High Noon in Jackson: The Ninety-Year Struggle for Ecosystem Management at Yellowstone and Grand Teton

Authors: Randall Wilson*, Gettysburg College
Topics: Historical Geography, United States, Natural Resources
Keywords: National Parks, Yellowstone, Grand Teton, Land Use Conflict
Session Type: Virtual Paper
Day: 4/7/2021
Start / End Time: 4:40 PM / 5:55 PM
Room: Virtual 43
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


In 1882 a United States War Department report recommended expanding Yellowstone National Park boundaries to better align with the seasonal migration patterns of local bison and elk populations. This proposal, the earliest documented effort to establish a form of ecosystem management on U.S. public lands, launched an effort that would not reach completion until ninety years later in 1972. Along the way, this seminal struggle over public land protection established new forms of public conservation lands (e.g., national forests), introduced integrated resource management, and created the largest in-tact ecosystem based protected area in the United States. At the same time, the tactics employed by both advocates and opponents set the template for anti-federal government, private-property rights protests. Such tactics are still in use today by reactionary groups in predominantly white rural communities located throughout the American West. This critical historical case study of Yellowstone’s expansion and the battle for Jackson Hole, underscores the legacy of colonial relations that underpin the establishment and evolution of the national park system in the United States. It also illustrates the appropriation of post-colonialist rhetoric by reactionary political groups in a bid to present themselves as victims of environmental injustice. Taken together, findings help explain how national parks and other types of public lands in the United States have long served a seemingly contradictory role as both a symbol of shared national values and as sites of conflict, division and political polarization.

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