National Geographic : 2016 May
The Paradox of the Park 67 it was understandable. The ranch operated until 1952. Horace Albright, superintendent of Yellowstone from 1919 to 1929, worried that America’s elk might also face extinction, because of un- controlled slaughter outside the park and the harsh winters they faced on the Yellowstone Plateau. Albright is remembered fondly, but his legacy, like Sheridan’s, is ambivalent. He had served as a young assis- tant to Stephen Mather, the man chiefly responsible for creating the National Park Service, and he shared Mather’s commitment to raising Yellowstone’s value, and that of the national parks system generally, by increasing tourism. Large, visible herds of elk represented popular attractions, so Albright wanted them—even at the expense of other native Yellowstone animals. He instituted a program of feeding hay to elk during winter, hoping to keep them from migrating out of the park and into danger from hunters, and he encouraged his rangers to kill predators. Sport fishing was another visitor draw, so white pelicans, those nefarious trout-eaters, were suppressed by crushing eggs and killing hatchlings at their breeding colonies. Persecution of the “bad” animals in Yellowstone dated back to well before Albright. Predators had been shot, trapped, and poisoned since the 1870s. One superintendent even encouraged commercial trappers to kill beavers by the hundreds, so that they wouldn’t build dams and flood his park. Otters were classified as predatory, that damning label, and for a while there was a fatwa against skunks. During the Army years noncommissioned officers and civilian scouts were “authorized and directed to kill mountain lions, coyotes, and timber wolves,” by order of the secretary of the interior. Wolf killing ended only when the wolves were all gone, not just from Yellowstone (by around 1930) but throughout the American West. Poisoning and shooting of coyotes continued until about 1935. But bears were different. Bears were omnivorous and, as some people saw them, cute. They were also smart and opportunistic. Beginning as early as 1883, they adjusted to feeding on food refuse from garbage dumps near the park hotels, and that behavior made them easily visible and therefore a popular tourist attraction. They also learned to accept handouts from passing visitors, a trend that started in the stagecoach era and contin- ued after private automobiles were allowed into the park, beginning in 1915. Albright himself encouraged the handouts game, leading people to think that bears—even grizzlies—were companionable, benign, and feckless. By the hotels at Old Faithful, on the lake, and near the Grand Canyon, the dumps became theaters where tourists sat on bleacher seats to watch the “bear show” on summer evenings. For 80 years Yellowstone’s grizzlies and black bears consumed humans’ garbage in enormous quantities, coming to depend on it unwholesomely, with the blessings of the park managers and to the amusement of the visiting public. “One of the duties of the National Park Service,” Albright wrote, after succeeding Mather as head of the service in 1929, “is to present wild life ‘as a spectacle.’ This can only be accomplished where game is abundant and where it is tame.” But the grizzlies of Yellowstone were never tame.