Satellites in the High Country
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6 x 9
In New Mexico's Gila Wilderness, 106 Mexican gray wolves may be some of the most monitored wildlife on the planet. Collared, microchipped, and transported by helicopter, the wolves are protected and confined in an attempt to appease ranchers and conservationists alike. Once a symbol of the wild, these wolves have come to illustrate the demise of wilderness in this Human Age, where man's efforts shape life in even the most remote corners of the earth. And yet, the howl of an unregistered wolf—half of a rogue pair—splits the night. If you know where to look, you'll find that much remains untamed, and even today, wildness can remain a touchstone for our relationship with the rest of nature.
In Satellites in the High Country, journalist and adventurer Jason Mark travels beyond the bright lights and certainties of our cities to seek wildness wherever it survives. In California's Point Reyes National Seashore, a battle over oyster farming and designated wilderness pits former allies against one another, as locals wonder whether wilderness should be untouched, farmed, or something in between. In Washington's Cascade Mountains, a modern-day wild woman and her students learn to tan hides and start fires without matches, attempting to connect with a primal past out of reach for the rest of society. And in Colorado's High Country, dark skies and clear air reveal a breathtaking expanse of stars, flawed only by the arc of a satellite passing—beauty interrupted by the traffic of a million conversations. These expeditions to the edges of civilization's grid show us that, although our notions of pristine nature may be shattering, the mystery of the wild still exists — and in fact, it is more crucial than ever.
But wildness is wily as a coyote: you have to be willing to track it to understand the least thing about it. Satellites in the High Country is an epic journey on the trail of the wild, a poetic and incisive exploration of its meaning and enduring power in our Human Age.
“In this compellingly readable account of his quest to explore some of the planet’s last remaining stretches of authentic wilderness, environmental writer Mark argues that safeguarding a powerful sense of 'the Wild' as separate from civilization is more critical than ever….Mark presents a fresh, first-rate piece of nature writing and a stirring manifesto calling for the protection and celebration of the true spirit of wild places.”
"Thoughtful meditations from a trustworthy guide that will appeal strongly to anyone interested in wilderness in our post-wild world."
"One of the pleasures of Satellites in the High Country is that Mr. Mark does not follow the usual nature writer’s path and just throw the word “wild” out there, waving it like a flag, before carrying on with his own happy tramps into the wilderness. His approach to decoding the word is comprehensive, ...The ideas are the best part...trips are well-described and linked clearly to the book’s intellectual lessons."
Wall Street Journal
"In his new book, Satellites In The High Country: Searching For The Wild In The Age Of Man, Mark takes us on a journey across America in search of wilderness, from a reservation in South Dakota where the reintroduction of bison has divided the community to a cave in Washington state where a British cavewoman is replicating life in the Paleolithic more than two million years ago. Along the way, he explores the meaning of wilderness and the urgent need to conserve what remains of it."
"This is true adventure; Mark writes eloquently about our need for nature and our responsibility to preserve it."
Contra Costa Times
"[This] book... had me reanalyzing...every opinion I hold about what nature is, what wilderness is and what we can, can't, should and shouldn't do to our planet...The book is a conversation. Readers sit down and listen as a friend narrates adventures and ideas, and there's plenty of room to pick up threads of ideas brought up in the book and run with them on your own. Even as you turn the final pages, the book feels like the beginning of a long and very necessary discussion."
Mother Nature Network
"Mark carves out a fine distinction between inadvertent influence caused by factors like climate change and intentional control. He offers a heartfelt ode to the continued importance of nonintervention in wilderness areas, even if doing so leads to unrecognizably changed landscapes."
High Country News
"Throughout, Mark neatly blends the particular place details with broad maxims of wilderness philosophy, slanted toward the needs of earth’s future, and expressed with an eloquent originality. What’s more he does it with some charming descriptive passages."
Sierra Club's Words of the Wild
"Mark journeys through wilderness that most of his readers will never see, and in doing so demonstrates why in just knowing there is wild, somewhere, we can remain grounded in our existence on the planet….If Mark romanticizes the refuge found in the wild, he makes no apologies for it. Satellites in the High Country is an evocative meditation on reconnecting our bond to the natural world, and why it is so important. But Mark’s is more than a romantic vision. It is also a pragmatic understanding that, to save ourselves, we’ll need to reconcile our fractured relationship to the wild in the Age of Man."
"Through it all, [Mark] does a nice job of balancing historical fact and sociopolitical commentary with poetic passages that celebrate the breathtaking beauty of the natural world."
KQED Arts "The Spine"
"Wonderful nature writing and profound arguments."
Electronic Green Journal
"Satellites in the High Country is an act of ground truthing on the nature of wildness at this moment in time. Author Jason Mark circumnavigates the American West with the eyes of an open-hearted sleuth, looking for what wild remains. Wildness, he discovers, is not only all around us, but inside us as well, having little to do with what is pristine or untouched and everything to do with nature’s intricate system of adaptation and response, function and beauty, and our innate capacity for awe. This book is a conversation with sanity."
Terry Tempest Williams, author of "When Women Were Birds"
"Jason Mark is a great person to share an adventure with, whether out on the Arctic tundra or on the page. Satellites in the High Country is an engrossing exploration of the ever-evolving definition of what is 'wild' in America—which often reveals as much about us as it does about wilderness in the twenty-first century."
Michael Brune, Executive Director, Sierra Club
"Satellites in the High Country is a brave and vigorous exploration of wilderness—its meaning, its necessity, its thunderous, rock-strewn reality. Jason Mark guides the reader across mountain passes and Arctic tussocks on a journey that is at once physical, philosophical, and political. His feet may be bruised, but his voice is strong, honest, and compelling. Read this book for an insightful and much-needed update on the centrality of wilderness in the contemporary American mind."
Kathleen Dean Moore, author of "Great Tide Rising"
"Jason Mark revisits 'the wild' in our landscapes and in our minds. At a time when the wild—as a place and an idea—is being increasingly hemmed in, he offers fresh insights, unsettled questions, and renewed appreciation."
Curt Meine, Aldo Leopold Foundation & Center for Humans and Nature
"In Satellites in the High Country, gripping accounts of outdoor journeys are linked with provocative thinking about the meaning of wildness in an increasingly human-controlled world. Jason Mark ably continues the writing style and themes of legends such as John Muir and Edward Abbey."
Roderick Frazier Nash, author of "Wilderness and the American Mind"
"In Satellites in the High Country, Mark narrates his adventures in America’s wilderness with stunning detail. The dilemma of whether to leave nature to its own devices or tend it in order to preserve its ecological integrity is sensitively portrayed. Now more than ever, we need voices like Mark’s to illustrate this ever-complex relationship between mankind and nature, and to inspire us to care for our wild places."
Jamie Williams, President of The Wilderness Society
"Mark gives an invitation to flee modernity and embrace mysterious nature as he shares the poetic insights he found in the wild."
Prologue: Into the Wild
Chapter 1. Bewildered
Chapter 2. The Mountains of California
Chapter 3. The Forest Primeval
Chapter 4. Fall of the Wild?
Chapter 5. The Heart of Everything That Is
Chapter 6. The Ecology of Fear
Chapter 7. Back to the Stone Age
Epilogue: Wild at Heart
Sources & Inspiration
In Satellites in the High Country: Searching for the Wild in the Age of Man, journalist and adventurer Jason Mark travels beyond the bright lights and certainties of our cities to seek wildness wherever it survives. In California's Point Reyes National Seashore, a battle over oyster farming and designated wilderness pits former allies against one another, as locals wonder whether wilderness should be untouched, farmed, or something in between. In Washington's Cascade Mountains, a modern-day wild woman and her students learn to tan hides and start fires without matches, attempting to connect with a primal past out of reach for the rest of society. And in Colorado's High Country, dark skies and clear air reveal a breathtaking expanse of stars, flawed only by the arc of a satellite passing beauty interrupted by the traffic of a million conversations. These expeditions to the edges of civilization's grid show us that, although our notions of pristine nature may be shattering, the mystery of the wild still exists and in fact, it is more crucial than ever.
More details on the event and how to order a signed copy here.
In Satellites in the High Country, journalist and adventurer Jason Mark travels beyond the bright lights and certainties of our cities to seek wildness wherever it survives. Jason Mark's writings on the environment have appeared in The New York Times, TheAtlantic.com, The Nation, and Salon.com, among many other publications. He is the editor in chief of Sierra Magazine, was the longtime editor of Earth Island Journal, a quarterly magazine, and is a co-founder of San Francisco's largest urban farm. Time has called him "a rebel with a cause."
More details here.
Join Jason Mark and Lucy Moore for a webinar on Thursday, March 10 at 3:30 pm EST.
Have humans really tamed every inch of the world? Despite more than 100 years of stewardship and protection from agencies like the National Park Service, America’s wild places are still vulnerable to commercial and residential land development. In the Grand Canyon, uranium mining and increasing rates of tourism not only threaten land and air quality, they also undermine a social balance that Native Americans and other local groups have worked hard to maintain. On March 10th, join Jason Mark, editor-in-chief of SIERRA Magazine and author of Satellites in the High Country and Lucy Moore, environmental mediator and author of Common Ground on Hostile Turf as they discuss the importance of wild places in America and how stakeholders can work together to resolve their environmental disputes. More details here.
Environmental journalist Jason Mark will present a Jessica Catto Dialogue at the Hotel Jerome in Aspen on Tuesday, June 21st. In the free lecture, entitled "Where in the Wild," Jason will discuss whether there is anything remaining that is still really, truly wild in the twenty-first century. He will explore how to hold onto wildness as a touchstone for our relationship with the rest of nature.
Jason recently took the helm of Sierra Magazine as the new Editor in Chief and is the former long-time Editor of Earth Island Journal, a quarterly magazine that covers the global environment. His writings have appeared in The New York Times, The Nation, Salon, Scientific American, and The Atlantic, among other publications. His latest book, Satellites in the High Country: Searching for the Wild in the Age of Man, was published by Island Books in October 2015 to high acclaim.
Jordan Fisher Smith, author of the national bestseller Nature Noir, will read from and discuss his new book. The second half of the program will feature a conversation between Jordan, Jason Mark, Executive Editor of Sierra, the Sierra Club’s national magazine, and the audience. Mark is also the author of Satellites in the High CountrySatellites in the High Country Books will be on sale and Jordan and Jason would be happy to sign them and talk with the audience after the show. General Admission is $20 for member, $22 for the general public and $12 for students.
More details here.
The Center for the Arts presents
Thursday, September 22, 2016 7:30pm
$20 Member, $22 General Public, $12 Student
(Ticket price includes $2 facility fee. Does not include applicable fee for online purchases.)
Jordan Fisher Smith, author of the national bestseller Nature Noir, will read from and discuss his new book about the fatal bear attack on Harry Walker and the struggle to understand and properly manage nature in national parks. The second half of the program will feature a conversation between Jordan, Jason Mark, Executive Editor of Sierra, the Sierra Club’s national magazine, and author of Satellites in the High Country, and the audience. Books will be on sale and Jordan and Jason would be happy to sign them and talk with the audience after the show.
Jason Mark, editor of Sierra Magazine, and the author of Satellites in the High Country, and Nathanael Johnson, author of Unseen City:: The Majesty of Pigeons, the Discreet Charm of Snails, and Other Wonders of the Urban Wildernessview nature from different perspectives, but they both tackle the same question – How do we value nature?
Join their lively conversation as they discuss their books, and, take a closer look at how we can make space for nature; opening our eyes and hearts to the beauty of nature across the spectrum, from sidewalk weeds to arctic caribou herds.
No matter where we live-city, country, oceanside, or mountains-there are wonders that we walk past everyday.
More information here.
Check out these interviews with Jason Mark, author of Satellites in the High Country:
Find excerpts and reviews of Satellites in the High Country here:
Editor's note: Today marks the fiftieth anniversary of the signing of the Wilderness Act. To commemorate the anniversary, we asked a small group of Island Press authors to reflect on the influence of this law to date and how its role may or should change as we move into an uncertain future. We are sharing the series through the end of this week. This essay introduces the autumn issue of Earth Island Journal and is reprinted here with permission. The special issue focuses on the anniversary of the Wilderness Act and include a debate about the role of mountain biking in wilderness, some amazing photography, and a piece on making wilderness accessible to all.
We decided to use the long weekend for a backcountry getaway, figuring that the chance to spot a bald eagle soaring over an alpine lake would be just as patriotic as watching fireworks on the beach. Nothing more than a scant two nights and three days in the Emigrant Wilderness of the Sierra Nevada, a quick woodsy holiday. Toward the end of Day Two we were hiking through a place called Mosquito Pass when one of my companions exclaimed with delight: “It’s like another planet. A really fucking beautiful other planet.” I knew what she meant, enthusiastic expletive included. The scene was, in fact, amazing. Thick stands of purple lupine and the tiny white bells of moss heather clustered around meltwater ponds. The Sierra’s signature bone-white granite rising in dramatic swells and sweeps. Slopes of lodgepole and fir, the late-day light putting an extra coat of lacquer onto every needle. And, at the same time, the observation made me sad. What a shame, to think that our own Earth has come to seem otherworldly. Once commonplace sights and sounds—the stars at night, the burble of a stream—are now curiosities. Wild nature’s everyday magic has turned exotic. When we Moderns enter the last remnants of the original world we find ourselves strangers in a strange land. The wilderness’s alien feeling has been used to critique the value of wild places. The argument goes like this: In celebrating the wilderness as the ideal of an intact ecosystem, conservationists have encouraged an unattainable view of the man-and-nature relationship. Since seven billion people cannot make a living in today’s wilderness (“a place where man himself is a visitor,” in the words of the Wilderness Act), wildlands are a poor model for understanding how to coexist with the rest of nature. The wilderness—remote, uncompromising, inherently resistant to our designs—separates us from nonhuman nature rather than drawing us closer to it. There’s something important in this critique, even though it’s often taken too far. As Bjorn Philip Beer writes, we can gain as much from the intimacy of the nature next door as we can from the excitement of epic wilderness. Ralph Waldo Emerson was probably right when he warned John Muir that wilderness “is a sublime mistress, but an intolerable wife.” I think, though, that the critique has reached the limits of its usefulness, especially as we approach the worrisome new epoch of the Anthropocene, the “Age of Man.” If we do indeed now live on a garden-planet in which civilization has eclipsed nonhuman nature, then the separateness of the wild—its sheer strangeness—is a virtue. It just might be that the arrival of the Human Age, rather than making wilderness obsolete, will make wildness more invaluable than ever before.
• • •
The Anthropocene. If you haven’t encountered the term much yet, you soon will. The International Union of Geological Sciences, the organization in charge of delineating Earth’s time scale, is considering whether to declare that we have left the Holocene—the epoch in which human civilization was born—and are entering the Anthropocene, an epoch in which Homo sapiens are the greatest evolutionary force on the planet. It’s difficult to know what to make of such a bold idea. The notion of a planetary age named after humans seems in bad taste, the old imperialist habit of wrecking a place then putting your name on it. Even when the term is intended as a warning, declaring an epoch in our honor is two parts chutzpah to three parts hubris. But it’s impossible to argue with the facts of our overweening power. Our synthetic fertilizers have disrupted the planet’s chemistry, our daily effluent heats the atmosphere, the sprawl of our farms and cities demolishes the homes of other creatures. We’ve even created a new stone—“plastiglomerate,” formed when plastic melts and fuses with rock fragments, sand, coral, and shells. The issue then becomes: What do we do with the fact of the Anthropocene’s impending arrival? If all of Earth is ours, where in the world does that leave us? The Anthropocene boosters like to say that this new epoch requires a rethinking of our assumptions about the human-nature relationship. I agree. So I want to rethink the now-dominant critique that says wilderness is an obstacle to creating a healthy relationship to nonhuman nature because it is distant from our daily lives. Wilderness in the twenty-first century is invaluable precisely because it is away and apart. In a world of all-encompassing human authority, we are going to need the wild to hold steady the sanity of our species. If in the Anthropocene nothing remains that is totally natural—nothing pristine and untouched—then the value of wild animals and wild lands becomes greater, if for no other reason than that those self-willed beings are Other than us. And we need the Other. As a species we need an Other for some of the same reasons that, as individuals, we have other humans in our lives. They center us. They ground us. They serve as a check on our selfish instincts. Similarly, the otherness of the wild can help human civilization to locate itself by serving as a point of reference. By opposing humans’ instincts for control, wild things put our desires in perspective and can force us to consider the consequences of our actions. Peter Kahn, a pioneer in the field of eco-psychology, writes that wild animals “check our hubris by power of their own volition.” As autonomous beings, wild animals resist us, and a measure of resistance to our wants is essential for our mental health. In much the same way, wilderness—any self-willed land—reminds us that the rest of the world doesn’t exist in relation to humans, but that we exist in relationship to other beings. On a wholly domesticated planet, every ecosystem would be yoked to our desires. Each landscape would be a reflection of our wants, making Earth like a hall of mirrors. It would be species narcissism on a planetary scale. We would be everywhere, and, with nothing to anchor us, we would be lost. Or, to try out another metaphor, a “post-wild” world would put human civilization into a kind of solitary confinement. There would be no Away, no Other, and therefore no escape. We would be all alone. Do you know what happens to people who are placed in solitary confinement? They go insane.
• • •
An appreciation of the Other doesn’t come naturally. Just think of the simultaneous wars against the American Indians and the North American wolves—genocides fueled, in part, by a fear of wildness. There is, however, another Other: the foreigner greeted with curiosity and joy. To strike out into the American wilderness is like traveling to a foreign nation without crossing a border. The wild comes with all the mystery of an undiscovered country. Its strangeness reminds me of a line from Thoreau: “What we call wildness is a civilization other than our own.” Like international travel, the trip home can involve a harsh dose of culture shock. Maybe, after days of good, clean Sierra Nevada air, you descend into the Central Valley’s miasma of diesel fumes and cow dung. Maybe, after a week in the wilds of Alaska, you run into some Prudhoe Bay roughnecks at the airport bar trading tips about making good cash in the oil fields. No matter where you’ve been, the incessant insistence of email reappears with a vengeance. And you wonder: Was it all a dream? Every adventure seems fleeting in hindsight, and the thrill of being in wild country is no exception. The excitement of wonder evaporates in the crush of routine. But the memories and the marks on your heart—those stay with you forever. Just like any travel, a foray into the wilderness delivers fresh perspective. You return to where you make your home, and you see the place with new eyes. The wild has equipped you with a kind of X-ray vision—you can see underneath the asphalt and concrete—as well as a sort of vicarious memory—you suddenly remember how the landscape once appeared. Even better, you can imagine how the land might look in the future, restored to life.
Have humans really tamed every inch of the world? On our overheated and overcrowded planet, are wild places now extinct?
Environmental journalist Jason Mark took to the most rugged areas of the US to find out. In Satellites in the High Country, Mark proves that the mystery of the wild still exists today—and is more important than ever. Read an excerpt from Mark's travels below:
Katharine is the Publicity & Marketing Associate at Island Press.
What happens when a company misleads consumers and intentionally pollutes the environment? We asked some of our authors to comment on the recent Volkswagen emissions scandal. Check out what they had to say below and share your own thoughts in the comments.
Photo Credit: Manik at Flickr.com
As an environmentalist, I probably shouldn’t say this, but I love my car.
For starters, I love its exceptional fuel economy—an average of 37.5 miles per gallon in the four years I’ve owned it and typically up to 45 mpg on the highway, a significant boost above the U.S. vehicle fleet average of 23.6 mpg. I love its understated style—sleek, compact, and modern without looking flashy. I’ve even come to love the feline purr of its diesel engine, the little rumble that signals its latent power.
Unfortunately, my dream car is something of a mirage. That’s because I’m the owner of a 2010 Volkswagen Jetta SportWagen TDI, one of the nearly half a million VWs that, as the company now admits, was secretly manipulated to evade U.S. and California clean air regulations. VW sold me, and hundreds of thousands of other Americans, a vehicle whose green promises (“clean diesel!”) were little more than a smoke screen.
Let’s be real: Owning a car is a regrettable necessity in our sprawling, industrial landscape. I’m lucky enough to live in a region—the San Francisco Bay Area—where I don’t have to drive much. I commute by bike and train, and I can get everything I need within walking distance of my home. Most weeks, my car sits curbside gathering dust and leaves. But on the weekends, my family and I like to get away to the seashore, the forests, or the mountains—and for that we need a car.
Continue reading more of Jason's thoughts here.
The deliberate deception on Volkswagen’s part represents a breach of trust that will undoubtedly affect the company’s reputation and brand image for years to come. But the ripple effects of this scandal are even broader. For those who are cynical about capitalist motives, it simply reinforces the unfortunate stereotypes of corporate greed and manipulation. For those who respect the efforts of global corporations to be environmentally and socially responsible, myself included, it represents a setback in public perception of the business community. From my experience, the large majority of companies work hard to uphold their values and ethical standards, and are sincerely dedicated to the sustainability goals that they profess. Occasionally they are guilty of errors in judgment, and we have certainly witnessed a number of incidents where automotive companies clearly failed to protect the safety of their customers. However, even though no one was physically injured by Volkswagen’s actions, the company grossly violated the basic claim of their product—clean diesel engines. This is an unprecedented insult to society, comparable to the Enron scandal, and I expect that in the near term it will taint the credibility of corporate sustainability programs in every industry.
Photo Credit: littlemoresunshine at Flickr.com
My book Corporation 2020 (Island Press, 2012) on the evolution of the Corporation – past, present and future – explored the changes that were needed in policies, prices and institutions to change the DNA of the Corporation. Today's economy and politics is dominated by the ethically challenged DNA of 'Corporation 1920,' steeped in the economic philosophy of Milton Friedman, and guided solely by the pursuit of profits, with their goals mis-aligned with society, generating trillions of dollars in social costs: the negative externalities of "business-as-usual." But I was able to find and describe many successful instances of the new DNA – corporations with social purpose, positive externalities, achieving private profits without inflicting public losses. And every so often, I hear or see something that makes me think I have found another one….
Such was my impression when I visited Volkswagen in Wolfsburg a year ago, to teach a seminar. I learned that their cars and assembly lines were being designed to ensure each model and chassis could take four types of engines: petrol, diesel, hybrid and electric. It seemed a very pragmatic way of staying open to business for a fossil-fuel-free world of tomorrow. But in hindsight, it was more likely a pragmatic way of staying open to a diesel-engine-free future. Volkswagen is guilty of misdemeanour on a massive scale but it looks like they are not alone. Recent research by the Institute for Transport Studies at Leeds University, UK, suggests that Mercedes, BMW, Ford, and Mazda diesel cars are even more polluting than Volkswagen, and up to the same software deceit. How can an entire industry go so wrong? Very simple: by being driven solely by the pursuit of financial profits, totally ignoring the wider world of human, social and natural capital that they depend on and have impacts on. That is why we need a new corporate performance measuring system such as Akzo-Nobel's "4D-P&L" concept, see www.corp2020.com. You cannot manage what you do not measure. Accountancy regulators need to wake up from their sleep of a century, and realise that the financial reporting of 1920 is simply NOT good enough for 2020!
Katharine is the Publicity & Marketing Associate at Island Press.
Photo Credit: tarsandsaction at Flickr.com
President Barack Obama’s rejection of the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline marks one of the biggest victories for the U.S. environmental movement in years. Speaking this morning from the White House, Obama–flanked by Vice President Joe Biden and Secretary of State John Kerry–made one of his most forceful statements to date about the importance of moving the U.S. economy away from fossil fuels.
“Shipping dirtier crude oil into our country would not increase America’s energy security,” the president said. “America is now a global leader when it comes to taking serious action to fight climate change. And frankly, approving this project would have undercut that global leadership.”
Then, in a clear echo of the environmental movement’s overarching message, the president said, “Today, we're continuing to lead by example, because ultimately, if we're going to prevent large parts of this earth from becoming not only inhospitable but uninhabitable in our lifetime, we're going to have to keep some fossil fuels in the ground rather than burn them and release more dangerous pollution into the sky.”
Make no mistake: You never would have heard Obama say “keep some fossil fuels in the ground” had the environmental movement not made Keystone XL one of the defining issues of his presidency.
Coming after years of protests, marches, civil disobedience actions, and nonstop political pressure from both the grassroots and the Democratic party’s major donors, the defeat of the pipeline is a clear win for the environment. The president’s decision removes a potential threat to the Great Plains’ groundwater. It stems the sludgy tide of Canadian tar sands, an especially dirty source of crude oil that would, if fully extracted, accelerate global climate change.
Just as important, the pipeline’s defeat represents a major victory for the ideal of citizen action. “People power” is an overused and almost hackneyed phrase. But in this case, nothing else explains how such a political victory happened.
Just four years ago, many Washington insiders presumed that Keystone XL was a done deal. But Native American tribes, ranchers in the Great Plains, and environmental organizations ignored the conventional wisdom and decided to make Keystone XL a symbol for the choices we face in the era of climate change: Will we continue with the anachronistic fossil fuel economy, or make a pivot toward a society powered by clean energy? As author-activist Bill McKibben got in the habit of saying, Keystone was a “line in the sand.” The cynical “wise men” in Washington said the campaign against Keystone XL was quixotic, if not misguided. (Just see here, here, and here.) In the end, they were proven wonderfully wrong. The president’s decision proves that–even in a money-soaked and lobbyist-chocked political system–ordinary citizens can frustrate the best-laid plans of the powers-that-be.
Continue reading the full post here.
With the end of COP 21 and the signing of the historic Paris Agreement, it’s not just countries that are thinking about how to reduce emissions—individuals are reflecting on how their habits and actions impact climate change as well.
Island Press authors shared what they’re doing to reduce their carbon footprints and, in some cases, what more they could be doing. Check out their answers and share your own carbon cutbacks—or vices—in the comments.
Jason Mark, author of Satellites in the High Country:
Very much like the Paris Climate Accord itself, ecological sustainability is a process, not a destination. Which, I'll admit, is a squirrely way of saying that I'm doing my best to reduce my carbon footprint. I ride my bike. I take mass transit. Most days my car never leaves the spot in front of our home. Most importantly, I have sworn off beef because of cattle production's disproportionate climate impact. The (grass-fed, humane) burger still has a siren song, but I ignore it.
Grady Gammage, author of The Future of the Suburban City:
I drive a hybrid, ride light rail to the airport and don’t bother to turn on the heat in my house (which is possible in Phoenix). My greatest carbon sin is my wood burning fireplace. I don’t use it when there’s a “no burn” day, but otherwise, I have a kind of primordial attraction to building a fire.
John Cleveland, co-author of Connecting to Change the World:
We just installed a 12 KW solar array on our home in New Hampshire. At the same time, we electrified our heating system with Mitsubishi heat pumps. So our home is now net positive from both an electricity and heating point of view. We made the solar array large enough to also power an electric car, but are waiting for the new models that will have more range before we install the electric car charger. The array and heat pumps have great economics. The payback period is 8-years and after that we get free heat and electricity for the remainder of the system life — probably another 20+ years. Great idea for retirement budgets!
Dan Fagin, author of Toms River:
Besides voting for climate-conscious candidates, the most important thing we can do as individuals is fly less, so I try to take the train where possible. I wish it were a better option.
Darrin Nordahl, author of Public Produce:
The United States is the second largest emitter of greenhouse gases behind China, and how we produce food in this country is responsible for much of those emissions. From agriculture, to the fossil fuels needed to produce bags and boxes for pre-packaged food, to the burning of gas and oil to transport both fresh produce and pre-packaged food, I have discovered I can reduce my carbon footprint with a simple change in my diet. For one, I avoid processed food of any sort. I also grow a good portion of my vegetables and herbs and, thankfully, local parks with publicly accessible fruit trees provide a modicum of fresh fruit for my family. We also eat less meat than we used to and our bodies (and our planet) are healthier because of it.
Yoram Bauman, author of The Cartoon Introduction to Climate Change:
I try to put on warm slippers or other extra layers around the house in order to not have to heat the house so much, but I still like to take long hot showers. (Maybe those two things are connected).
Rob McDonald, author of Conservation for Cities:
I try to pay attention to my daily habits that make up a lot of my carbon footprint. So I bike to work, or take mass transit. That gets rid of the carbon footprint of driving. I also try to only moderately heat or cool my home, so I’m not burning a lot of energy doing that. The biggest component of my carbon footprint that I haven’t managed to cut is for travel. I have to travel once or twice a month for my job, and unless it is a trip in the Northeast (when I can just use Amtrak!), I am stuck travelling. The carbon footprint of all that air travel is huge. I try to do virtual meetings, rather than travel whenever I can, but there still seems to be a big premium people place on meeting folks face to face.
Emily Monosson, author of Unnatural Selection:
We keep our heat really low in the winter (ask our teenage daughter, it's way too cold for her here!) and I hang my clothes on the line in the summer. Because it’s so cold, I love taking really hot long showers. I should also hang my clothes in the winter too, and ditch the dryer.
Jonathan Barnett and Larry Beasley, co-authors of Ecodesign for Cities and Suburbs:
We both live in a town-house in the central part of a city – on opposite sides of the continent: one in Philadelphia the other in Vancouver. Our neighborhoods have 100% walk scores. We each own one car, but don’t need to drive it very much - most of the time we can go where they need to on foot. We wrote our book using email and Dropbox. What they still need to work on is using less air travel in the future.
Jan Gehl, author of Cities for People:
I live in Denmark where 33% of the energy is delivered by windmills. A gradual increase will happen in the coming years. As in most other countries in the developed world, too much meat is on the daily diet. That is absolutely not favorable for the carbon footprint. It sounds like more salad is called for in the future!
Suzanne Shaw, co-author of Cooler Smarter:
Cooler Smarter: Practical Steps for Low Carbon Living provides a roadmap for consumers to cut their carbon footprint 20 percent (or more). My approach to lowering my carbon footprint has gone hand in hand with saving money through sensible upgrades. Soon after I purchase my 125-year-old house I added insulation, weather stripping and a programmable thermostat. When I needed a new furnace, I swapped a dirty oil furnace to a cleaner, high-efficiency natural gas model. And now have LED bulbs in every fixture in the house, Energy Star appliances throughout, and power strips at my entertainment and computer areas. This summer, I finally installed solar panels through a 25-year lease (zero out-of-pocket expense). In the month of September, I had zero emissions from electricity use. Living in the city, I am fortunate to have access to public transportation and biking, which keeps our household driving to a minimum.
Peter Fox-Penner, author of Smart Power Anniversary Edition:
I’m reducing my footprint by trying to eat vegan, taking Metro rather than taxis or Ubers, and avoiding excess packaging. Right now I travel too much, especially by air. P.S. Later this year I’ll publish my carbon footprint on the website of the new Boston University Institute for Sustainable Energy. Watch for it!
Carlton Reid, author of Roads Were Not Built for Cars:
Our family has a (small) car but I cycle pretty much all of the time. My kids cycle to school (some days) and my wife cycles to work (sometimes). It’s useful to have the car for some journeys, long ones mostly, but having a family fleet of bikes means we don’t need a second car. Reducing one’s carbon footprint can be doing less of something not necessarily giving up something completely. If everybody reduced their car mileage (and increased their active travel mileage) that would be good for the planet and personally: win/win.
Katharine is the Publicity & Marketing Associate at Island Press.
Have humans really tamed every inch of the world? On our overheated and overcrowded planet, are wild places now extinct? In Satellites in the High Country, environmental journalist Jason Mark travels to wilderness areas across the US, proving that the mystery of the wild still exists today. Listen as he joins host Michael Krasny on NPR's KQED-Forum to contemplate the meaning of wilderness in the human age.
Then, don't forget to enter for a chance to win a 5-day, all expenses paid adventure to the Grand Canyon, led by Jason Mark!
Katharine is the Publicity & Marketing Associate at Island Press.
Have you heard all the buzz? From reviews in Wall Street Journal to interviews in Men's Journal and National Geographic, people can't stop talking about Satellites in the High Country by journalist and adventurer Jason Mark.
In Satellites in the High Country, Jason travels beyond the bright lights and certainties of our cities to seek wildness wherever it survives. In California's Point Reyes National Seashore, a battle over oyster farming and designated wilderness pits former allies against one another, as locals wonder whether wilderness should be untouched, farmed, or something in between. In Washington's Cascade Mountains, a modern-day wild woman and her students learn to tan hides and start fires without matches, attempting to connect with a primal past out of reach for the rest of society. And in Colorado's High Country, dark skies and clear air reveal a breathtaking expanse of stars, flawed only by the arc of a satellite passing—beauty interrupted by the traffic of a million conversations. Satellites in the High Country is an epic journey on the trail of the wild, a poetic and incisive exploration of its meaning and enduring power in our Human Age.
Check out an excerpt below:
Katharine is the Publicity & Marketing Associate at Island Press.
Why is Arizona significant to you and why should it be significant to the rest of the world?
I was born and raised in Arizona, and I have a huge affection for the place: the Sonoran Desert with its creosote cloves, the “sky islands” around Tucson, the ponderosa pine forests outside of Prescott where I learned how to ride horses. And of course the Grand Canyon, which is a marvel of the world.
The Grand Canyon was one of the first spots in America protected as a national monument. But actually the park is quite narrow, and mostly only protects the gorge itself. Today, the surrounding lands are pockmarked with mines, or else are the target of reckless development. To really protect the Grand Canyon, we need to preserve its entire watershed.
The #KeepItWild trip on a section of the Arizona Trail (an 800-mile trail stretching from Mexico to Utah) will pass through wildlands that are currently open for development but would be protected by the proposed Grand Canyon National Heritage Monument. I hope that participants on this trip will come away with some of the same love of the place that I have.
Arizona Trail. Photo credit: Rick Moore
What sort of physical fitness should I be in before I attempt this hike? If I don’t work out much can I still do it?
You don’t need to be a triathlete or a lean-and-mean trail runner to enjoy this experience, but you should be accustomed to exercise. We’ll be covering 19 miles in two days, so at the very least you should be comfortable walking for a while. You should also be prepared to carry 30 pounds of weight on your back while walking under the sun.
What do you anticipate the temperature and weather to be like?
It’s likely going to be hot and dry. The trip is in May — before the desert gets blazing — but it’s still going to be hot. Expect highs in the 90s, lows in the 60s.
Are there specialty supplies that I’ll need?
You will need to own or rent basic backpacking equipment. This includes: overnight backpack; tent or shelter; sleeping bag and (recommended) sleeping pad; hiking boots; hat and layered clothing; water bottles; lightweight cups/bowl/utensil.
Here's the recommended gear list.
Arizona Trail. Photo credit: Rick Moore
Will we encounter any water sources to safely drink from?
50-50 chance. If the winter precipitation is solid, there should be decent water at a spot called Russell Tanks 7 miles into the hike. If there’s been little snow and rain, the water there will likely be unpalatable. There are a chance that we might hit water at some of the seams in the Coconino Rim, but we can’t count on that.
I am recommending that each participant carry two gallons of water, which will make up the bulk of the weight in your pack.
What advice do you have for new hikers about how to pack to minimize trash?
Don’t bring anything wrapped in plastic.
What kinds of wildlife should I hope to see/be alert for?
Ideally we’ll spot the elk herds that roam the Colorado Plateau, or at the very least see a few deer. With any luck someone will spot a bobcat or fox. Other critters of interest include mountain lions, rattlesnakes, and javelinas, which is a feral pig with a ridgeback reminiscent of a cactus. The greater Canyon area is now home to the massive California condor, which is a fantastic rewilding success story.
Aside from first-aid kits, how do you suggest we prepare for emergency situations?
The first rule of wilderness adventures: don’t get hurt. … In case someone breaks that rule, I have wilderness first aid training and we will carry a complete backcountry first aid kit.
Arizona Trail. Photo credit: Rick Moore
Tribal sensitivity and respect to sacred land is important, how do we make sure to be sensitive to native peoples and their spaces?
We will be traveling through the Coconino National Forest. “Coconino” is the Hopi word for the Havasupai and Yavapai who once called the area home. Treat the place as you normally would when a visitor in anyone’s home: with gratitude and respect. Leave the land better than you found it. Take nothing.
In your book you talk about the necessity of a diverse perspective in protecting wild places. What have you learned from your travels and interactions with native people and why does it matter in protecting the Grand Canyon/Arizona Trail areas?
The movement to expand protection for the park and establish a Grand Canyon National Heritage Monument has really been led by the tribes in the region. The Navajo, the Hopi, the Havasupai, the Utes—these tribes are holding the moral center of the effort to create the monument.
As I talk about in Satellites in the High Country, there’s this discourse today that says, “There’s no such thing as wilderness because Indians affected just about every part of North America before Europeans arrived.” It’s true that Native Americans transformed landscapes. And they held some places as sacred.
There’s a wonderful consolation of history in the fact that the United State’s first national monument is Devil’s Tower in Wyoming, that great monolith of stone on the Northern Plains. The Lakota and Cheyenne called the place, “Bear’s Lodge.” It was an important part of their star knowledge and their religion. It’s a site of reverence for both whites and natives. What wonderful evidence of how awe crosses cultures.
Arizona Trail. Photo credit: Ellen Heyn
How can I act to keep this land protected for future generations to experience?
Get connected to the constellation of local and national groups calling for the establishment of the Grand Canyon National Heritage Monument: Grand Canyon Trust, the Sierra Club, the National Parks Conservation Association. Check out Congressman Raul Grijalva’s proposed legislation to expand protection for the canyon and call on your representatives to support it.
Can I bring my dog?
No. While dogs are permitted in national forests, they are usually not permitted in rental car vehicles, which we will be relying on. Keep the pooch at home.
Here at Island Press, I spend much of my time reading about our authors’ work in wild and remote places from the confines of a desk chair. So last May, I jumped at the chance to venture away from the office on a backpacking trip with Jason Mark, author of Satellites in the High Country, and the winners of our Keep It Wild sweepstakes contest. I’d never set foot in Arizona, but my colleagues armed me with a GoPro camera and helpful advice—shake out boots in case of scorpions—and I was ready to hike.
Before our group of seven hit the trail, we met leaders from Save the Confluence, Grand Canyon Trust, and the Sierra Club in Flagstaff to learn more about some of the threats facing the Grand Canyon region. Although the Grand Canyon was one of the first places in America protected as a national monument, the park itself is relatively narrow around the canyon itself. Much of the larger area is open to uranium mining, old-growth logging, and invasive new tourism development. Our Arizona Trail hike would take us through the Kaibab National Forest, on land that would be fully protected t if the proposed Grand Canyon National Heritage Monument is established.
We began the next morning at the Moqui Stage Station trailhead, once a stop on the stagecoach route from Flagstaff to the Grand Canyon, where we divvied up gear and took group photos before heading off into the low scrub. For the first two days, we would hike on the Arizona Trail, which runs from Mexico to Utah across more than 800 miles—the Southwest’s under-the-radar answer to the Pacific Crest or Appalachian Trail. We were lucky enough to receive logistical support and deep Arizona Trail knowledge from seasoned hiker and naturalist Sirena and others at the Arizona Trail Association, including a drop-off at the start of our trek.
The terrain was not the saguaro catcti and plateaus of Western movies that I’d expected. Instead, the trail took us through low scrubland of pinyon-juniper, sage, and grasses, with relatively open views and a chance to greet grazing horses. As we continued north and began to climb, the landscape changed around us and we walked under looming ponderosa pine, which, as Jason demonstrated, smell like butterscotch or vanilla when shove your nose right up against the bark.
Friends at the Arizona Trail Association had left a cache of water at bone-dry Russel Tank, and we collected our bottles before hiking on a few miles to set up camp at the base of Coconino Rim. Leaving our packs behind, we walked on to catch our first glimpse of the Grand Canyon in the distance. Through gaps in the trees and a bit of haze, the canyon was alluring, but it was tough to get any real idea of its scale. I thought about something Sirena had said the day before—can you imagine stumbling upon the Canyon before the era of GPS or even basic maps, with no advance warning? At our campsite that night, we cooked up mac and cheese with kale and counted satellites, and went to bed knowing that every bend in the trail the next day would bring us closer to the Canyon.
The next morning, we continued on along the Coconino Rim, catching views of the Canyon that got better and better. The end goal of day two was Grandview Tower, a fire lookout built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in 1936 that now includes a Forest Service campground. Sirena met us there with Arizona Trail beer—liquid courage for climbing 80 feet to the top of the tower, which creaked in the wind. We were rewarded by an overview the Canyon, a preview of the next day, when we would get in the van and drive across the boundary of Grand Canyon National Park.
The next day, we took in the hustle and bustle of the Grand Canyon’s South Rim, shifting from being some of the few humans on our stretch of the Arizona Trail to joining throngs of visitors from around the world. Leaving the crowds behind, Sirena took us to a few of her favorite spots, and we enjoyed incredible views and stories of the canyon from the afternoon through sunset and well after the stars came out. There’s nothing like visiting a new place with someone who knows it intimately.
It’s easy to imagine spending a lifetime exploring the Grand Canyon area—every new vantage point or shift in the light seems to bring out a new feature or personality in the land. We celebrated our last night at Mather Campground with a bonfire and s’mores, and I found myself wishing I had a warm enough sleeping bag to sleep under the stars like Jason and Sirena. Maybe I’ll invest in some new gear, and if I’m lucky, Island Press will send me out on another adventure.
Associate Editor and Subsidiary Rights Manager at Island Press
This holiday season, give the gift of an Island Press book. With a catalog of more than 1,000 books, we guarantee there's something for everyone on your shopping list. Check out our list of staff selections, and share your own ideas in the comments below.
For the OUTDOORSPERSON in your life:
Water is for Fighting Over...and Other Myths about Water in the West by John Fleck
Anyone who has ever rafted down the Colorado, spent a starlit night on its banks, or even drank from a faucet in the western US needs Water is for Fighting Over. Longtime journalist John Fleck will give the outdoors lover in your life a new appreciation for this amazing river and the people who work to conserve it. This book is a gift of hope for the New Year.
Satellites in the High Country: Searching for the Wild in the Age of Man by Jason Mark
Do you constantly find your friend waxing poetic about their camping tales and their intimate connection to the peaceful, yet mysterious powers of nature? Sounds like they will relate to Jason Mark’s tales of his expeditions across a multitude of American landscapes, as told in Satellites in the High Country. More than a collection of stories, this narrative demonstrates the power of nature’s wildness and explores what the concept of wild has come to mean in this Human Age.
What Should a Clever Moose Eat?: Natural History, Ecology, and the North Woods by John Pastor
Is the outdoorsperson in your life all dressed up in boots, parka, and backpack with nowhere to go? Looking for meaning in another titanium French press coffeemaker for the camp stove? What Should a Clever Moose Eat leaves the technogadgets behind and reminds us that all we really need to bring to the woods when we venture out is a curious mind and the ability to ask a good question about the natural world around us. Such as, why do leaves die? What do pine cones have to do with the shape of a bird’s beak? And, how are blowflies important to skunk cabbage? A few quality hours among its pages will equip your outdoor enthusiast to venture forth and view nature with new appreciation, whether in the North Woods with ecologist John Pastor or a natural ecosystem closer to home.
Cartoon Introduction to Climate Change by Yoram Bauman
This holiday season, give your favorite climate-denier a passive aggressive “wink-wink, nudge-nudge” with The Cartoon Introduction to Climate Change featuring self –described Stand-up Economist Yoram Bauman and award-winning illustrator Grady Klein. Give the gift of fun, entertaining basic understanding of what is, undeniably and not up for subjective debate, scientific fact!
For the HEALTH NUT in your life:
Unnatural Selection: How We Are Changing Life, Gene by Gene by Emily Monosson
Give the health nut in your life the gift of understanding with Unnatural Selection. Your friends and family will discover how chemicals are changing life on earth and how we can protect it. Plus, they’ll read fascinating stories about the search for a universal vaccine, the attack of relentless bedbugs, and a miracle cancer drug that saved a young father’s life.
For the ADVOCATE in your life:
Prospects for Resilience: Insights from New York City's Jamaica Bay by Sanderson, et. al
Need an antidote to the doom and gloom? Stressed-out environmental advocates will appreciate Prospects for Resilience: Insights from New York City's Jamaica Bay. It’s a deep dive into one of the most important questions of our time: how can we create cities where people and nature thrive together? Prospects for Resilience showcases successful efforts to restore New York’s much abused Jamaica Bay, but its lessons apply to any communities seeking to become more resilient in a turbulent world.
Ecological Economics by Josh Farley and Herman Daly
Blow the mind of the advocate in your life with a copy of Ecological Economics by the godfather of ecological economics, Herman Daly, and Josh Farley. In plain, and sometimes humorous English, they’ll come to understand how our current economic system does not play by the same laws that govern nearly every other system known to humankind—that is, the laws of thermodynamics. Given recent financial and political events, there’s a message of hope within the book as it lays out specific policy and social change frameworks.
For the CRAZY CAT PERSON in your life:
An Indomitable Beast: The Remarkable Journey of the Jaguar by Alan Rabinowitz
The cat lovers in your life will lose themselves in An Indomitable Beast, an illuminating story about the journey of the jaguar. This is the perfect book for any of your feline loving friends, whether they want to pursue adventure with the big cats of the wild, or stay home with a book and cup of tea.
For the GARDENER in your life:
Wild by Design: Strategies for Creating Life-Enhancing Landscapes by Margie Ruddick
Give your favorite gardener an antidote to the winter blues. The lush photographs of Wild by Design, and inspirational advice on cultivating landscapes in tune with nature, transport readers to spectacular parks, gardens, and far-flung forests. This book is guaranteed to be well-thumbed and underlined by the time spring planting season arrives!
For the STUBBORN RELATIVE in your life:
Common Ground on Hostile Turf: Stories from an Environmental Mediator by Lucy Moore
For the person keeping the peace in your family this holiday season, the perfect gift is Common Ground on Hostile Turf, an inspiring how to guide demonstrating it is possible to bring vastly different views together. This book gives lessons learned on setting down at the table with the most diverse set of players and the journey they take to find common grounds and results. If your holiday dinner needs some mediation, look to the advice of author Lucy Moore.
Also consider: Communication Skills for Conservation Professionals by Susan Jacobson, Communicating Nature by Julia Corbett
For the HISTORY BUFF in your life:
The Past and Future City: How Historic Preservation is Reviving America's Communities by Stephanie Meeks with Kevin C. Murphy
When it comes to the the future of our cities, the secret to urban revival lies in our past. Tickle the fancy of your favorite history buff by sharing The Past and Future City, which takes readers on a journey through our country's historic spaces to explain why preservation is important for all communities. With passion and expert insight, this book shows how historic spaces explain our past and serve as the foundation of our future.
For the BUSINESS PERSON in your life:
Nature's Fortune: How Business and Society Thrive by Investing in Nature by Mark Tercek
For the aspiring CEO in your life who drools at phrases like "rates of return" and "investment," share the gift of Nature's Fortune, an essential guide to the world's economic (and environmental) well-being.
Katharine is the Publicity & Marketing Associate at Island Press.
About half of all the all of the Sequoiadendron giganteum that exist on Earth reside in California’s Giant Sequoia National Monument. At Bear’s Ears National Monument in Utah, pre-Columbian petroglyphs and potsherds can be found tucked amid the high desert buttes. Maine’s Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument is a testament to how a forest battered by logging can regrow into a wet and wild home for moose, bear, and lynx.
Wonderful places, all—and each of them under threat.
Public Domain, Link
As you might have heard, these national monuments and nearly two dozen others are the target of downsizing or elimination as Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke conducts an unprecedented review of the national monuments created under the Antiquities Act.
The whole thing has been something of a sham from the start. It seems little more than a way for President Trump to throw a bone to the Bundy clan (or is it, ahem, klan?) segment of his base, the anti-government zealots in the West who hate the very idea of public lands. The scope of Zinke’s review has been arbitrary from the start: monuments created since 1996 and over 100,000 acres in size. Those lines were quite transparently drawn to draw in Utah’s Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, which has been a bête noir of Utah’s congressional delegation since it was established by President Clinton. Katahdin Woods didn’t qualify—at 87,00 acres, it’s relatively small—but Zinke included it anyway. This is apparently because the monument—a donation to the American people from the family behind Burt’s Bees—annoys (even-crazier than Trump) Governor Paul LePage.
By MajorRogers - Photographed on an October trip to the Monument. Previously published: Cover photo on my Katahdin Woods and Waters Facebook page, Link: https://www.facebook.com/groups/183741732065812/?ref=aymt_homepage_panel, CC BY-SA 4.0, Link
Even as Zinke moves to reduce Bear’s Ears by as much as half, he’s already announced that five monuments are going to be spared: Craters of the Moon in Idaho, Hanford Reach in Washington, Canyons of the Ancients in Colorado, Grand Canyon-Parashant in Arizona, and Upper Missouri River Breaks in Zinke’s home state of Montana. Why these ones? The public doesn’t know, as the Interior Department has dodged questions about why these five deserve protection.
Zinke’s one nod to transparency and public input backfired on the Trump administration. Of the 2.7 million comments submitted during all-too-brief public comment period, 98 percent of them expressed support for maintaining the current national monuments, according to the Center for Western Priorities.
The public comment period is now closed. Trump’s executive order directs Zinke to issue his preliminary recommendations by August 24. But there’s still one last chance to make your voice heard.
Starting this Saturday, August 19 and stretching through August 22, there will be rallies nationwide to demonstrate support for public lands. You can find a list of events here.
Hopefully you can make one of them, and let the national monuments and Trump-Zinke know how much you love our public lands.
The mission of America’s national parks seems pretty clear. Legislation establishing the National Park Service, passed just over a century ago, said the parks and monuments should “conserve the scenery and the natural and historic objects and the wild life” of parks and monuments “by such means as will leave them unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations.” Such places should be widely open to visitors. The Park Service is supposed to ensure that nothing “interfere[s] with free access . . . by the public.”
But somehow the people who now oversee the national parks didn’t get the memo. They’re hoping to jack up entry fees at some of the most iconic parks by such enormous percentages that those places will no doubt become less accessible to many.
Earlier this week, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke announced a proposal to more than double entry fees at 17 of the most popular parks during the summer months. Vehicle fees will go from $30 to $70. Motorcycle visitors will see their entry fees spike from $25 (and as low as $12 in some parks) to $50. Per-person rates—for those who arrive on bicycle, foot, or horse—will go from $15 a head to $30.
America’s public lands, rightly celebrated as an inspiring example of the country’s democratic aspirations, are at risk of becoming a gated community.
Here are the names of the parks facing skyrocketing fee increases (on the chance that one of the places is beloved by you): Arches, Bryce Canyon, Canyonlands, Denali, Glacier, Grand Canyon, Grand Teton, Olympic, Sequoia & Kings Canyon, Yellowstone, Yosemite, and Zion National Parks.
You might be asking, What’s this all about?
Zinke claims the fee increases are needed to address the Park Service’s reported $12 billion backlog of maintenance projects. “The infrastructure of our national parks is aging and in need of renovation and restoration,” Zinke said in a statement calling for “targeted fee increases at some of our most-visited parks.”
I have a hard time believing Zinke’s concern about the infrastructure backlog when, at the same time, he and President Trump are proposing a budget that would cut spending on the Park Service by 13 percent and reduce staff by up to 1,200 employees. Zinke’s deferred maintenance anxiety feels a bit disingenuous—enough crocodile tears to match Yosemite Falls.
And while it’s true that some park facilities are badly in need of repair, the whole maintenance issue is a bit of a red herring. According to a report from the Center for American Progress, about $400 million of the backlog should actually be paid for by the concessionaires like Aramark and Xanterra that are making a killing on selling hot dogs at the visitor centers. Nearly half of the Park Service’s list of needs, close to $6 billion, is just for four roads in a handful of parks.
Read the rest at Sierra, the national magazine of the Sierra Club.