Parks and Devastation
How wokeness is destroying America’s national parks.
I was at Glacier National Park, in the farthest reaches of Montana where I live, when it hit me how deep and comprehensive the woke takeover of environmental policy has become. I had driven for some backcountry hiking to a ranger station, one that can only be reached by going 27 miles down a rough gravel road.
On the signboard at the station, one side displayed some limited information on open trails and road conditions. The other had (out-of-date) news from the Department of the Interior, which oversees the National Parks inter alia and which, under President Trump, I helped oversee as deputy assistant secretary for Fish, Wildlife, and Parks.
Here was the department news that Glacier wished to highlight:
First, an article about Secretary Deb Haaland (the first Native American to run the department, which also is in charge of Indian Affairs) announcing a Federal Indian Boarding School Initiative. This will examine the history of Native American boarding schools in the U.S. While generally well-intentioned these are, to put it politely, out of fashion by modern standards. Doubtless, the call for reparations is just months away.
Then an article about the Interior Department transferring the National Bison Range Lands to the Salish and Kootenai Tribes.
Third, an article celebrating the brand-new federal holiday of Juneteenth (Which 60% of Americans knew little or nothing about when it became a federal holiday) and focusing on how the Department of the Interior protects major sites having to do with emancipation from slavery.
Fourth, an introduction to a series of articles on disability history.
Fifth, a consultation with Hawaiians to discuss updates to the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act.
Sixth, an article celebrating Latino Conservation Week.
And finally, a picture of a Tweet from Haaland, raising the “Progress Pride” flag (this is the freaky new one with the weird triangles that look like they are sexually assaulting a Rainbow Pride flag) for the first time over the Department of the Interior. Of note, Haaland’s only child, daughter Somah (whom she raised without a father, natch) identifies as “non-binary” and is a radical political activist.
In and of themselves some of these initiatives might be praiseworthy or at least not particularly objectionable. But taken as the core front-door priorities of an agency that oversees 1/5 of America’s total land area, helps regulate and authorize much of our oil and minerals exploration, maintains our relationships with Native American tribes, and supervises all of our Fish and Wildlife Refuges and National Parks, it shows a profound loss of focus.
It shows a government agency obsessed with every aspect of identify politics at the expense of its core mission. Literally the entire message board was devoted to one form or another of minority activism, whether for Hispanics, African Americans, Hawaiians, Native Americans, LGBT, or the disabled. Any notion that the Department of the Interior had a core mission to serve the entire American people was lost completely.
That this should happen under Haaland, who recently made the Department of the Interior rename 650 places that were named “Squaw” (which wokesters and a few hysterical Native American activists have declared derogatory despite historical evidence that it was simply a descriptive term derived from Native American Languages), is hardly surprising.
Dereliction of Duty
With the focus squarely on wokeness, when it comes to the actual management of our natural heritage, the department is failing disastrously. And in few places is this more apparent than in Glacier National Park. Glacier is arguably the most beautiful national park in the lower 48—but due to the extreme environment in Northern Montana, it has a very short visitation season. Going-to-the-Sun Road, the Park’s main attraction, didn’t open until July 13 this year due to unseasonable snowfall. It will typically close by Mid-October—just three months later. Even before Mid-October, however, early snowfalls can easily cut off access temporarily.
As a result, Glacier sees 85% of its 3 million annual visitors between June and September and half of its annual visitors in just the two months of July and August. In 2021, the first year that it required ticketed reservations on the road, the park turned away 300,000 visitors who did not have a Going-to-the Sun Road ticket (which generally had to be obtained 60 days in advance, with a very limited number of tickets available two days in advance). In theory, one can ride park buses on the road, but this is a far less convenient and flexible option for visitors.
This year, the park issued a quota system on the remote North Fork Area that I had driven to. Failing to obtain a permit despite my best efforts, I had to wake my young daughters before 5:00 in the morning from our cabin near the park entrance and drive to the ranger station to get in ahead of the 6:00 A.M. hour at which permits were required.
When, the next day, I wanted to take them to the Many Glacier area, arguably the most beautiful part of the park and one still not requiring permits, I was turned around near the entrance after a more than one-hour drive because there was no parking available. Neither the North Fork nor Many Glacier areas have even an inconvenient bus option available.
In sum, in the peak of tourist season, arguably the three most popular areas of the park were unavailable to all but a lucky few tourists who had reserved months in advance or those who (waiting with bated breath by their computers) had managed to get a ticket.
What has the Department of the Interior done to alleviate the crush by adding more parking in the Park’s most popular areas?
What have they done to deal with in-park lodging reservations that sell out almost as soon as they open, almost a year in advance?
What have they done to increase off-season snow plowing and perhaps keep one or two of the Park’s spectacular hotels available in the winter?
But you can bet that they use the right pronouns, and the podcast created by the Glacier Park Conservancy that I listened to was sure to include a land acknowledgement to local Native American tribes.
For a bonus, they attempted to enforce the federal mask mandate in park buildings this summer, more than two years after pretty much everyone in Montana stopped wearing masks. (Fortunately, many guests seemed to just ignore them.)
This is not to suggest that these are easily solvable problems—Going-to-the-Sun Road, in particular, with its hairpin turns and narrow roadbed, presents challenges—yet with a little imagination these problems could be solved. And they would be, if anyone got hired and fired based on their success in making park resources available to the American people (theoretically a core requirement of the Park Service’s Organic Act) rather than their success in pleasing woke politicians.
But the park’s senior management seems generally far more interested in “preserving” the park by preventing people from using it, while genuflecting to the insane wokeists running the federal government.
It was not always this way. Our Park Service, like so many other branches of our government, used to actually function pretty well. In 1964 just 642,000 people visited Glacier National Park, about 1/5 of the total of recent years. Yet in those years, Going-to-the-Sun Road regularly stayed open for a longer season than it does today. And in the early 1940s, with just 175,000 visitors, the park had a greater amount of lodging than it does today with seventeen times more visitors.
Say what you want about New Deal-Era liberals, but at least they built things rather than just screaming about how oppressed they were. By contrast our environmental bureaucracy in 2022 is a microcosm of the American government as a whole. Obsessed with wokeness and unable to provide even basic services competently to American citizens.
America, like Glacier National Park, still has spectacular “bones.” It’s an amazing country with talented people and beautiful scenery. But it’s wrecked by a management that could hardly care less about the welfare of the people it governs.
Until we change the incentives (and ultimately, many of the people who manage things), our parks, like our country, are in for an era of inevitable decline.
The American Mind presents a range of perspectives. Views are writers’ own and do not necessarily represent those of The Claremont Institute.