Several older folks told me I was smart to wear snowshoes. I smiled and said I’d just finished a bigger hike where I needed the traction.

One such older woman was clearly very scared of slipping and falling. Complete with a thick southern accent, perfectly dyed hair and makeup to make her look younger than she was, thin black jogging shoes and lots of chunky jewelry, she looked rather out of place. She had two men with her – I’m guessing her husband and her son. She was moving very slowly away from Bear Lake, back through the woods towards the parking lot. I asked if she wanted to borrow one of my hiking poles so that she had two to use. She turned me down. Her husband just smiled.

So I moved on to Bear Lake, and enjoyed watching people having snowball fights and building snowmen out on the frozen lake. Eventually, I turned around and started heading back to my car.

The older woman hadn’t made it more than 4-5 feet since I’d passed her going up to the lake. This time, she had two more people around her – a couple maybe in their 30s. I waited in the line of traffic on the trail for a minute and then made a decision. I had traction, whereas no one else in the vicinity did. Everyone was moving very slowly and there was a bottleneck on the trail.

IMG_2246

Looks pretty tame from this perspective, but the icy trail scared older folks who had no traction. Bear Lake is the clearing just beyond the trees.

I picked up my pace, side-stepped around the crowd and stopped just in front of them. “This is what we’re going to do,” I said. “Let me help you.” I stomped pretty hard on the packed snow and ice in front of the woman. I assured her that I wasn’t going to slide, and showed her the crampons built into the decks of my snowshoes. I also pointed out that I was more… stout than she. She looked up and tried to laugh, but behind her sunglasses, I’m pretty sure she was in tears.

I offered my hand, which she took with her free hand. Someone had managed to give her a hiking pole which I reminded her to keep in contact with the ground when she lifted a foot to take a step. (In her case, two points of contact with the ground were better than one.) Her husband held tightly to her upper arm, and I snowshoed backwards, breaking up the ice, as we brought her down the hill. She held tightly to my hand the whole time. I was thankful that she seemed to catch on quickly to the idea of stepping where I’d broken the trail; wet feet were better than sliding and falling.

People watched us, and I’m sure the effort was a sight. The woman was rather vocal, in her southern accent, about how she couldn’t have done the walk back without me. (Well, she could have, but it would have taken a lot longer.)

This is what rangers do. We help people from all over live to tell stories of their adventures in the parks. Just another day in the park.

 

The Mountain Valley Home

Looking out over the same mountain valley I have seen a thousand times before, the sunlight sparkles off the snowflakes in the air, seemingly held aloft by an unseen breeze. The valley stretches ahead of me, dotted with the occasional pine tree or boulder, criss-crossed by a small cold stream. The pines and spruces create a patchwork of deep green against the snow white backdrop on the slopes around me. This valley is protected on all sides by distant mountain spires. Those peaks seem to grow taller the nearer I move.

A grand orchestra resounds all around me. The present concert involves the trilling of birds in the trees and the rustle of the winds as it hurries through dried grasses, all set to the tempo of my footsteps as I walk through the snow on this blustery morning.

I am lucky to be here. And I try to be present in this moment. I don’t want to be anywhere else. I have spent time in many mountain wonderlands across North America, but I always come back here. This mountain valley is home.

Every time I come back, some things are different: the seasons, the color of the grasses and wildflowers, the activity of the wildlife, the wind, temperature and snow.

But some things stay the same: the feeling of peace and calm. The excitement of the challenge (for all trails, no matter how simple they may seem, present a challenge). Same too is the realness of the living world around me–something I certainly don’t get from my computer and office in the city.

I just need to be up in this mountain park where the trees dance to their own music.

The Truth About Texas

Read: The Truth about my time in Texas.

Here are a few facts I want to lay out first:

  1. The units of the National Park Service that I worked at were not ‘bad’, and the history at Alibates Flint Quarries National Monument is fascinating – both in terms of human history and geological history. The sites protected here help build our understanding of the development of civilization on the southern High Plains and the desert southwest. And I learned flintknapping from VIP Jimmy. That was fun. 🙂
  2. I didn’t mind living away from the big city. In fact, the lack of traffic was quite refreshing after working in Denver for 13 months.
  3. I did miss having a grocery store with lots of fresh fruit and vegetable options. Even United, the best (in my opinion) of the chain stores didn’t have quite the produce selection I’m used to. Even in small towns by other parks, I’m used to finding produce stands or farmers’ markets – I really couldn’t find much along these lines in Texas, and that was a bummer.
  4. Thanks to two classes I went to during my 14 months there, I made some new friends all over the country, particularly two ladies, one in Utah and one in Oklahoma. I will miss chatting and sharing ideas with these folks.

But here’s the thing. And I know it’s the thing for a lot of other parkies.

The management sucks.

There is a definite, complicated reason that the National Park Service CONSISTENTLY scores so low on the Federal Employees Viewpoint Survey. (Read the 2015 results here.)

At the risk of being black-listed for the rest of my life and never getting another NPS job, I documented poor behavior, unfair practices, and policy violations for almost a year. I tried several times (documenting those times as well) to request mediation, help, or ANYTHING that would improve the situation. But the management was so entrenched. My requests – even in writing – fell on deaf ears and never went anywhere. I was the evil non-team member who caused trouble.

My only feeling of justification came in the fact that another female employee who, having more years in service than me, was completely unhappy with the way things “ran” at this park. In fact, she stayed for a shorter time period than I did. I worked there about 14 months, whereas she only stayed 9 months. We both left for greener pastures, hoping to never look back. Thankfully, she got a new position – with some power – at another park. Her years in service and grade paid off, and I’m happy for her. I’m lucky, too, that there was a vacancy at my former office and my supervisor at that job was happy to have me transfer back. My new position came with a raise and way more promotion potential than my NPS job could have offered.

The good ol’ boys club in Texas was so powerful. And after all, I was just a GS5. I was told that I was being insubordinate. I was told I was expendable and I should mind my manners if I wanted to stay employed. Our supervisor barely spoke to this other employee, so clearly, she was equally expendable. (How would she know?)

Expendable, that is, until we handed in our notices and then the ‘assignment’ list I was given grew and grew and grew. And what I didn’t get done, this other employee had to work on (she left two weeks after I left, so there was a pay period where she had to work alone – although she wrote me a couple of times asking for my help). You see, this other employee and I were actually prepared for our jobs, had the specialized skills to do specific tasks – no other employee on the staff could do these tasks, including our supervisor.

So when we left, the shit hit the fan. There are specific tasks revolving around the National Park Service’s 2016 Centennial that will not be accomplished now without outside help. The tasks can’t be done in house because no one is prepared. (Incidentally, one of my good friends who does these tasks at an NPS unit in a neighboring state has already been contacted to do the tasks.)

Related to poor management, but not my immediate job, a week before I left it came to light that the Chief of Maintenance had moved $15,000 from an account for my division (department) to his division. My division’s chief – my inept now-former supervisor – didn’t even catch that his funds were gone. When I asked a coworker why this was allowed to happen, she replied, “[Division Chief] is a bully and no one will stand up to him.” She shrugged and walked away, like this was accepted behavior.

If it wasn’t so pathetic, I would laugh.

I am heartbroken. I sincerely believe (somewhat naively, I’m sure) that our public lands deserve better. These are the places that are supposed to exemplify the best our country has to offer – and teach us about our collective history. And yet, they are abused and degraded from the inside and the outside.

I can’t work for a manager like this. I believe I have the skills to do a lot of good for the public trust. But I just can’t sign my name to a system like I experienced in Texas. So it’s back to the office job in Denver for me.

My supervisor here is nice and cares and actually does her job.

 

 

Topic of the Day: Graffiti in the White House Bathroom

Oh, there has to be an endless amount of graffiti in the White House bathroom. And given my penchant for national parks (yes, in case you didn’t know, the White House is cared for by the NPS) and all things written by Aaron Sorkin, these are my guesses:

*‘Martin Sheen made this look easy.’

*’Best bathroom in a National Park Service site!’

*’Oh, Andy! A C-minus in Womens’ Studies?!?’

*’Wish you were here!’

*’Aaron Sorkin used this more than me.’

*’POTUS schmotus.’

*’Hail to the Little Chief’

*’How much will the rangers fine me for this vandalism?’

*’I DID get lost on Dupont Circle!’

*’There’s a guy just outside this door. I think he is listening to me poop.’

*’POTUS > SCOTUS’

*’Some National Parks have privies. Sucks to be them.’

*’Call 1-872-664-7377 (1-USC-ONG-RESS) for a good time!’

*’Think I can find my own Dave?’

30 Day Writing Challenge — Day 12: Two Words/Phrases That Make You Laugh

The National Parks should be privatized.

Climate change either isn’t real or isn’t caused by humans.

But the laughter brought on by these phrases probably is not the kind of laughter that the writer of the Challenge list meant.

Actually, these two phrases make me want to punch someone. And sadly, both are WAY too complicated to be adequately discussed in one blog post.

But tonight I will present just one or two thoughts on each of those two laughable statements, in the hopes of spurring on my mind towards longer, more detailed blogs about these topics in the future.

First, let’s talk about the National Parks. I don’t remember life before the parks. I remember the big mountains of the west. Rivers and trees. Elk, squirrels and birds.  Fields of wildflowers tussled by the wind. Stories of men and women of indomitable strength and courage, eking out a life in a rugged and unforgiving landscape.

These are the places I want to be and the people that inspired the younger me.

So when someone tells me these sacred places, these places that belong to everyone, should be privatized, I simply ask, “Do you want to visit? Will you be able to afford to visit once it is commercialized beyond recognition?”

When we sell something precious, it becomes only as valuable as the price it will fetch. And yet, those prices, no matter how ridiculous they might seem in terms of property values, are only a tiny fraction of what the resources mean to the formation, function and future of an entire country, much less a continent.

It is only when we realize their ageless value to humankind that we can adequately turn our backs on the embarrassing institution of capitalism and say no. There is a reason we make fun of people like Donald Trump. No matter how much money he has, he is embarrassing to listen to and holds no more value to the majority of people on earth other than entertainment value. He is the king of capitalism and consumerism, and yet, we make fun of him. Perhaps we ought to reconsider the dollar value we place on parks like Yellowstone and Denali, and start realizing that, no matter how much money we save as a nation, we cannot replace the clean air and water, the majestic landscapes that draw people from all over the world to awe and wonder, and the opportunities to connect with the real world that our National Parks offer every day.

We simply cannot pave paradise and put up a parking lot.

Next, I will propose a challenge: prove to me that climate change is NOT caused by humans. Perhaps you will cite such truths as weather comes in cycles.

But I will ask you to consider one (of many examples) that prove we have a hand in changing our climate and world: the last decade (or maybe 15 years?) of die-off of the western pine forests.

You know what I mean. Lodgepole and Ponderosa Pines from the southern Rockies all the way north through Canada and west to the coast. Yes, let’s blame the pine beetles. Dendroctonus ponderosae can be an easy scapegoat, but yet this little endemic species is just like any other species: fighting for survival and taking advantage of favorable conditions.

I have read that, historically, this species might have taken out as much as 10% of any given pine stand along the backbone of the Rockies in any given year. The females lay their eggs between the inner and outer bark, and the larvae overwinter in and eat this inner bark. Complicating this process is the fact that these beetles carry a fungus. So while the beetles themselves are attacking the phloem of the tree, the fungus is busy spreading through the xylem – together these two organisms successfully cut off the water and nutrients upon which the tree depends.

So the beetles are killing our forests? What’s the big deal?

  1. As I said, the beetles might have killed off a small portion of trees every year in this manner. However, I left out a key fact: the tree has to be of sufficient size to provide the right conditions of bark and health for the beetles to infest it. Trees that are young/small enough are not always infected. So this would point that a forest stand with trees of many different ages and, thus, sizes would see less mortality. But guess what? We humans have successfully eliminated most of the natural processes that force forest stands to be multi-aged (and thus, healthier): we eliminated wild fires from our ecosystem. Fires, floods, and huge natural disturbances like these serve to cull the weak from the botanical herd, as it were. If we eliminate these forces, as we have fought for 150 years, the forests grow crowded, with smaller specimens and less nutrients for each member of the community. Crowded forests are wonderful hosts for insects, like the pine beetles, who must move from tree to tree, looking for new housing and nutrients every season.
  2. We have altered the water tables and arteries (rivers) of this continent. It is my firm belief that our natural water system no longer functions as it was designed. For examples, please study the Ogallala aquifer under the great plains and the Colorado River along the backbone of the continent. Our natural water supply is sufficiently messed up, and this is, without a doubt, human-caused. We water our lawns way too much. Industry doesn’t help the situation either. Do we really need some of the stuff we are producing, using up all of this wonderful water? Really?
  3. Our weather patterns are facing a change – even if you believe these are cyclical. With warmer, dryer summers, our trees become drought-stressed. Such stressed trees do not produce as much sap (or resin). This is a key to the tree’s ability to ‘push out’ the burrowing insect and protect itself.

So we have drought-stressed trees that cannot defend themselves and we have forced unnatural crowding upon our forest communities. Why wouldn’t the beetles take advantage? Wouldn’t you?

With the die-off of forests, we have lost a huge mechanism for clean air and clean water – plants absorb things like carbon monoxide and heavy metals and release clean oxygen for us humans. (If you need to, now is a good time to review what carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxide, and heavy metals ultimately do to us, our localized environments and earth’s atmosphere.)

Seriously, we need to have respect for the life-giving systems that were well in place long before we were born. We need to act as though we desperately need clean air and water – because, of course, we do. This is our fault, and we need to take responsibility.

Otherwise, we might end up like Donald Trump – ridiculously rich with nothing to sustain life.

Sally Jewel for Secretary of the Interior: More questions than answers.

I told my friend Amy that I would try to write about my thoughts on Sally Jewel being nominated for U.S. Secretary of the Interior. But really, the more I read, the more I questioned everything surrounding this nominee.

Upon first glance, Jewel seems like a great candidate. She works for REI. That’s every ranger’s Mother Ship, right??? So why not? She supports the National Parks Conservation Association. Even better!

But let’s look at her background. And let’s look at the parks.

First of all, she’s a petroleum engineer. She’s been in that business. What types of jobs did she hold in that industry and what are her opinions on that resource and industry now?

REI helps get outdoor gear to the masses, but is she an avid outdoorsperson or just a “good” business CEO?

Does she understand water rights in the western states? How about science education and the field research potential for this nation? The Bureau of Indian Affairs?

The Department of the Interior is far more than oil leases and hiking in the National Parks.

I suppose she could learn as she goes. But what is her background? How will this influence her decisions?

And somewhere (I wish I had copied this link, if you find it, let me know), I read that President Obama was facing criticism for his other Cabinet post nominees, that they were too homogenous a group. So Jewel was a ‘different’ type of choice, to keep people happy. If she was, indeed, nominated for such reasons, what does this say about the concern of leadership for our nation as a whole, much less the direction of our natural resources?

The Department of Everything Else

In 1849, when the Department of the Interior was officially created (though it had been debated and demanded for years, not entirely because the Departments of State, War and Treasury wanted key office space held by various Bureaus and officials), it housed so many offices and held so many functions, that Interior (or “Home Department” as opposed to “State Department”) was often ridiculed for not having a concise function.

“For by offering a repository for functions that did not fit neatly elsewhere, Interior enabled Congress more easily to accept and discharge responsibilities for the internal needs of a rapidly growing nation. Some of the offices created for these functions were dismantled after completing their missions. Others, charged with missions of continuing relevance, endured. Still others matured and ultimately split off into full-blown cabinet departments.

A sampling of tasks assigned the Interior Department suggests the scope of its cares in the last half of the 19th century. These ranged from the conduct of the decennial census to the colonization of freed slaves in Haiti, from the exploration of western wilderness to oversight of the District of Columbia jail, from the regulation of territorial governments to construction of the national capital’s water system, from management of hospitals and universities to maintenance of public parks. Such functions, together with basic responsibilities for Indians, public lands, patents, and pensions, gave Interior officials an extraordinary array of concerns.” *

Sometimes, it still feels like that. Just today, a friend posted this statement to me: “I have never understood why it’s the Interior when it’s outdoor issues.”

I just giggled.

The problem is that this department is more than just outdoor issues. It always has been. We have some (not all) oversight and responsibility for our nation’s wealth of natural resources. And unlike the Department of Agriculture, which also holds some of the same responsibilities, Interior’s iconic landscapes are often the poster children for much debate over said resources.

Will the next Secretary just look at this nation as if it were a Big Box store, with lots of things to sell? Or will the next Secretary do as one of her/his predecessors suggested and protect one acre of wilderness for every acre that is developed? **

Think money or think forward?

Or will it be somewhere in between?

Another type of Disneyland

When discussing the Department of the Interior, the debate over the National Parks comes to mind. Ah yes, the fall guy of the Interior. Who can name another bureau of the Interior Department? (Ok, name one without looking at the previous section.)

Some might argue that the big National Parks are almost already like Disneyland. Crowded, traffic and noise abounding, with rules and lines every where. They have strayed from their original purpose. They are just another bureaucracy. They are an entity played around with by politicians hoping to get the other side to do as they please.

The parks need better management. They need more development. They need more services. They need more paves roads. They need cleaner bathrooms. Or better yet, they need bathrooms with actual plumbing as opposed to outhouses. THEY NEED MORE CELL PHONE TOWERS BECAUSE I NEED TO CHECK MY PHONE EVERY FIVE MINUTES OR I MIGHT DIE.

The parks need more protection and care. Wolves and grizzlies deserve a home too. I need places where I can go to get away from my daily routine. I need to hear the wind blowing through the trees, helping me to clear my mind. I need clean air and clean water. I need solace and peace.

The new Secretary is going to have oversight on these issues. Will development rule? Will we, as one cynic posed it today, see logos for REI and Exxon on the backs of our National Park Service entrance passes from now on if Jewel is confirmed? Will we happily walk some distance to enjoy a beautiful view, or will we just sit at home and look at pictures from a bygone era on our electronic devices?

Or will protection rule? Will wild animals have a home? Will we be forced to enjoy birds singing and streams babbling instead of hearing cell phones beeping?

I know which I would prefer. Of course, I don’t have a smart phone either.

For the last few years, I have been a ranger. Therefore, I quote John Muir a lot. He had some insights about situations like these:

“God has cared for these trees, saved them from drought, disease, avalanches, and a thousand tempests and floods. But he cannot save them from fools.”

“Thousands of tired, nerve-shaken, over-civilized people are beginning to find out going to the mountains is going home; that wilderness is a necessity…”

In the case of the National Parks, make that 275+ million people.***

Yes, I would say our new Secretary will have a complex job, pulled at by many groups and motives. Does working for the Mother Ship really indicate a leader in this arena?

—–

For a bit more light reading, I pulled a few tidbits from the following:

* http://www.cr.nps.gov/history/online_books/utley-mackintosh/interior2.htm

** http://www.politico.com/story/2013/02/bruce-babbitt-balance-oil-growth-conservation-87224.html

*** http://www.nps.gov/faqs.htm; statistics as of FY2011.