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Yellowstone National Park celebrates 150th anniversary

EYE ON THE ENVIRONMENT

By: Frances Lamberts

Then President Theodore Roosevelt called it a “veritable wonderland,” to the hearty agreement of his fellow Americans ever since.

Founded by an act of Congress in December 1871 and the authorizing legislation signed into law barely two months later by President Ulysses Grant on March 1, 1872, this month marks the 150th anniversary of our first national park, the Yellowstone.

Repeatedly in writing and public addresses, Roosevelt cited many reasons for the importance to the nation of this park. It would preserve
the outstanding scenery of its large wilderness, this comprising 90 percent of the more than 2.2 million acres of it, and would do so in perpetuity.

Even before (in 1915) automobiles were allowed in the park, its beauties could be seen in comfort and at small cost by every visitor, he stated,
evoking a happy proprietorship feeling as well, a sense “that it is in part his property, that it is the property of Uncle Sam and therefore of
all of us.”

Yellowstone contains some 460 miles of mostly paved roads and more than twice that many miles of hiking trails. Its visitor numbers more than quadrupled since the 1950s, reaching 4.9 million in 2021. It holds one-half the world’s geysers and totals more than 10,000 thermal
features such as these, hot springs and others, due to an underlying super-volcano. It was named a Unesco World Heritage site in 1978.

Naturally, a precious national asset such as this, Roosevelt insisted, should be maintained “on the park’s terms … for the people of tomorrow as well as those of today.” Significant use modification should be avoided as it would likely compromise the park’s character and diminish or
destroy the original experience-value of its scenery, forests and wild creatures. These he held to be “not paralleled anywhere in the world.”

Of greatest importance in our time, as thousands of life-giving species are being obliterated every year, is Teddy’s urging to leave unimpaired in natural condition as much as possible of the park’s biologically rich land. Only a fraction of the faunas and floras of ecosystems has as yet been thoroughly studied, Harvard’s E. O. Wilson asserted, but the Yellowstone Park reportedly harbors almost 400 known vertebrate animal and 1,160 plant species.

With its creation, Teddy said, “this country led the way in establishing sanctuaries” for all forms of wild life. This priceless heritage, after all,
he saw as “the property of unborn generations, whose belongings we have no right to squander.”