Old Faithful

Dear Mr. Zinke,

In the summer between eighth and ninth grade, I took a trip through the American northwest with my family. We travelled through Washington, Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming, and we camped in various parts of Yellowstone National Park for about a week. My fondest memory of the trip was waking up at 5 am to drive out to Lamar Valley. There, I watched herds of bison, elk, and bighorn sheep move across the plains as the sun cast golden rays through the chilly morning air. Perhaps you, a Montana native, took a similar trip in your youth. Yellowstone was more than a summer trip for me - it was an inspiring, moving experience.

Mr. Zinke, I must express my concern for Yellowstone’s well-being, as well as the rest of the national parks service. In our world of consumerism and urban sprawl, with the oil and gas industry knocking at national park gates, what measures, if any, will be taken to preserve places like Lamar Valley? To quote the Bureau of Land Management, “nearly $360 million [was generated] from oil and gas lease sales, an 86% increase over the previous year” (2018). I understand that resource extraction is an important industry in the USA and that oil reserves transcend protected land boundaries, but I urge you to consider what you are supposed to preserve. Many fuel-rich areas are located away from protected habitats. It is unnecessary, unwise, and inappropriate to compromise public lands for private interests, regardless of any financial threat or incentive. According to the National Park Service’s website, at least 204 of the 394 national parks host at least one endangered species (2017). This greatly threatens the USA’s rich biodiversity for an insignificant financial gain. It is unavoidable that habitats and ecological communities have been and will continue to be damaged in the extraction of natural resources, but with help from your department, national parks can be preserved as sanctuaries for vulnerable species.

A founder of the national park service, Theodore Roosevelt, once said, “We have fallen heirs to the most glorious heritage a people ever received, and [we] should see that [the parks] are preserved for our children and their children forever, with [its] majestic beauty all unmarred” (NPS.gov). Although the political and ecological landscape has changed greatly since these words were spoken over a century ago, the principle behind them remains unchanged. You signed through the shrinking of six monument and park boundaries in 2017 alone, which could easily spiral into reckless neglect of natural lands under the Department of the Interior’s new leader, Secretary Bernhardt. In his brief tenure, he has already “erased a chapter on climate change from the department’s handbook, ... advocated for the rolling-back of Endangered Species Acts, and relaxed [generation-old regulations] set up against oil and gas development.” (NPR, 2019). The decisions that you made have lasting impacts, whether they set a precedent for more action in the future, or directly impact animal and plant species and the environment. As a member of the group of children that Roosevelt referred to, I find it troubling that our land is being handed to us in a state of neglect. In no way are you completely responsible for the destruction, but in many ways, you are responsible for the reconstruction.

When my children are in their teens, I want to take them to experience Yellowstone. It is my heart’s sincere hope that they will be able to see Old Faithful erupt every 90 minutes, that they will be able to climb Mt. Washburn’s 10,000 feet, that they will see the Yellowstone Falls from Uncle Tom’s trail and the rainbow formed by the mist, and most of all, that they will experience Lamar Valley and all of its beauty and biodiversity. To close, let me tell you about an evening drive back to our campsite. My family’s car was forced to come to a halt on the road because of a large herd of bison crossing the road. Sure, we could have continued driving, weaving around the bison where possible, but instead, we chose to uphold the precedent set by generations of visitors before us, and wait for the bison. We chose to revel in the magic and beauty of dozens of bison grazing alongside the road. Mr. Zinke, the message I present is simple. The bison, like nature, doesn’t care what we, as humans, do. If we had plowed through the bison jam, we would have damaged our car and angered the bison. Similarly, humans have many choices on how to develop and behave, because of our wealth of knowledge, but we also share the same planet with countless other creatures. We can win by making money off of oil and gas on public lands, but eventually, that will backfire. Our national parks need sustainable development and investment, and it’s your job to do that. You don’t just represent the president’s interests - you represent the public’s, and that of all creatures. Maintain our lands for us.

With sincere hope,
Jonathan Lai