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Yellowstone City Park: The Dominating Influence of Politicians in National Park Service Policymaking

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  25 July 2011

Michael J. Yochim*
Midpines, California


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Copyright © Donald Critchlow and Cambridge University Press 2011

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1. Seattle Times, 18 May 2006, 58; and the 2002 Wyoming Visitor Directory (back cover), author’s personal collection.

2. See, for example (and focusing, in the last three books, on Yellowstone, since much of this article does the same), Runte, Alfred, National Parks: The American Experience (Lincoln, 1979)Google Scholar; West Sellars, Richard, Preserving Nature in the National Parks: A History (New Haven, 1997)Google Scholar; Pritchard, James A., Preserving Yellowstone’s Natural Conditions: Science and the Perception of Nature (Lincoln, 1999)Google Scholar; Schullery, Paul, Searching for Yellowstone: Ecology and Wonder in the Last Wilderness (Boston, 1997)Google Scholar; and Wallace, Linda L., ed., After the Fires: The Ecology of Change in Yellowstone National Park (New Haven, 2004).Google Scholar

3. Lowry, William R., The Capacity for Wonder: Preserving National Parks (Washington, D.C., 1994)Google Scholar, Preserving Public Lands for the Future: The Politics of Intergenerational Goods (Washington, D.C., 1998), and Repairing Paradise: The Restoration of Nature in America’s National Parks (Washington, D.C., 2009). Lowry also argues that park managers must frame key issues to their advantage, must demonstrate that local and regional economies will be protected, and must build a strong and supportive base of science.

4. Everhart, William C., The National Park Service (Boulder, 1983)Google Scholar; Hartzog, George B. Jr., Battling for the National Parks (Mt. Kisco, N.Y., 1988)Google Scholar; and Ridenour, James M., The National Parks Compromised: Pork Barrel Politics and America’s Treasures (Merrillville, Ind., 1994).Google Scholar See also Dustin, Daniel L. and Schneider, Ingrid E., “The Science of Politics/The Politics of Science: Examining the Snowmobile Controversy in Yellowstone National Park,” Environmental Management 34 (2005): 761–67.Google Scholar

5. The literature on collaborative land management problem solving is large; for a general overview, see McKinney, Matthew and Harmon, William, The Western Confluence: A Guide to Governing Natural Resources (Washington, D.C., 2004)Google Scholar; Kemmis, Daniel, This Sovereign Land: A New Vision for Governing the West (Washington, D.C., 2001)Google Scholar; and Sabatier, Paul A., Focht, Will, Lubell, Mark, Trachtenberg, Zev, Vedlitz, Arnold, and Matlock, Marty, eds., Swimming Upstream: Collaborative Approaches to Watershed Management (Cambridge, Mass., 2005).Google Scholar

6. Layzer, Judith, Natural Experiments: Ecosystem-Based Management and the Environment (Cambridge, Mass., 2008).CrossRefGoogle Scholar

7. U.S. House Representation from “Census Data Show Who Represents the Extremes,” USA Today, 17 October 2006, 10A.

8. Yochim, Michael, “A Water Wilderness: Battles over Motorboats on Yellowstone Lake,” Historical Geography 35 (2007): 185213.Google Scholar

9. Senate Committee on Appropriations, Proposed Boating Regulations for Yellowstone Lake, Hearings Before a Subcommittee of the Committee on Appropriations, 86th Cong., 2nd sess., 1960; and Department of the Interior-NPS, “Hearings on Proposed Motorboat Restrictions on Yellowstone Lake,” 1960, unpublished transcripts, file “W4624—Lake Zoning Hearings,” Box D-154, Yellowstone National Park Archives, Gardiner, Mont. (hereafter YNPA) (quote on p. 57).

10. Richard A. Crysdale, “An Analysis of Lake Zoning Factors, Objectives, and Problems on Yellowstone Lake” (master’s thesis, Utah State University, 1965); and Gale W. McGee to Robert Rose, 18 August 1960, Folder 7, Box 570, Gale W. McGee Collection, Accession #9800, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming, Laramie (hereafter AHC).

11. Gale W. McGee to Fred A. Seaton, 15 November 1960, Press Release from the Office of Senator Gale W. McGee, 15 November 1960, and Gale W. McGee to Fred A. Seaton, 18 November 1960, all in Folder 4, Box 38, AHC.

12. McGee’s efforts in Gale W. McGee to John H. Larsen, 6 January 1961 (first two quotes), Gale W. McGee to Lee Underbrink, 10 January 1961, Gale W. McGee to P. M. Cooper, 17 January 1961, Gale W. McGee to Frank Hicks, 16 January 1961, Gale W. McGee to “Frank” (Hicks), 24 January 1961 (third quote), Gale W. McGee to Stewart Udall, 26 January 1961, and Gale W. McGee to R. L. Bradford, 22 February 1961, all in Folder 2, Box 38, AHC; and Stewart L. Udall to “Gale” (McGee), 6 February 1961, Folder 4, Box 38, AHC.

13. Gale W. McGee to Stewart L. Udall, 9 March 1961, Folder 4, Box 38, AHC; Gale W. McGee to “Frank,” 19 April 1961 and 9 June 1961, and Gale W. McGee to “Bert” Reinow, 21 June 1961 (quote), Folder 2, Box 38, AHC; and Department of the Interior, Press Release, “Interior Department Reaffirms Controls on Yellowstone Boating,” 9 June 1961, file “W4624 Book #6, Jan.-July 1961, 1 of 2,” Box W-255.

14. Yochim, “A Water Wilderness.”

15. Ibid., and National Park Service, Management Policies: The Guide to Managing the National Park Service, 2006, (accessed 10 August 2010).

16. A suggestion made in the 1940s to restore the area from Olaus Murie as found in Fishing Bridge Team Meeting notes, 8 July 1985, File “New Alts. FBDCP,” Box “Mid-80s FB History,” Management Assistant’s Office Files, Yellowstone National Park (hereafter MAOF). The rest of the paragraph is from National Park Service, Master Plan, Yellowstone National Park, 11 June 1974, 16–18, 31; and Sue Consolo Murphy and Beth Kaeding, “Fishing Bridge: 25 Years of Controversy Regarding Grizzly Bear Management in Yellowstone National Park,” Ursus 10 (1998): 385–93.

17. Bob Barbee, “Superintendent’s Annual Report for 1983,” 55, Yellowstone National Park Library, Gardiner, Mont. (hereafter YNPL); Team Captain Mike Strunk to Assistant Manager, 23 June 1983, File “Briefings/NPS Correspondence,” Box “Mid-80s FB History,” MAOF; and “Public Response Form, Lake/Fishing Bridge/Bridge Bay Development Concept Plan, Yellowstone National Park,” File “NPS—Yellowstone N. P.—Fishing Bridge Comments,” Greater Yellowstone Coalition files, Bozeman, Mont. (hereafter “GYC”). Chamber letter from Weiss to Barbee, 30 September 1983, File “Public/Congressional Response, 1983 to Fall 1984,” Box “Fishing Bridge EIS general files,” MAOF.

18. Chamber request from Gibbons to Russell Dickenson, 30 July 1984, File “EIS—Fishing Bridge—1981–1984,” Box L-69, YNPA. Simpson’s request from “Delegation Wants EIS on Fishing Bridge Campground,” Press Release, 17 July 1984, File “NPS—Yellowstone N.P.—Fishing Bridge Correspondence,” GYC; and Wallop, Simpson, and Cheney to Dickenson, 24 September 1984, File “Fishing Bridge DCP/EA Notes,” Box “Mid-1980s Fishing Bridge History,” MAOF.

19. Survey results from “Results of East Entrance Survey,” 1984, File “EIS—Fishing Bridge—1981–1984,” Box L-69, YNPA. Barbee’s action from “Summary of September 26, 1985 ‘Summit Meeting’ on Fishing Bridge,” [no date], File “EIS—Fishing Bridge—1985,” Box L-69, YNPA; Barbee, “Superintendent’s Annual Report for 1985,” YNPL, 35; and Robert Ekey, “Fishing Bridge Action Delayed,” Billings Gazette, 3 October 1985. Simpson’s power and response from Simpson to “Bill” (Vehnekamp, a Cody resident), 19 August 1984 (source of quote), File “Correspondence—General, Fall 1984–,” Box “Fishing Bridge EIS general files,” MAOF; “New Alts. Notes,” [no date], File “New Alts. FBDCP,” Box “Mid-80s FB History,” MAOF; and personal interviews by the author with Louisa Willcox, Livingston, Mont., 9 April 2003, Bob Ekey, Bozeman, Montana, April 9, 2003, and Michael Scott, Bozeman, Mont., 16 April 2003.

20. Scott E. Atkinson, Thomas D. Crocker, and Cliff Nowell, “Socio-Economic Impact Analysis of the Proposed Relocation of Fishing Bridge Facilities in Yellowstone National Park,” File “Briefings/NPS Correspondence,” Box “Mid-80s FB History,” MAOF (quote on p. 2).

21. Simpson’s response from Simpson to “Bob,” 9 October 1986, File “Socioeconomic ‘Comment,’” Box “Fishing Bridge EIS General Files,” MAOF (source of quote); Craig Johnson, “Study on Fishing Bridge Pleases Conservationists,” Bozeman (Montana) Daily Chronicle, 26 September 1986; and personal interviews with the following: Chris Turk, Denver, 4 June 2003; Louisa Willcox, Livingston, Mont., 9 April 2003; Bob Barbee, Bozeman, Mont., 24 March 2003; Steve Iobst, Mammoth Hot Springs, Wyoming, 4 April 2003; Sue Consolo Murphy, Mammoth Hot Springs, Wyoming, 25 March 2003; and Dan Wenk, telephone interview by author, 4 April 2003.

22. Planning for the preferred alternative in Richard A. Strait to Regional Director, date illegible, loose within Box “Fishing Bridge EIS, 2nd Newsletter Response,” MAOF; and “Preliminary Concepts of Preferred Alternative for Fishing Bridge Environmental Impact Statement Released,” Press Release, File “[Untitled],” Box K-108, YNPA. Final form of preferred alternative in Robert Ekey, “Park Boss Plans Deal with Cody,” Billings Gazette, 27 October 1986; “Fishing Bridge Plan Unveiled,” Livingston (Montana) Enterprise, 7 November 1986; and NPS, Draft Environmental Impact Statement/Development Concept Plan, Fishing Bridge Developed Area, Yellowstone, 1987, 29–35. Information also drawn from Consolo Murphy and Kaeding, “Fishing Bridge,” 1998.

23. Howie Thompson, notes on 7 April 1987 conference call, File “Fishing Bridge EIS,” Box “Fishing Bridge EIS General Files,” MAOF. Barbee quote from “Fishing Bridge,” Greater Yellowstone Report (quarterly newsletter of the Greater Yellowstone Coalition), Fall 1987, 9. The 95 percent figure is from “Summary of Public Response, File “Last Two Weeks,” Box “Mid-80s FB History,” MAOF. Final comment tally from [Summary of Public Comments to the Fishing Bridge Draft DCP/EIS], File “Last Two Weeks,” Box “Mid-80s FB History, MAOF. National Park Service, Final Environmental Impact Statement/Development Concept Plan, Fishing Bridge Developed Area, Yellowstone National Park, 1988, iv, 37–42. Consulting the delegation from Barbee to Malcolm Wallop, Alan Simpson, and Dick Cheney (separately), 19 April 1988, File “In-house correspondence since mid-March 1988,” Box “Mid-80s FB History,” MAOF.

24. Campground closure from Murphy, Sue Consolo and Reinhart, Daniel P., “Restoring Fishing Bridge Campground: The Challenges of ‘Undevelopment’ in America’s Oldest National Park,” in On the Frontiers of Conservation: Proceedings of the 10th Conference on Research and Resource Management in Parks and on Public Lands, The 1999 George Wright Society Conference, ed. Harmon, David (Hancock, Mich.: George Wright Society, 1999), 210–14.Google Scholar Threshold reached from “Environmental Impact Statement to Be Prepared for Replacement of Fishing Bridge Campsites in Yellowstone National Park,” Press Release, 23 March 1992, File “NPS—Yellowstone N.P.—Fishing Bridge EIS,” GYC; and Mike Finley, “Superintendent’s Annual Report for 1994,” YNPL, 55. Effects of Simpson’s retirement from Michael Yochim, “Compromising Yellowstone: The Interest Group–National Park Service Relationship in Modern Policymaking” (Ph.D. diss., University of Wisconsin–Madison, 2004), 131. Draft EIS: NPS, Draft Environmental Impact Statement: Fishing Bridge Campsite Replacement, Yellowstone National Park,October 1994.

25. Servheen, Christopher and Shoemaker, Rebecca, “Delisting the Yellowstone Grizzly Bear: A Lesson in Cooperation, Conservation, and Monitoring,” Yellowstone Science 16, no. 2 (2008): 2529.Google Scholar

26. The winter-use issue has seen an increasing amount of scholarly attention. See Bissegger, Jeffrey, “Snowmobiles in Yellowstone: Conflicting Priorities in Setting National Parks Policy and the Paradox of Judicial Activism for Recreational Business,” Journal of Land, Resources, & Environmental Law 25 (2005): 109–18Google Scholar; Borrie, William T., Freimund, Wayne A., and Davenport, Mae A., “Winter Visitors to Yellowstone National Park: Their Value Orientations and Support for Management Actions,” Human Ecology Review 9 (2002): 4148Google Scholar; Davenport, Mae and Borrie, William T., “The Appropriateness of Snowmobiling in National Parks: An Investigation of the Meanings of Snowmobiling Experiences in Yellowstone National Park,” Environmental Management 35 (2005): 151–60Google Scholar; Dustin and Schneider, “The Science of Politics/The Politics of Science,” 2005; Layzer, The Environmental Case, 2006; McBeth, Mark K. and Shanahan, Elizabeth A., “Public Opinion for Sale: The Role of Policy Marketers in Greater Yellowstone Policy Conflict,” Policy Sciences 37 (2004): 319–39Google Scholar; McBeth, Mark K., Shanahan, Elizabeth A., and Jones, Michael D., “The Science of Storytelling: Measuring Policy Beliefs in Greater Yellowstone,” Society and Natural Resources 18 (2005): 413–29Google Scholar; and Yochim, Michael J., “Snow Machines in the Gardens,” Montana, the Magazine of Western History 53 (Autumn 2003): 215Google Scholar, and Yochim, , Yellowstone and the Snowmobile: Locking Horns over National Park Use (Lawrence, Kans., 2009).Google Scholar

27. Wyoming Recreation Commission and the Wyoming Continental Divide Snowmobile Trail Association, “Proposal for the Wyoming Continental Divide Snowmobile Trail,” June 1988, file of same name, Research Collection, MAOF; and NPS, Winter Use Plan Environmental Assessment, November 1990 (hereafter NPS, WUPEA).

28. Alan Simpson to James Ridenour, 21 January 1990, file “Correspondence—WUP,” WUPEA Box 1, MAOF. See also “Plans for Future of Yellowstone Released,” National Parks, September/October 1990, 9–10.

29. Mintzmyer to Simpson, 13 February 1990, file “Correspondence—WUP,” WUPEA Box 1, MAOF. Trail opening from “Winter Visitor Use Management Work Plan,” November 1993, Loose within Box “Misc. Files 1990 WUP,” MAOF.

30. “Winter Use Plans Record of Decision,” 20 November 2007, 26, (accessed 10 August 2010).

31. NPS, Winter Use Plans Final Environmental Impact Statement (hereafter NPS, 2007 FEIS), 1:105–8, and 2:F-8; and NPS, “Sylvan Pass Operational Risk Management Assessment,” October 2007, available at MAOF or online at (accessed 10 August 2010).

32. Proposal from NPS, Winter Use Plans Draft Environmental Impact Statement, March 2007, 36–37, MAOF; other details from NPS, 2007 FEIS, 1:159, and 2:F-7.

33. Opposition from Cody mayor Roger Sedam et al. to Suzanne Lewis, 5 December 2006; Temple Stevenson to Lewis, 5 January 2007; Ken Volker to John Sacklin, 18 December 2006; Craig Thomas, Michael B. Enzi, and Barbara Cubin to Winter Use Planning Team, 2 May 2007; and Wyoming governor Dave Freudenthal to Lewis, 3 May 2007, all in Third EIS Collection, MAOF; Mike Stark, “Lawmakers Push to Keep Pass Open,” Billings Gazette, 3 May 2007; and Ruffin Prevost, “500 Attend Cody Forum on Sylvan Pass Proposals,” Billings Gazette, 23 March 2007. Final proposal from NPS, 2007 FEIS, 1:60–61.

34. Drinkard, Jim, “White House Reverses Experts on Yellowstone Policy,” San Jose (Calif.) Mercury News, 24 July 2008 (Simpson quote)Google Scholar; “White House Overruled Experts on Sylvan Pass,”Bozeman Daily Chronicle, 25 July 2008; Hatch, Cory, “Parks Sled Plan in Limbo,” Jackson Hole (Wyoming) News and Guide, 20 November 2007Google Scholar; and Miller, Jared, “Vice President Defends His Record,” Casper (Wyoming) Star-Tribune, 28 December 2009 (Cheney quote).Google Scholar

35. See Wilkinson, Todd, Science Under Siege: The Politician’s War on Nature and Truth (Boulder, 1998)Google Scholar, for examples of typical threats and actions. Sylvan Pass events from NPS, “Winter Use Plans Record of Decision,” 20 November 2007, 6; and NPS, “Winter Use Plans Record of Decision Amendment, Sylvan Pass Management,” 3–5, (accessed 10 August 2010).

36. Colin Simpson to Sacklin, 5 June 2007, and Lee Whittlesey to Yochim (refuting Simpson’s statement), e-mail, 25 September 2007, both in Third EIS Collection, MAOF; and Bonner, Robert E., William F. Cody’s Wyoming Empire: The Buffalo Bill Nobody Knows (Norman, Okla., 2007), 5, 243.Google Scholar For ideas of Buffalo Bill’s meanings, see Nicholas, Liza J., Becoming Western: Stories of Culture and Identity in the Cowboy State (Lincoln, 2006), esp. chaps. 1–3.Google Scholar

37. “Grand Teton Celebrates Two Landmarks,” article within National Parks and Conservation Association, Field Report, Fall/Winter 2009, available at (accessed 26 February 2010); Yochim, Yellowstone and the Snowmobile; and Ann Franke, Mary, To Save the Wild Bison: Life on the Edge in Yellowstone (Norman, Okla., 2005).Google Scholar