YELLOWSTONE TREASURES: Accompanying travelers to the Park since 2002

Yellowstone Park is opening up again!

Yellowstone Park is opening up again!

Roosevelt Cabins

Roosevelt Cabins to open June 5, 2015

Yellowstone’s roads and facilities are about to open to cars for the season. First will be the roads to Old Faithful from Mammoth and West Yellowstone and the Norris to Canyon road, all on April 17, 2015. Gradually the other roads will be ready: on May first you can drive from the East Entrance to Lake and Canyon and last (this year) will be Craig Pass between Old Faithful and West Thumb, where a new bridge is being built at Isa Lake.

The facilities open gradually, too, beginning with Old Faithful Snow Lodge and Mammoth Hotel on May first. The last to open will be Roosevelt Cabins on June 5. Campgrounds also open gradually, although the Mammoth Campground is open all year. You can find all the details on this page: “Opening & Closing Dates of Facilities.”

Credit: NPS Photo by David Restivo

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Science for Parks conference, final part

6. Where has science in the national parks come from and where will it be going?

The Science for Parks, Parks for Science conference in Berkeley, March 25-27, 2015, took stock of the accomplishments of the past hundred years and pointed the way that national parks should take in the future. Scientists and budding scientists presented sessions, discussions, and posters about the work they have done and what is soon to come for the parks.

Taking in any of the more than one hundred poster sessions on Thursday afternoon turned out to be impossible for me, but the conference program listed posters on such topics as invasive species, pollution, environmental planning, and engaging the public.

Nearly a hundred short presentations took place concurrently on Friday morning in eight different rooms, meaning I could only attend a dozen of them in the three-and-one-half hours allotted. I chose to learn about light pollution—NPS scientists study this in some of today’s 407 discrete park units. Then I learned about what they’ve been doing since 1953 at the University of Wyoming / National Park Service Research Center in Grand Teton National Park. And I listened to the talks about analyzing visitors’ winter use of Yellowstone.

Themes that resonate in my mind as I sum up the conference are (1) the importance of children’s gaining experience in the out-of-doors and (2) the efforts being made by many to engage the public, to encourage “citizen science.” Two of the many mentions of the first theme were when Interior Secretary Sally Jewell told us that the best classrooms are the ones without walls, and E. O. Wilson reminisced about his days of collecting insects and then snakes in southern Alabama.

In connection with citizen science, speaker John Francis, the vice president for science of the National Geographic Society, titled his talk, “The World is a Park.” He told us how, since 2007, in eight different parks, students and community members have joined scientists for a 24-hour species count. These events have taken place from Rock Creek Park in Washington, D.C. to Golden Gate Park in San Francisco. This year’s event will take place in Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park on May 15 and 16. Participants age eight and over explore and inventory plants, animals, birds, fungi, fish, and any other organisms they find that make up a park. Downloading the iNaturalist.org app will aid in documenting species.

The task of closing out this summit conference fell to steering committee chairman, Steve Beissinger, UC–Berkeley Professor of Conservation Biology, speaking on “1915, 2015, 2115, The Fall and Rise of Science in the Parks.” Epitomizing how science works in three short equations, he showed us:

Data + Theory = Model (or Hypothesis)
Model + [more] Data = Predictions]
Predictions + New Data = Test

Then he drew arrows leading back from the third line to the others, showing how the model feeds back on itself. And he added the importance of peer reviewers to the scientific mix.

Professor Beissinger also traced scientific development or the rise of science in the parks from 1916, when first NPS Director Stephen Mather invested in infrastructure (but not science) through George Wright’s assistance in establishing a wildlife division in 1928, to the 1941 decimation of all science in the parks due to World War II. But in 1963 a National Academy of Science report again stimulated research, and finally in 1999 Cooperative Ecosystem Study Units were established in several universities, with the beginning of inventory and monitoring programs soon after.

Beissinger reminded us of suggestions made by other speakers as to how to steward the parks through the inevitable changes they face. Pointing out that we cannot wait for today’s fourth graders to grow up and vote wisely, he joked that perhaps we could engage with some of today’s voters by having a “Tea Party Day”: give such voters free park passes and perhaps a crumpet for each!

The speech ended with a few practical ideas Beissinger thinks are needed, such as increasing the number of NPS biologists and removing barriers that make research difficult for scientists. Berkeley may aid by developing a “Center for Parks, People, and Biodiversity.”

And the conference was over.

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Science for Parks conference, part 5

5. Conference Keynoter E. O. Wilson

A great many people in the Wheeler Hall crowd on March 26, 2015, had the same feeling: We are in the presence of the world’s foremost living biologist, a man who has made a big difference in many fields of endeavor. We were not disappointed in his address.

Born in 1929 and raised in Alabama, Edward Osborne Wilson became the world’s leading expert on ants, but he has studied and written on numerous subjects relating to the natural world. The prizes awarded him are amazingly numerous and include the 2012 International Cosmos Prize and two Pulitzer Nonfiction prizes, for On Human Nature (1979) and The Ants (1991, with Bert Hölldobler). Berkeley Professor Steve Beissinger, who introduced Wilson, said his own favorite book by the speaker is his autobiography, The Naturalist (2006).

E. O. Wilson lord of the ants keynoter
Picture source: PBS
Dr. Wilson is now a Harvard emeritus professor and a special lecturer at Duke University, where he located his E. O. Wilson Biodiversity Foundation. The goal of this foundation is to forward stewardship of the world through biodiversity and education. Another center established in his name is the E.O. Wilson Biophilia Center near Freeport, Florida, whose mission is “making naturalists in an outdoor extension of the science classroom.”

Wilson calls his religious position “provisional deism” and feels that religious leaders and scientists should build an alliance. But his human sociobiology ideas (the study of the biological basis of all forms of social behavior in both animals and man) have met with opposition.

Of course, it will be impossible to sum up what E. O. Wilson said in a few paragraphs, but I will pass on some high points for readers who do not plan to listen to the entire talk (starting at 2:30 in the video).

Beginning with what scientists have learned in the field of biodiversity in the past twenty years, Wilson defined it as the “collectivity of all inherited variation in any given place.” It can be divided into three levels: ecosystems, such as ponds or forest patches; the species in an ecosystem; and the genes in each species. Only about one-fifth of all the probable species in the world have been discovered and named as yet. This census needs to be sped up; among the national parks Great Smoky National Park has so far the most complete U.S. census, and about 18,000 species are known to live there. “We live on a little-known planet,” he says.

Moving on to the subjects of species extinction and efforts to preserve species, Wilson told us that the global extinction rate is some one thousand times greater now than before the coming of humans to the planet. “Prospects for the rest of this century are grim,” and “loss of natural habitat is the primary cause of biodiversity extinction.” Can we believe, he asks, that future humans can manage life in a system devoid of all or most of the species that took three-and-one-half billion years to put together?

As of 2015 about 15% of land surfaces and 3% of oceans are protected from exploitation. Wilson believes, however, that a world population of ten billion people could live on earth if 50% of land and sea areas were protected. “We can achieve this with four unintended consequences of human behavior.” These are (in brief):
1. A dramatic drop in the fertility rate, achievable “whenever women attain a modicum of social and economic independence.”
2. More population living in cities and the land thus gained utilizing improved agricultural methods: “Present day agriculture [in much of the world] is Neolithic.”
3. Reduction of the ecological footprint, the space each person needs, becoming less as the global economy evolves, creating products using less material and less energy.
4. “Easing of demand on the natural environment inherent in the evolutionary shift from an extensive economy to an intensive economy.” Most of the National Academies of Science, he says, recommend “focusing on quality of life instead of capital and economic power as the premier measures of success.”

Dr. Wilson ended his remarks by stating that “national parks and reserves are going to be logical centers for fundamental research.” This is already true for the geosciences; soon, he predicts, it will be comparable for original studies of the living environment.

During the question and answer session, Wilson recommended that places such as national parks and reserves be connected in corridors, such as is already being set aside in the Yellowstone–to–Yukon (Y2Y) initiative. And replying to “What is the role of the U.S. national parks in all this?” he went out on a limb: “More, bigger!” he said; “take a central place in America’s strategic planning alongside defense.”

Wilson would like to see more science schools include departments of herpetology, entomology, and the like, where students can study biodiversity and “bring in the armamentarium of modern biology to enrich their studies.” His reply to a question about triage for endangered species was, “Save them all!”

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Science for Parks conference, part 4

4. Sally Jewell and the Horace Albright Lecture in Conservation

Presented as a part of the Science for Parks conference, UC–Berkeley’s annual Horace Albright Lecture in Conservation, open to the public on the evening of March 26, treated us with an all-too-brief introduction to Sally Jewell, U.S. Secretary of the Interior since April 2013, and four other illustrious speakers. Jewell was one of the panelists discussing “America’s Two Best Ideas—Public Education and Public Lands.”

To open the event, University of California Chancellor Nicholas Dirks gave a brief address. The panel’s moderator was Michael Krasny, a familiar voice to listeners to San Francisco’s public radio station KQED as host of the station’s morning Forum program. In addition to Jewell, the other two panelists were Janet Napolitano, formerly Secretary of Homeland Security and now president of the University of California, and history professor Douglas Brinkley of Rice University, the author or co-author of some 23 books relating to American history. The entire evening’s event was videotaped and can be accessed at: parksforscience.berkeley.edu.

Interior Secretary Sally Jewell
Secretary Jewell was born in London, England, but her family immigrated to Seattle, where she received a mechanical engineering degree from the University of Washington. She and her engineer husband have two children. After working in petroleum engineering and then in banking for many years, she became a board member of Recreational Equipment Inc. (REI) and then its chief operating officer. She’s an outdoor enthusiast herself, having climbed Mt. Rainier several times.

Listening to Ms. Jewell talk about her work at Interior, we can feel that the department is in very good hands. In fact, her co-panelist, historian Brinkley, pointed out that since the creation of her department in 1849, the work she has done there in less than two years compares well with that of Harold Ickes under President Roosevelt (Interior Secretary from 1933 to 1945) and of Stewart Udall (1961 to 1969) under Presidents Kennedy and Johnson.

Two initiatives taking shape under Secretary Jewell are Every Kid in a Park and the Youth Initiative. Feeling that “the best classrooms are those with no walls,” she is finding a way, beginning in fall of 2015, to give every fourth grader and his or her family a free pass to a national or state park. She intends to continue this program for twelve years. This is a beginning in an effort to change the statistics Jewell quoted: The average American schoolchild spends 56 hours per week in front of a screen and 30 minutes in the outdoors; she says they have a “nature deficit disorder.”

Already in place, another program called the Youth Initiative has begun in 50 cities with the participation of YMCAs and funding from American Express. The program was launched last year “to bridge the growing discontent between young people and the great outdoors” with goals to help children play, learn, serve, and work in outdoor spaces. Jewell cited one unit of the program’s launch, where Miami children learned to dissect small fish in nearby Biscayne National Park. This program will take place in some of the more than 75 urban national parks and other refuges and on Bureau of Land Management (BLM) recreational lands.

Secretary Jewell is also deeply concerned with the need to make parks more relevant to American minorities. “People need to see themselves and their stories in the national parks.”

Asked about the role of technology in the parks, she suggested that cell phones can (and in some places already do) give out local information in the voices of people who live nearby, and tech companies (or perhaps even REI!) could develop games involving plants, animals, or invasive species.

As she brought up the water fights in drought-stricken California, Jewell insisted that the parties must get together, stop talking over and around the subject, and solve the problems by finding common ground. “It’s hard to let go of the ‘from’ if you don’t know what the ‘to’ is,” she told us.

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Science for Parks conference, part 3

3. NPS Science Advisor, Dr. Gary Machlis

The YouTube video of Gary Machlis’s talk in the final session of last week’s conference (3:10 pm, Friday) is not for the faint of heart. (For just his talk, titled “The Future of Science and the National Parks,” go to 28:24 minutes into the link provided above.)

I wrote in my notes: “This guy is brilliant”! In this instance he was talking to people, almost all of whom have a science background of some kind, but there is important and understandable take-away here for anyone willing to pay attention to what he has to say.

Gary E. Machlis has recently been appointed the first-ever science adviser to a National Park Service director. We can hope that Director Jon Jarvis will be able to take his advice to heart. Machlis is also Professor of Environmental Sustainability at Clemson University, a South Carolina public university ranked highly among science and engineering schools. And he has written and co-authored numerous books about parks, biodiversity, and related topics. His most recent is Warfare Ecology, the historical effects of violence and warfare on places such as World War I Slovenia or many parts of Africa.

Dr. Machlis provides a stellar example of how to organize a lecture of just over twenty minutes and yet plant important ideas that will take root in the minds of his audience. He begins with a mention of a 1942 book (C. C. Furnas, The Next Hundred Years), full of predictions such as that the technological limit for a wireless receiver will be a two-pound backpack. Go figure.

Machlis’s own predictions for what is “just over the horizon” in technologies that will be useful to park managers include quantum biology that will help explain how birds migrate; new ocean research platforms like the newly launched USS Neil Armstrong, designed for ocean research; “CubeSats,” tiny satellites that can gather date wherever they are; and citizen science that he foresees will involve young people up to high levels of serious participation.

Also totally new to me is the idea of “de-extinction”: cloning and re-creation of extinct species, which could involve major ethical decisions. And there was much more.

Near the end of his talk, Machlis brought out the statistic that 87% of scientists believe that human evolution took place over time, while 32% of the general public believe this. But he ended on a definitely upbeat note, showing a picture of the young girls who won awards a few days ago at the White House Science Fair.

SciFairGirls_2015-04-02 at 11.07.15 AM
Screen shot of Science Fair winners and Barack Obama.

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Science for Parks conference report, part 2

2. Speaker Dr. Jane Lubchenco

Do you know how some people can stand up in front of a group and immediately grab everyone’s attention? You just know s/he will have something interesting and important to say. You sense that this is someone who spends time pondering big ideas.

This occurred last Thursday morning when Jane Lubchenco was introduced at the “Science for Parks, Parks for Science” centennial conference. Her forty-minute talk was titled, “Seas the Day! A Blue, Saltier Second Century of Interdependent Science, Parks, and People.”

GoldenGatePartLogo 2015-04-01 at 11.23.05 AM Part of the conference logo

Being more of a mountain person than an ocean person, I had not previously given much thought or attention to the seas—but she certainly has. Although Ms. Lubchenco was brought up and went to college closer to mountains (in Denver and Colorado Springs), she was turned on to marine biology by a summer program at Woods Hole, Massachusetts, and went on to receive a master’s degree in zoology at the University of Washington and a Harvard PhD in marine ecology.

Beginning in 1977 she and her husband, Dr. Bruce Menge, shared a unique arrangement: Oregon State University (Corvallis) allowed them to split a single position into two half-time but tenure-track positions, thus giving them both time for family duties.

Dr. Lubchenco has won numerous awards for her research and teaching, served as president of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) and from 2009 to 2013 was chief of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). She is still Distinguished Professor of Zoology at Oregon State. Her excellent lecture—scroll down to: Mission of the National Park Service and Its Relevancy Today (Part 2)—gives listeners a clear idea of how she has achieved so much.

Beginning by telling us that only 6% of U.S. territorial waters and less than 1% of international waters are protected, she explained that there are two types of protection but that only Marine Reserves (and not the so-called Marine Protected Areas) are truly effective. Scientists have determined that 20-30% of the oceans need this protection, yet there is little public awareness of the need. A glimmer of hope appeared last summer, when President Obama set aside the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument.

Now is the time for countries to create “blue parks,” our speaker suggests, to complement the many green and brown spaces we have. Oceans are already 30% more acidic than at the beginning of the Industrial Revolution. A radical but valuable proposal is to close the high seas (all non-territorial ocean areas) to all fishing; she explained how this would actually benefit protected areas and fishermen.

Dr. Lubchenco ended her observations with a story illustrating another point she wanted to stress. While briefing Vice President Joe Biden as they flew together to view the devastation and talk to people after the 2010 Gulf Oil spill, she told him among other things how some fish and seafood can metabolize the chemicals in oil and some—such as oysters—cannot. Listening for a while, Biden said, “I thought you were a scientist.” “I am,” she said. “But I just understood everything you told me,” replied Biden. Scientists must learn to tell stories, concluded our speaker, to be “bilingual,” that is, to talk both in science-speak and in everyday language, in order to engage the public.

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Science for Parks conference report

I. Insights from the Opening Ceremony

From the evening of March 25th through the 27th, I listened to and attended lectures and brief sessions at “Science for Parks, Parks for Science: the Next Century.” This event was organized on the University of California–Berkeley campus by faculty of their conservation biology and related departments, along with directors of California parks organizations, the National Park Service, the National Geographic Society, and public television station KQED.

March of 2015 marks the centennial of two major San Francisco area events. One was the Panama-Pacific International Exposition—largely sponsored by the railroads—whose Palace of Fine Arts stands in the Marina district of San Francisco to this day. You can read more about the Pan-Pacific Exposition in Alfred Runte’s excellent article, which I linked to in my March 26 blog post.

The other March 1915 event was a national park conference, convening about 75 men at Berkeley by Stephen T. Mather, then assistant secretary of the U.S. Department of the Interior. Mather was soon to become the first director of the National Park Service (in 1916). An emphasis of the conference was two “best ideas” the organizers feel are related: public education and public lands.

As a long-time aficionado of national parks, I couldn’t miss this event. The organizers will produce a book about the entire conference, but I’m sure this will take at least a year. In a few pages there is no way I can sum up all that was discussed and revealed during those intense two days and more of meetings. So I’ve decided to concentrate on a few individual speakers who impressed me greatly. In the next week or two I’ll try to give the essence of what I learned from them.

I had never before connected the National Geographic Society to the national parks. But in his remarks at the opening ceremony, Chris Johns, chief content officer for National Geographic Magazine, told us that not only was the April 1916 issue of his magazine devoted to the then-existing national parks, but that the society donated eighty thousand dollars so that the National Park Service could be set up. Thus, a new division of the Department of the Interior was born.

In the very next year (1917) three scientists investigated California’s redwoods and noted their devastation. This was the beginning of the Save the Redwoods League, which now helps to protect thirteen units of big trees in our third largest state.

National Park Service Director Jon Jarvis appeared briefly and mentioned that Gary Machlis, Professor of Environmental Sustainability at Clemson University in South Carolina, has recently been appointed to the position of first-ever science adviser to a National Park Service Director. I’ll tell you more about Machlis in a future blog post.

It seems appropriate to close this first post about the conference by listing seven serious concerns facing the national parks—and the world. They were pointed out by steering committee chairman Steve Beissinger as having occurred in the last hundred years. They are: changing climate, storms and fires of greater severity, urban encroachment and pollution, invasions of non-native species, plant and animal extinctions, changing attitudes of a public that is more urbanized, and political pressures of narrow interest groups that have sometimes led to benign neglect of parks.

You can watch the videos of the opening ceremony and all other plenary sessions at: www.parksforscience.berkeley.edu.

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Science for Parks

National Park Service arrowhead logoDid you know that about 100 years ago, a series of meetings held in Yellowstone, Yosemite, and the University of California at Berkeley led to the formation of the U.S. National Park Service?

Here’s a belated notice about an interesting summit, “Science for Parks, Parks for Science: The Next Century,” being held in Berkeley March 25-27. The co-presenters are UC Berkeley, the National Park Service, and National Geographic Society.

Author Janet is attending and promises to share interesting tidbits she learns afterwards. The keynote speaker was E. O. Wilson. During the summit, the sessions will stream live from this page; in a few weeks all the talks will be recorded and available on YouTube.

Historian Alfred Runte wrote a thorough article about the early talks during 1911-1915, the connections with the railroads and the 1915 Panama-Pacific International Exposition, and how they led to our national parks. You can read the article, called “UC Berkeley and the National Parks: A Centennial Retrospective,” on the National Parks Traveler website.

Here’s more from the conference website:

The goal of the summit is to envision and contribute to strategies for science for parks and science using parks for the coming decades by building on the historic linkage between NPS and scientists at leading universities and other organizations around the world. This collaboration will be crucial to nurture the future health of parks and protected areas worldwide and biodiversity conservation. The summit re-dedicates that partnership in a forward-looking way by examining the mission of the National Park Service and its relevancy today, scientific and management implications of this mission in a changing world, social and cultural dimensions for advancing the mission, and the future of science for parks and parks for science.

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Vote for Your Favorite National Park Lodge—and Mine

Editor Beth alerted me to a USA Today poll of their readers’ favorite lodges. Looking at the list of twenty to choose from leads me to fond memories of those eight lodges where I’ve stayed over the years. It also reminds me of about six or seven I would still love to visit. Well, I have to admit I started making a list of places I want to go, many of them national parks, when I was eleven or twelve—and I still have that little notebook.

You can easily guess what lodge I will vote for—the one I like to consider my second home, Old Faithful Inn.
OFInn_2015-03-23

Another correlation that interested me was to see whether the poll included all the sixteen lodges in Christine Barnes’s beautiful 2002 book, Great Lodges of the National Parks. Answer: No. A good many of those in the book are not in the poll, but the poll offers ten others not in the book. Those in both lists are the Old Faithful Inn, the Ahwahnee, Crater Lake Lodge, El Tovar, Bryce Canyon Lodge, Grand Canyon Lodge, Glacier Park Lodge, Many Glacier Hotel, Paradise Inn, and Yellowstone’s Lake Hotel. Ms. Barnes includes other great lodges in her second volume, published in 2012.

Just for fun, I took a personal poll of the ones I’ve stayed in so far. I came up with seven besides Old Faithful Inn. Coming in a close second to OFI would be Death Valley National Park’s Furnace Creek Inn.
Oasis at Furnace Creek Inn DSCN04501168

The Inn sits above an amazing oasis, a terraced garden with palm trees, a small cold stream, and a little pool with water, all from a spring in the hillside. It has a gorgeous, big swimming pool, and its excellent dining room and comfortable rooms are where I would rather relax than in any place else in all the months when much of Yellowstone is closed, especially March and April.

The others I’ve enjoyed are Jackson Lake and Jenny Lake Lodges in the Tetons, El Tovar in Grand Canyon National Park, the Ahwahnee in Yosemite (although this one needs a second visit from me, because it was not fully open when I was there), Wuksachi Lodge in Sequoia National Park, and what the concessionaire now calls Lake Yellowstone Hotel. I can’t happily accept that name, because its historic name is Lake Hotel (and the lake’s name is Yellowstone Lake, not Lake Yellowstone). My unsubstantiated theory is that some PR person a few years back decided lengthening the name and reversing its words had more cachet.

One other way I enjoy the lodges in the Great Lodges book is to extend my wish list. When I last visited the Grand Canyon I was too late to reserve a room in the Grand Canyon Lodge. But I was too early (before its opening on May 15th) to see the North Rim and its lodge, which isn’t on these lists. Other times I was also too late when I tried to reserve at Crater Lake Lodge and the Lodge at Bryce Canyon. In Glacier Park I’d love to stay at either Glacier Park Lodge or Many Glacier Hotel, and if I visit Mt. Rainier I’d stay in the Paradise Inn.

Place your own vote by March 30th at this USA Today website.

Photos are by Jens Paape (Old Faithful Inn, page 75 of Yellowstone Treasures) and the author.

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Yellowstone Park on the Web

A United Kingdom website called “The Independent” last week passed on one misleading interpretation and one, to me, amazing coincidence.

Along with a lovely picture of Morning Glory Pool, which I wrote about last December,
their headline, “Yellowstone Park hot spring turned green by good luck coins tossed in by tourists,” seemed to imply that the metal in coins had caused the color of the pool to change. However, they clarified it in their article, explaining that a prodigious amount of tossed-in debris had caused the spring’s temperature to be lowered, allowing the colorful types of bacteria that love heat—but not too much heat—to grow far down into the pool.

The coincidence was that their photo showing the pool
Screen ShotMngGlPlwith Mother 2015-03-14
is one from the June 1940 National Geographic (but uncredited) that I discovered while researching for Yellowstone Treasures. “The Independent” admitted to retouching the image, which looks bluer and generally prettier than it does in my copy of the old magazine. But the real coincidence here is that the woman seated on the right is my mother! She was playing music during summer of 1939 in Old Faithful Inn with the other four women in the picture, who called themselves The Ladies’ Ensemble of Billings (Montana). Margaret Orvis (my mother’s name at that time) played piano with the group for tea in the afternoons. Then she took up the drums to play with them in the evening for dance music.

I doubt that Mother ever knew her picture was in the National Geographic! That was the summer I played hide-and-seek with my sister Joan in the inn.

What goes around comes around.

[Editor’s note: If you are curious, read more of Janet’s memoirs in “Janet celebrates her 75th anniversary in the Park.”]

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