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Friday, September 1, 2017

Former Rangers Oppose Oil and Gas Development Near National Parks

Oil and Gas Development on federal lands NIOSH
I'm proud to lend my name to more than 350 former national park personnel who sent a letter to Department of Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke opposing oil and gas development near national parks. Led by the Coalition to Protect National Parks, the letter raises concern and voices opposition to the growing number oil and gas proposals sited around national parks such as Glacier, the Grand Canyon, and Zion.

The letter points out that process for approving these new oil and gas permits is often rushed and with little or no consultation with the National Park Service.  Oil and Gas development can negatively impact air and water quality, degrade wildlife habitat, and destroy scenic vistas.  The national parks represent less than 5% of of the United States land mass leaving plenty of more suitable places to explore for fossil fuels.

As such signatories include superintendents, wildlife biologists, law enforcement rangers, resource managers, and front line rangers are asking the Department of Interior to avoid issuing oil and gas leases near national parks.

To add your voice to those of these rangers, please send a note to the DOI. Emails can be sent by clicking here.

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Sean Smith is an award winning conservationist and author. He is a former National Park Ranger at Yellowstone, Glacier, and the North Cascades. He is a TEDx speaker, and private pilot. He graduated from the University of Washington in 1989 with a degree in Political Science. He got his master's in Natural Resources Management from Central Washington University in 1996. He currently runs Washington State's efforts to reduce and eliminate toxic chemicals from consumer products and serves as the Mayor Pro Tem of Covington.

He has been writing stories and books since he was a child and currently writes national park thrillers from the shadow of Mount Rainier.

All his novels can be found here: Mr. Sean D Smith


Sunday, August 13, 2017

Game of Thrones Park Posters

Game of Thrones is one of television's hottest shows.  It's a fantasy about power politics, warfare, and palace intrigue over capturing the Iron Throne. The show's action takes place on the continents of Westeros and Essos and is inhabited with dragons, zombies, witches, wizards, kings, queens, giants, armies, navies, great houses, and countless lesser houses. The landscape upon which Game of Thrones takes place is also just as varied as its characters with huge desserts, tall mountains, wide seas, deep forests, and urban and rural settings.  
 
Like my Star Wars Park Posters found here, here is a mash up of two highly popular aspects of pop culture, Game of Thrones and National Parks.
 
What do you think?  What other GOT posters would you like to see?
 

 


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Sean Smith is an award winning conservationist and author. He is a former National Park Ranger at Yellowstone, a TEDx speaker, and private pilot. He graduated from the University of Washington in 1989 with a degree in Political Science. He got his master's in Natural Resources Management from Central Washington University in 1996. He currently runs Washington State's efforts to reduce and eliminate toxic chemicals from consumer products and serves as the Mayor Pro Tem of Covington.

He has been writing stories and books since he was a child and currently writes national park thrillers from the shadow of Mount Rainier.

All his novels can be found here: Mr. Sean D Smith









Friday, August 11, 2017

Terrible Swift Sword: Philip Sheridan Bio

Terrible Swift Sword is a biography of Phillip Sheridan and paints a complex and times contradictory picture of a man who spent his entire adult life in the U.S. Army. Sheridan started his career as a lieutenant fresh out of West Point chasing Indians near Washington State's Fort Vancouver. It ended as lieutenant general ordering the army to protect Yellowstone National Park. 

During the Civil War, Sheridan along with General Sherman, pioneered total war tactics which led to the destruction of confederate farms and homes and ultimately brought the confederacy to its knees. Sheridan later unleashed total war against the plains Indians, ordering the wholesale slaughter of the buffalo herds. Sheridan believed denying the Indians their means of support would force them into submission and onto reservations. In both the Civil and the Indian wars, total war was likely the key that led to ultimate victory. Some historians believe Sheridan's total war tactics inspired later generations of European generals and led to massive destruction during World Wars I and II.

Sheridan was commanding general of the army in 1886 when the civilian Superintendent of Yellowstone National Park, called upon the army for help managing the park. Yellowstone had been a personal obsession for Sheridan. In 1870, the general ordered an army escort of the first expedition into the area. The following year, he provided an army escort for the Hayden expedition, the first scientific exploration of the park.  Yellowstone would become the world's first national park in 1872 in large part due to these expeditions.

By 1886 however, the park was under siege from hotel developers and railroad barons who pressured congress to reduce restrictions upon development and allow exploitation of the park.  Congress complied with industry wishes and zeroed out the Yellowstone's budget basically leaving the park at the mercy of the developers.  But a little used clause in federal law allowed the park superintendent to call upon the army if ever in need of help protecting the park, which he did.

Sheridan ordered a company of cavalry troops to Yellowstone to patrol the park stamp out trespass and fight wildfires.  And in a most ironic turn, Sheridan ordered the army to protect park wildlife like the bison from poaching. The army would remain at Yellowstone and other parks until 1916 when Congress finally created the National Park Service. Today we enjoy Yellowstone due in large part to the actions of Philip Sheridan.

In the end, Sheridan's stamp on many aspects of American life including how the United State's fights war, its relationship with Native Americans, and it's conservation legacy are well assured.

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Sean Smith is an award winning conservationist and author. He is a former National Park Ranger at Yellowstone, a TEDx speaker, and private pilot. He graduated from the University of Washington in 1989 with a degree in Political Science. He got his master's in Natural Resources Management from Central Washington University in 1996. He currently runs Washington State's efforts to reduce and eliminate toxic chemicals from consumer products and serves as the Mayor Pro Tem of Covington.

He has been writing stories and books since he was a child and currently writes national park thrillers from the shadow of Mount Rainier.

All his novels can be found here: Mr. Sean D Smith

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

National Park Eclipse Trek



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Sean Smith is an award winning conservationist and author. He is a former National Park Ranger at Yellowstone, a TEDx speaker, and private pilot. He graduated from the University of Washington in 1989 with a degree in Political Science. He got his master's in Natural Resources Management from Central Washington University in 1996. He currently runs Washington State's efforts to reduce and eliminate toxic chemicals from consumer products and serves as the Mayor Pro Tem of Covington.

He has been writing stories and books since he was a child and currently writes national park thrillers from the shadow of Mount Rainier.

All his novels can be found here: Mr. Sean D Smith

Friday, July 21, 2017

I focused on the wrong career

Forty eight years ago, my family sat in rapt awe as humanity first set foot on another heavenly body.

I remember it like yesterday, my mom and dad, as well as my brother in our army issued housing huddled around the TV. My dad had set up his 35mm camera on a tripod and snapped countless pictures of the momentous event.

The space program in an odd way set my career path. As many know I always wanted to be an astronaut. But due to the fact that I'm colorblind I couldn't pass the physical to become a military pilot.

However, as this picture shows to land people on the moon or any other significant national undertaking, takes a clear goal, resources, and strong political will. Kennedy set the goal of landing a man on the moon. Two more presidents and subsequent congresses saw that goal to fruition.

Americans and humanity have the capacity to achieve great things. Often the only thing holding us back is the political will to do it.

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Sean Smith is an award winning conservationist and author. He is a former National Park Ranger at Yellowstone, a TEDx speaker, and private pilot. He graduated from the University of Washington in 1989 with a degree in Political Science. He got his master's in Natural Resources Management from Central Washington University in 1996. He currently runs Washington State's efforts to reduce and eliminate toxic chemicals from consumer products and serves as the Mayor Pro Tem of Covington.

He has been writing stories and books since he was a child and currently writes national park thrillers from the shadow of Mount Rainier.

All his novels can be found here: Mr. Sean D Smith

Monday, July 3, 2017

We are the Future, The Echoes of the Civil War

This July marks the 154th anniversary of the Civil War battle at Gettysburg Pennsylvania. People today know this battle, as well as, the corresponding Union victory at Vicksburg Mississippi as the turning points of the war.

The actual Civil War fighting ended more than 15 decades ago but the country today appears to be once again on the verge of bloodshed.  Tensions run high even today on the cause, issues, and meaning of the war. Dust ups over Confederate symbols and monuments to their generals and leaders seem to occur every day.  Check here, here, and here for more.

In both my education and private life I've spent significant time studying the American Civil War.  In the past few years alone, I've read the following books and listened to the following lectures.
This study has revealed a few things.

The Confederates' efforts were not a Lost Cause. After the war, a myth pushed by Confederate Jubal Early grew up that the South fought the war for state's rights, a heroic effort to throw off federal tyranny, much like the American patriots threw off British tyranny. But this wasn't the case. The Confederate states left the Union because they saw threats including Lincoln's election to the institution of slavery. They stated clearly in their secession declarations their desire and purpose to maintain and even expand slavery's reach.

General Early also promoted the idea that due to the North's advantage in men and materials, the south didn't stand a chance. Modern Confederates play up this myth to elevate the Southern cause to noble proportions.  But this too is false. The North didn't win the war simply because it had more men and material, which was true. However, anyone watching the war's progression over the first few years would not have seen these facts as producing advantage. It was the North's deployment of those men and material that eventually carried the day.  Yet moreover, the North outmaneuvered the South in its incorporation of new technologies such as trains and the telegraph. The North also pushed medical advancements beyond those of the South, including the establishment of methods for ambulance care that are still in use today.

Meanwhile, the South throughout much of the war enjoyed advantages, that if properly exploited could have led to victory.  For example, the South fought much of the war on southern soil. This meant Confederate enjoyed a better understanding of the terrain, support from a friendly populace, and far more secure supply lines. The North, meanwhile, faced the opposite conditions for most of the war. Moreover, the Confederate's victory conditions were far simpler than the Union's. The South was fighting for independence. Total victory over and subjugation of the North was not required to achieve that goal. Rather the South merely had to make the North tired of war in order to win. The North, on the other had, was fighting to maintain the Union, which meant they had to defeat the South entirely. This was a much more difficult task.

In addition, the South missed several opportunities to win the war outright.  For example, the South's failure to push its advantage onto Washington D.C. after its victory at First Manassas was likely a turning point of the war.  Had the South followed General Jackson's advice and marched onto Washington D.C. the war may well have ended soon after its first major battle.

In the end, the war's outcome was not foretold at its commencement.  In fact, many Confederates at the time would likely laugh at the modern interpretation that the war was lost from the beginning.

Real people fought the civil war. According to Ken Burns 1990 documentary The American Civil War, "The Civil War was fought in ten thousand places, from Valverde, New Mexico and Tullahoma, Tennessee, to St. Albans, Vermont and Fernandina on the Florida Coast."  But it was also fought by hundreds of thousands of combatants and endured by millions more, who were real people with real strengths and weaknesses. They fought and believed the war was fought for high-minded ideals like ending slavery or independence. But beneath these lofty goals, many more average, mundane, selfish, economic, political, and personal motivations pushed people to fight the war.

These people weren't superheroes. They were real people who struggled with their own ambitions, their own fears, their own limits. Many in Lincoln's cabinet thought him unworthy of the presidency, that they themselves could better run the war. General George McClellan thought Lincoln "nothing more than a well-meaning baboon" and often seconded guessed and disregarded his Commander-in-Chiefs orders.

Meanwhile, General Stonewall Jackson was a sub-par college professor, who became a brilliant military tactician. He was also a hypochondriac who often failed to share details of his war plans with this subordinates.  This flaw may have been one that ultimately got him killed.

Lincoln himself was a man of varied traits, he saw his mission to save the Union clearly and did everything in his power including issuing the Emancipation Proclamation to achieve that goal. Lincoln skillfully guided the nation through the war, all while battling with the confederates, and even at times his generals, cabinet, and wife.  Lincoln also dealt with and suffered from depression throughout much of his adult life, which on several occasions left him contemplating suicide.

Real people, not super humans, fought this war and saw it to its conclusion. 

Many are still passionately engaged in the American Political Experiment. The public debate over the location, meaning, and removal of confederate monuments reveals that many believe in a political process for resolving public matters. While some take matters into their own hands through violence and intimidation, most communities push through these debates and resort to legal mechanisms to resolve the issues. While some may not support nor appreciate the outcome of the political process, the process has held in every instance.

We are the future people who are to heal the nation.  In many instances, politicians kick difficult issues down the road for future generations to solve.  At the Hanford Nuclear Reservation in Central Washington, the United States Government produced plutonium for the atomic bomb that was dropped on Nagasaki.  Over the next four decades Hanford's reactors made enough nuclear material for 60,000 weapons.  This production also produced millions of gallons of mixed and contaminated waste. More than 50 million gallons of this waste is stored in single shell tanks, some of which are leaking today.  While the political and military leaders at the time took some efforts to provide for the long-term disposal of this waste, they punted on many of the more difficult issues believing future generations would be in a better position to solve the problem.

In some instances, political leaders since the Civil War have punted on the infinitely more difficult challenge of bringing the nation back together and healing its "original sin" of slavery. The nation over the 150 years since the war's completion has yet to adequately solve the challenge of integrating and granting justice to a previously enslaved people. And while those past leaders may not have consciously or overtly stated they were gifting these problems to us, here we are. We today are the future citizens granted the sacred duty of healing the civil war's still raw wounds and ramifications.

Can we do it?

Yes.

Will we do it?

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Sean Smith is an award winning conservationist and author. He is a former National Park Ranger at Yellowstone, a TEDx speaker, and private pilot. He graduated from the University of Washington in 1989 with a degree in Political Science. He got his master's in Natural Resources Management from Central Washington University in 1996. He currently runs Washington State's efforts to reduce and eliminate toxic chemicals from consumer products and serves as the Mayor Pro Tem of Covington.

He has been writing stories and books since he was a child and currently writes national park thrillers from the shadow of Mount Rainier.

All his novels can be found here: Mr. Sean D Smith

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Who is Calling for the Review of Our National Monuments?

On April 26th 2017, the Trump administration announced its plan to review 22 national monuments established under the Antiquities Act since 1996. The Antiquities Act is federal law that authorizes the President to designate national monuments on federal property. National Monuments cannot be designated on state or private property.

On May 5th, the Department of Interior announced a 45 day comment period on this review, asking the public to comment on the legality of these designations, their impact upon multiple uses, local support, and impacts upon regional economies. 

Many immediately questioned the President's motivation for ordering this review.  Two of the main arguments offered up as support for this review are that the public doesn't support monument designations and that they harm regional economies, killing jobs, and ending traditional uses of the land.

Immediately after the President's announcement in April, I filed Freedom of Information Act requests with the Departments of Interior, Agriculture, Commerce, and Energy for the following:


a.      Any public communication to the Department of Interior and/or its Bureaus on or since January 20, 2017 requesting a review of the national monuments identified in President Trump’s Executive Order dated April 26, 2017.

b.  Any information on the impacts to local, regional, and national economies produced by the monuments at issue.

All agencies, expect the Department of Agriculture have confirmed receipt of the requests.  The DOE, DOI, and DOC began processing the request almost immediately.  

The Department of Energy (DOE) has completed its review and found no records responsive to request.  Under President Trump, the Department of Energy has received not one request to review national monuments. In other words, no one has called upon President Trump to make this review. Nor does the DOE have any information on the impact national monuments have on regional economies. 

It's expected the remaining agencies will turn up a similar lack of information. 

So if Trump hasn't received a request to make this review and the federal government has no information on the economic impacts of these monuments, the major questions remains, why is the Trump administration conducting this review?

The DOE's response can be found below.


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Sean Smith is an award winning conservationist and author. He is a former National Park Ranger at Yellowstone, a TEDx speaker, and private pilot. He graduated from the University of Washington in 1989 with a degree in Political Science. He got his master's in Natural Resources Management from Central Washington University in 1996. He currently runs Washington State's efforts to reduce and eliminate toxic chemicals from consumer products and serves as the Mayor Pro Tem of Covington.

He has been writing stories and books since he was a child and currently writes national park thrillers from the shadow of Mount Rainier.

All his novels can be found here: Mr. Sean D Smith

Sunday, April 30, 2017

Trump's Land Grab

In Donald Trump's first 100 days in office, National Parks and public lands have been in the news a lot.  From day one, it appears our national heritage has been front and center, and far too often in the president's cross hairs.

Recently, President Trump issued an executive order requiring a review of some national monuments. A list of the monuments in question and DOI initial thinking on the review can be found here.

On today's National Park Talk we dive into the Antiquities Act, federal law that gives the president the authority to designate national monuments, what congress' thinking was at the time when they passed the act, what this review could mean, why its happening, and most importantly what we can do to protect our public domain.

Want to get involved and help protect your public lands and national monuments?  Add your name to the White House petition found here and send the president a message that you support national monuments.

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Sean Smith is an award winning conservationist and author. He is a former National Park Ranger at Yellowstone, a TEDx speaker, and private pilot. He graduated from the University of Washington in 1989 with a degree in Political Science. He got his master's in Natural Resources Management from Central Washington University in 1996. He currently runs Washington State's efforts to reduce and eliminate toxic chemicals from consumer products and serves as the Mayor Pro Tem of Covington.

He has been writing stories and books since he was a child and currently writes national park thrillers from the shadow of Mount Rainier.

All his novels can be found here: Mr. Sean D Smith

Sunday, April 2, 2017

Park Madness 2017! Lake Roosevelt vs Cape Lookout: Who you got?

The NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament winds up tomorrow in Arizona pitting Gonzaga University out of Spokane against the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

For the past several years, Park Thrillers has run a "Park Madness" tournament with basketball teams corresponding with neighboring national parks. 

This year's final pits the Lake Roosevelt National Recreation Area Presidents in Washington State against the Cape Lookout National Seashore Lighthouses from North Carolina.

Who you got? the Presidents or the Lighthouses?


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Sean Smith is an award winning conservationist and author. He is a former National Park Ranger at Yellowstone, a TEDx speaker, and private pilot. He graduated from the University of Washington in 1989 with a degree in Political Science. He got his master's in Natural Resources Management from Central Washington University in 1996. He currently runs Washington State's efforts to reduce and eliminate toxic chemicals from consumer products and serves as the Mayor Pro Tem of Covington.

He has been writing stories and books since he was a child and currently writes national park thrillers from the shadow of Mount Rainier.

All his novels can be found here: Mr. Sean D Smith

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Help Restore the North Cascades' Grizzly Bears

The National Park Service and Fish and Wildlife Service are taking comments on a plan to restore
Grizzly bears to Washington State's North Cascades Ecosystem. The plan's four alternatives (A,B,C,D) take between 25 to 100 years to reach the goal of 200 bears. The plan can be found here.

The federal government is taking comments on its plan.

The plan's Alternative D best complies with federal law, produces the most public benefits, while minimizing environmental and social costs. Click here to add your name to the growing list who ask the National Park Service to adopt Alternative D.

Background:

Grizzly Bears once roamed from the Arctic circle to Central America, from the Pacific ocean to America's great plains. At their peak, the United States' had approximately 50,000 bears.

At parks like Glacier and Yellowstone, Grizzly bears were nearly wiped out. However in 1975, the federal government placed the Grizzly bear on the Endangered Species List and due to strong action, bear populations in these two parks have rebounded from a few dozen individuals to roughly a thousand today.

We now have a chance to repeat this success at the North Cascades National Park. Please add your voice to those who support Grizzly Bear restoration. Click here to sign the petition.

My comments on this plan follow.

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March 25, 2017


Karen Taylor-Goodrich

Superintendent

National Park Service

North Cascades National Park Complex


RE: Draft Grizzly Bear Restoration Plan/Environmental Impact Statement/ North Cascades Ecosystem


Dear Ms. Taylor-Goodrich


I write in support of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) and National Park Services’ (NPS) efforts to restore and maintain a health Grizzly Bear population in the North Cascades Ecosystem (NCE).  In particular, I fully support Alternative D with an accelerated recovery time frame and ask the FWS and NPS to implement this alternative as soon as possible.


As a former park ranger who has worked at the North Cascades, Yellowstone, and Glacier National Parks I’ve had significant experience working, living, and playing in Grizzly country.  I’ve encountered dozens of bears during my time in these parks, and every encounter left me exhilarated and grateful that my country is big enough to set aside some truly wild places for Grizzlies to live. 


During my time at these parks I also came in contact with tens of thousands of visitors from all over the world. Nearly every one of these visitors came to these parks with the hopes of seeing a bear in general and a Grizzly bear in particular.  It was my experience, that for those who did see a Grizzly they realized it was likely a once in a lifetime experience, something they would cherish.


The FWS and NPS have a unique opportunity to increase the chance the present and future generations have the opportunity to also have this “once in a lifetime experience” by augmenting the NCE Grizzly population.


Background

As the Draft Grizzly Bear Restoration Plan (EIS) rightly points out, the FWS and NPS are required by both federal statute and case law to restore endangered species, leave that National Park System unimpaired for future generations, protect wilderness, and conduct a thorough analysis.  The EIS’s stated purpose is to “restore the grizzly bear to the NCE” which I wholeheartedly agree with. Alternative D would achieve this stated purpose at the quickest time possible while producing maximum benefits, and minimizing long-term costs.  Alternative D also, and likely most important, best complies with federal statutes, policy, and case law.


On page i of the EIS the FWS and NPS state that historical records indicate that Grizzly bears once “occurred throughout the NCE.”  Later on page ii of the EIS the lead agencies write that Grizzly bears in the NCE are at risk of local extinction.  Extinction as defined by the encyclopedia Britannica is “the dying out or termination of a species. Extinction occurs when species are diminished because of environmental forces (habitat fragmentation, global change, overexploitation of species for human use) or because of evolutionary changes in their members (genetic inbreeding, poor reproduction, decline in population numbers).” Extinction can take place at many levels including the loss of local populations and scientific studies on the removal of apex predators are finding this extinction represents a lasting injury or impairment to that ecosystem. Further, the extirpation of Grizzly bears from the NCE represents a violation of the Endangered Species Act’s prohibition of the extinction of listed species, the NPS Organic Act’s requirements that park resources and wildlife be left unimpaired and for the enjoyment of both present and future generations, the Wilderness Act’s requirement that wilderness areas be managed to preserve natural conditions and appears to have been affected primarily by the forces of nature, with the imprint of man's work substantially unnoticeable, as well as the National Environmental Policy Act’s requirement that federal agencies prepare detailed statements assessing the environmental impact of and alternatives to major federal actions significantly affecting the environment.



Alternatives D is the only viable alternative and best complies with federal law

A healthy Grizzly Bear population would produce many benefits for the park, surrounding national forests, gateway communities, tribes, and industries.  By contrast Alternative A, B, and C produce fewer benefits, greater costs, at longer time frames and appear to violate federal law and policy.


ESA Mandates

As stated above, federal law such as the Endangered Species Act requires federal agencies such as the FWS, NPS, and the United States Forest Service (USFS) to prevent the extinction of federally listed species. Since 1975 the Grizzly Bear has been listed as threatened in the continental United States. The draft EIS states on page 1 that it is currently highly unlikely the NCE contains a viable Grizzly bear population. In fact, the EIS states that all four documented grizzly bear sightings in the NCE are the result of 2 bears. Two bears by is not a viable population, which by definition is one that faces near-term extinction.


NPS management policies also require proactive action on preventing local extinction. Specifically, the 2006 policies states it is NPS policy to “pass on to future generations natural, cultural and physical resources that meet desired conditions better than they do today, along with improved opportunities for enjoyment.” Emphasis added.


It’s clear that Alternative A does not comply with federal law and policies which require the FWS and NPS to take immediate action to prevent extinction.  Alternatives B and C also appear questionable in their compliance with federal mandates, while Alternative D, by contrast, best complies with these requirements.


Organic Act Mandates

Next, the recovery time frames as stated in the no action and alternatives B and C are far too long and likely make them illegal. 


The Organic Act requires the NPS to leave park resources unimpaired for the enjoyment of both present and future generations.  NPS’ knows the enjoyment mandate that is contemplated is this statute:


“is broad; it is the enjoyment of all the people of the United States and includes enjoyment both by people who visit parks and by those who appreciate them from afar. It also includes deriving benefit (including scientific knowledge) and inspiration from parks, as well as other forms of enjoyment and inspiration. Congress, recognizing that the enjoyment by future generations of the national parks can be ensured only if the superb quality of park resources and values is left unimpaired, has provided that when there is a conflict between conserving resources and values and providing for enjoyment of them, conservation is to be predominant. This is how courts have consistently interpreted the Organic Act.”


At a minimum, the FWS and NPS estimate it will take between 60 to 100 years, if not longer, for Alternatives B and C to reach the target population of 200 bears. Alternative A will take even longer. These timeframes prevent present generations from enjoying a recovered Grizzly bear population whether through direct visits, from afar, through scientific research and inspiration. They also prevent a significant portion of future generations from enjoying these bears. This is a violation of the Organic Act’s mandate that parks be provided for present day and future enjoyment.  Alternative D by contrast comes closest to complying with the Organic Act, however even its 25 year recovery time is likely too long.


Wilderness Act Mandates

The 1964 Wilderness Act requires federal agencies to manage designated wilderness “an area where the earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man, where man himself is a visitor who does not remain.” This mandate includes the restoration of a wilderness area’s “wilderness character.”  The Forest Service in an interagency report defines wilderness character to include an area that is untrammeled, undeveloped, natural, and provides an opportunity for solitude or primitive and unconfined recreation. The Forest Service notes that wilderness character is degraded by many things including the “Extirpation or extinction of native animals and plants.” The Forest Service also understands that Congress has made clear that preserving wilderness character is the act’s primary legal mandate.


According to the Natural Resource Conservation Service, Grizzly bears once ranged from the Arctic Slope to Central Mexico and from the Pacific Coast to Minnesota.  Today, “the grizzly mainly occupies high mountain wilderness areas.” 


It’s clear that federal law and policy requires agencies like the FWS, NPS, and the USFS to protect not just wilderness but its wilderness character.  Grizzly bears according to the federal government are mainly associated today with high mountain wilderness areas like the North Cascades.  By its own admission, the federal government recognizes the extirpation of a native wilderness species is a degradation of wilderness barred by federal law.  As stated above, the EIS’s no action alternative is unlikely to save the bear from local extinction and therefore does not comply with the Wilderness Act.  Alternative D on the other hand,  best complies with this act, by returning Grizzly Bears to a stable population at the shortest time possible, and thus better restoring the wilderness character of the NCE also at the shortest time possible.


NEPA Mandates

The National Environmental Policy Act requires federal agencies to assess the environmental effects of their proposed actions prior to making decisions. Agencies are required to assess and consider all reasonable impacts to the affected environment.  It appears the draft EIS may violate NEPA for its analysis fails to adequately address the following issues.


1.      The EIS doesn’t appear to investigate Grizzly bear extirpation and its impact upon the NCE.  The removal of large predators such as the Gray Wolf and its impact upon the environment have been studied at national parks like Olympic and Yellowstone.  A similar analysis of the impacts of Grizzly bear extinction in the NCE should be conducted in this EIS before making a decision.


2.      The EIS also appears to overplay the negative impact of Grizzly bear augmentation may have upon park visitation. Rather, visitor studies out of Alaska show that park visitors often come to parks like Denali with a hope and expectation of seeing a bear. The vast majority of park visitors to Denali see Grizzly bears and many come away from the experience with a higher commitment to conservation.


Meanwhile, at parks like Yellowstone and Glacier Grizzly bear recovery has had no negative impacts upon park visitation. When grizzlies were listed as threatened in 1975, Yellowstone’s annual visitation was 2.2 million, while Glacier’s was 1.5 million.  Today those parks’ visitation numbers are 4.2 million for Yellowstone and 2.9 million for Glacier. Meanwhile during this same time, Grizzly bear populations at Yellowstone went from approximately 130 bears in 1975 to more than 700 today. Meanwhile at Glacier went from a low of a few dozen bears to more than 300 today.  Obviously, Grizzly bears have not had a negative impact upon park visitation.  

                                                                                                           

Grizzly bear recovery in the NCE enjoys broad public support and similar to Yellowstone, Denali, and Glacier, is unlikely to negatively impact visitation.  If fact, a case could be made that a viable Grizzly bear population may actual improve NCE visitation.


3.      There appears to be a similar overplay in the EIS of the threat Grizzlies pose to public safety.  As stated above grizzly bear populations have dramatically increased over the past half century at Yellowstone and Glacier from a few isolated bears to healthy populations of hundreds today.  Over these parks’ more than 100 year histories less than a dozen visitors respectively have been killed by Grizzly bears.  One is just about as likely to be killed by lightning as a Grizzly bear in these parks. Visitors are far more likely to die from drowning, heart attacks, or falls.  These trends would likely be similar at NCE.


4.      Some are also raising concern about new bears and their impact upon salmon runs.  These concerns are overblown.  The NCE contains some of the best Grizzly bear habitat in the continental United States. Alternative Grizzly bear foods sources are plentiful in the recovery area.  The FWS and NPS both find that Grizzly bear recovery will have little impact upon NCE fish stocks.  On page 105, the FWS and NPS state “Fish are not expected to be a primary food source, and the number of Grizzly bears in the ecosystem would not be sufficient to generate adverse impact on fish populations as a result of predation.”


5.      Livestock predation is the final area where more analysis needs to be conducted.  On page 145 of the EIS it states that “concerns have been raised about potential for depredation of livestock.” Concerns have been raised about the potential for [Grizzly bear] depredation of livestock.  While this is a possibility, it is very remote. Grizzly bears have been known to kill livestock such as cattle and sheep, but through good livestock management such as the elimination of bone yards and active herd monitoring livestock deaths can be reduced.  Researchers have found bears tend to prey on livestock because it tends to represent an easy foraging opportunity.  However, these impacts will be less in NCE because the area already contains excellent Grizzly bear habitat with outstanding non-livestock foraging opportunities.  Moreover, the scope of the threat will be smaller in NCE.  On page 74 of the EIS it states there are more than 220,000 heads of cattle in the region of influence.  By comparison the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem (MT, ID, WY) has at least double this many heads of cattle.  Moreover, there are few firm numbers on the number of cattle killed by grizzlies but it’s likely around 30 to 40 per year.  With both fewer cattle and bears than the GYE, the NCE is likely to see far fewer Grizzly cattle predations.


6.      Finally, the NCE has set 200 bears as the target population.  However, counting Grizzly bears is not straight forward.  Researchers out of Yellowstone report that coming to a Grizzly bear population estimate is not simple.  The draft EIS seems to underplay the time, energy, and resources needed to accurately count NCE bears.  Without a better explanation of how the FWS and NPS plan to count NCE bears, public confidence in any Grizzly bear population numbers will be questionable at best.


I appreciate both the Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Park Service’s efforts to recover the NCE’s Grizzly bear populations.  I encourage the FWS and NPS to choose Alternative D with an accelerate recovery time frame.  This alternative best complies with federal law, maximizes public benefits, while minimizing costs.


Sincerely,


Sean Smith


Covington, WA 98042

Former North Cascades National Park Ranger

Former Yellowstone National Park Ranger

Former Glacier National Park Naturalist