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Episode Six: 1946–1980The Morning of Creation

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Canyon Bear feeding grounds, Yellowstone National Park, 1946 Add to Scrapbook

Canyon Bear feeding grounds, Yellowstone National Park, 1946

Preserving the Wilderness (continued)

Hartzog also brought an end to two longstanding national park traditions. At Yosemite, he stopped the "firefall," a nightly summertime practice of pushing a lit bonfire off the edge of Glacier Point to cascade down toward the valley floor. At Yellowstone, he made a concerted effort to stop the feeding of bears.

Other new Park Service policies called for using scientific research as the basis for management decisions – reflecting a new commitment to restoring the complex ecology of each park. Even predatory animals were given their due; the wolves that had been hunted down during Yellowstone's early years would be reintroduced to the park by the end of the century. (See sidebar)

Slowly, in the tension between preservation and use, momentum had begun to shift a little back in nature's direction. George Melendez Wright's old vision of the parks as sanctuaries for wildlife was finally being taken seriously.

Yellowstone Gateway Arch, Yellowstone National Park Add to Scrapbook

Yellowstone Gateway Arch, Yellowstone National Park

The First National Park Turns One Hundred

Yellowstone, the world's first national park, celebrated its centennial on March 1, 1972. The famous geyser Old Faithful would thrill 2.2 million people that year, and the entire park system would host 165 million visitors. There were now 38 parks and roughly 200 historic sites and national monuments in the national park system.

By the 1970s, the park idea had spread around the world. It was becoming, like the idea of freedom itself, one of America's greatest exports: more than 4,000 parks in nearly 200 nations.

Alaska: America's Last Frontier

Just when it seemed as if the age of adding large natural areas to the park system was winding down, a new opportunity to preserve vast portions of wilderness area arose in Alaska. A dramatic rebirth of the park idea was about to take place.

Ever since Secretary of State William Seward purchased Alaska from Russia in 1867 for $7.2 million, some believed such a remote territory had been a waste of money.

Trans-Alaska oil pipeline Add to Scrapbook

Trans-Alaska oil pipeline

Alaskans protest against President Carter and ANILCA Add to Scrapbook

Alaskans protest against President Carter and ANILCA

Alaska protesters burn President Carter in effigy, circa 1978 Add to Scrapbook

Alaska protesters burn President Carter in effigy, circa 1978

After Alaska was granted statehood in 1959, a federal law was passed to settle the claims of Alaska's native peoples, including the Inupiaq and the Tlingit, the Aleut and the Athabascan.

The land was to be divided up: some for the state to open for development if it wished; some for the tribes; and a portion to be withheld in the "national interest" for all Americans. As the discovery of vast oil deposits and the construction of the Trans-Alaska pipeline demonstrated, the stakes were enormous.

The fight over what to do with the federal lands would quickly become a national battle. Powerful commercial and industrial groups allied themselves against the Alaska Coalition, a collection of fifty environmental groups that ultimately represented 10 million Americans. It was the largest grassroots conservation effort in U.S. history.

In the mid-1970s, Congressman Morris Udall of Arizona, the brother of former Interior Secretary Stewart Udall, sponsored a bill setting aside 110 million acres of federally owned land in Alaska. Udall's bill passed overwhelmingly in the House, but in the Senate, a threatened filibuster by Alaska Senator Mike Gravel prevented a vote before Congress adjourned.

Acting on the advice of his Interior Secretary, President Jimmy Carter decided to bypass Congress. On December 1, 1978, he invoked the Antiquities Act to create 17 national monuments covering 56 million acres. In Alaska, all hell broke loose: people protested in the streets, and President Carter was burned in effigy.

Continued on page 6

A proud tourist points at her National Parks windshield stickers, 1922; David Brower in Glen Canyon, 1966; Dayton Duncan's son, Will, standing at edge of canyon. Bryce Canyon National Park, 1998

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THE NATIONAL PARKS: AMERICA'S BEST IDEA is a co-production of

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