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Yellowstone National Park Act (1872)

Yellowstone National Park Act (1872)

Brian E. Gray

On March 1, 1872, President Ulysses S. Grant signed into law the Yellowstone National Park Act (17 Stat. 32), which withdrew from settlement, occupancy, and sale a vast expanse of public land along the continental divide where the states of Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho intersected. The act "dedicated and set aside" the land "as a public park or pleasuring ground for the benefit and enjoyment of the people." Congress placed the land and resources of the park "under the exclusive control of the Secretary of the Interior" and directed the secretary to set forth rules and regulations "to provide for the preservation ... of all timber, mineral deposits, natural curiosities, or wonders within said park, and their retention in their natural condition." It also declared that the secretary "shall provide against the wanton destruction of the fish and game found within said park, and against their capture or destruction for the purposes of merchandise or profit." As one historian put it, the "reservation of this large tract of over 2 million acres of landlarger than a couple of the smallest stateswith its wealth of timber, game, grass, water power, and possible minerals barred from all private use, was so dramatic a departure from the general public land policy of Congress that it seems almost a miracle" (Ise 1961, p. 17).

In 1864 Congress had set aside the lands and resources of Yosemite Valley and the Mariposa Grove of Sequoia Redwoods for "public use, resort, and recreation." But it gave title (ownership) and management responsibility for the Yosemite Park to the State of California. While the Yellowstone Act was not the earliest reservation of park land, Yellowstone became the first national park to be administered by the United States for the preservation and enjoyment of its scenic wonders.

Congress' principal purpose in creating Yellowstone National Park was to preserve the geysers and hot springs of the region and to protect the herds of bison, elk, and other wildlife that inhabited the park. They did so by closing the land to entry under the Homestead Act, mining laws, and other public lands statutes. With little knowledge of the geography and hydrogeology (the study of the geological formation and the movement of ground water) of the area and only sketchy maps, the sponsors of the legislation simply drew a square that would encompass the most important natural featuresOld Faithful, Mammoth Hot Springs, the Norris and Midway Geyser Basins, Yellowstone Falls and the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone River, the meadows of the great central plateau, Yellowstone Lake, the Absaroka Range, and the headwaters of the Missouri and Snake River systems.

Yet the park stands at the top of a much larger ecosystem that has been divided into seven national forests and three wildlife refuges. It includes Grand Teton National Park to the south and a mixture of state and private lands that abut Yellowstone's boundaries on the north, west, and east. As an island resting at the pinnacle of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, Yellowstone National Park has been a testing ground for contemporary park policy. Oil and natural gas drilling in the Targhee National Forest to the west, and geothermal (heat generated from the Earth's core) exploration on private lands to the north, have threatened the groundwater basin that supplies the geysers and hot springs of the park. Clear-cutting in the national forests on all sides of the park has disrupted grizzly bear habitat and mating. Bison that stray across park borders in search of winter pasture have been slaughtered by hunters licensed under state law. Snowmobiles have so fouled the air that rangers at park entrances are forced to wear gas masks. With more than 3 million visitors annually, Yellowstone's roads, campgrounds, and most popular tourist destinations are overcrowded and overused. The great fires of 1988, and former Secretary of the Interior Bruce Babbitt's decision to reintroduce wolves to the park in 1995, sparked bitter debates over the National Park Service's resource management policies.

For all of its controversies, Yellowstone remains the keystone of our national park system. Its mountains form the spine of the continent. Its geysers, hot springs, lakes, rivers, and waterfalls are the font of our greatest waterways. Its alpine meadowsalive with bison, elk, antelope, deer, grizzly bear, peregrine falcon, bald eagles, kingfishers, pelicans, trumpeter swans, cutthroat trout, graylings, and an occasional cougar and wolfmake Yellowstone the nation's greatest wildlife haven.

See also: National Historic Preservation Act; National Park Service Act.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Chase, Alston. Playing God in Yellowstone: The Destruction of America's First National Park. Boston, MA: Atlantic Monthly Press, 1986.

Chittenden, Hiram Martin. The Yellowstone National Park. Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma Press, 1964.

Ise, John. Our National Parks Policy: A Critical History. Washington, DC: Resources for the Future, 1961.

Keiter, Robert B., and Mark S. Boyce. The Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem: Refining America's Wilderness Heritage. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1991.

Runte, Alfred. National Parks: The American Experience, 3d ed. Lincoln, NB: University of Nebraska Press, 1992.

Yellowstone's Precarious Early Years

When Yellowstone National Park was established in 1872, it was the first preserve of its kind in the United States, and no blueprint existed for its maintenance. There was no funding for the park, no salary for its first superintendent, and no means to enforce protection of its wildlife. With the arrival of the Northern Pacific Railroad at the north entrance to the park, tourism exploded from 300 visitors in 1872 to approximately 5,000 in 1873; however, by 1876, the park was in grave danger, with poachers slaughtering wildlife, squatters living in the woods, souvenir vendors destroying geological formations, and delicate thermal springs being used as wishing wells or collecting garbage. The secretary of the interior requested help from the secretary of war, and the U.S. Cavalry was deployed to restore order. While the troops strictly enforced park regulations, they had little ability to control poachers, as their authority was limited to confiscating a poacher's belongings and escorting him from the parkwhereupon most snuck right back in. Poachers in Yellowstone freely hunted the last remaining herd of free-ranging bison in the United States, with devastating results, until an article in the magazine Forest and Stream publicized the situation. The resulting public outrage inspired Congress to pass the National Park Protection Act, which permitted the prosecution of poachers, and the tide was turned. By 1914 there were thirty national parks and monuments in the United States, two years later the National Park Service was formed to manage them, and in 1918 the cavalry turned over protection of the park to this new service. Today the flat-brimmed hats of the National Park Service rangers still pay tribute to the cavalry's role in safeguarding Yellowstone during its early years.

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Yellowstone National Park

YELLOWSTONE NATIONAL PARK

YELLOWSTONE NATIONAL PARK. Yellowstone National Park encompasses 3,468 square miles (2,219,823 acres) of Rocky Mountain terrain in Wyoming, Idaho, and Montana. Its enabling act, signed 1 March 1872 by President Ulysses S. Grant, withdrew lands from the public domain for use as a "public park or pleasuring ground" for the "preservation, from injury or spoliation, of all timber, mineral deposits, natural curiosities, or wonders…and their retention in their natural condition." The Yellowstone National Park Act established a significant conservationist precedent, leading to the formation of more than twelve hundred parks and preserves in more than one hundred countries. The national park idea represents one of the major, original contributions of the United States to world thought.

Native Americans utilized Yellowstone for hunting and fishing hundreds of years before whites frequented the region. In 1807 the trapper John Colter became the first Euro-American to visit Yellowstone. Information regarding Yellowstone's natural features remained scarce until the late 1860s, when several exploring parties surveyed the area. Cornelius Hedges, a Massachusetts-born Montana judge and member of the Washburn-Langford-Doane expedition in 1870, has often been credited with proposing Yellowstone as a national park, although historians have since questioned the validity of his claim. The Yellowstone National Park Act was drawn up by William H. Clagett, a Montana territorial delegate in Congress; Nathaniel Langford, territorial revenue collector and later first park superintendent; and Ferdinand V. Hayden, a member of the U.S. Geological Survey, whose 1871 expedition showered Congress with illustrations and photographs of Yellowstone's fantastical landscape. Yellowstone


was under military stewardship from 1886 until 1918, when the newly created National Park Service (1916) took responsibility for its operation. California lawyer Horace M. Albright became Yellowstone's first civilian superintendent.

Yellowstone remains the largest national park in the contiguous United States. Its three thousand hot springs and two hundred geysers, including Old Faithful, signify the world's largest concentration of geothermal features. Yellowstone Lake represents the largest high-mountain lake in North America, covering 137 square miles at an elevation of 7,730 feet. There the Yellowstone River starts its 671-mile journey to the Missouri River, bequeathing the park its famous 1,200-foot deep Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone River and its Upper Falls and Lower Falls; the latter, almost twice as high as Niagara Falls, drops 308 feet. The park supports an array of wildlife, including grizzly and black bears, elk, bighorn sheep, moose, antelope, coyotes and more than two hundred varieties of bird. Yellowstone's protected wildlands provide vital habitat for threatened species, notably the once endangered trumpeter swan and the country's only continuously wild herd of bison.

Shifting biological theories, increased visitation, and external threats present decisive challenges for Yellow-stone's managers. In the summer of 1988, 45 percent of the park was razed by fire, fueling criticism of official natural regulation policy. Affected areas have since recovered. In January 1995, following two decades of protracted debate and capacious biological studies, federal agencies reintroduced wolves to Yellowstone under the terms of the Endangered Species Act (1973). Wolves had been absent from the park since the 1920s, when they were eradicated as part of an official campaign to remove predatory animals. Yellowstone National Park, which observed its 125th anniversary in 1997, attracts more than 3 million visitors a year.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Bartlett, Richard A. Yellowstone: A Wilderness Besieged. Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 1985.

Chase, Alston. Playing God in Yellowstone: The Destruction of America's First National Park. San Diego, Calif.: Harcourt Brace, 1987.

Haines, Aubrey L. The Yellowstone Story: A History of Our First National Park. Rev. ed. Niwot: University Press of Colorado, 1996.

Pritchard, James A. Preserving Yellowstone's Natural Conditions: Science and the Perception of Nature. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1999.

KarenJones

JohnVosburgh

See alsoNational Park System ; Wildlife Preservation .

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Yellowstone National Park

Yellowstone National Park, 2,219,791 acres (899,015 hectares), the world's first national park (est. 1872), NW Wyo., extending into Montana and Idaho. It lies mainly on a broad plateau in the Rocky Mts., on the Continental Divide, c.8,000 ft (2,440 m) above sea level, surrounded by mountains from 10,000 to 14,000 ft (3,048–4,267 m) high. The area, a huge craterlike volcanic basin (caldera), is a geological "hot spot" responsible for several massive eruptions, the most recent occurring some 640,000 years ago. The plateau is mostly formed from once-molten lava.

Volcanic activity is evidenced by nearly 10,000 hot springs, 200 geysers, and many vents and mud pots. The more prominent geysers are unequaled in size, power, and variety. Old Faithful, the best known although not the largest, erupts every 40 to 70 min and shoots c.11,000 gal (41,640 liters) of water some 150 ft (46 m) high. Mammoth Hot Springs, a series of five terraces with reflecting pools, continues to grow as residue from the mineral-rich water is deposited.

The park also has petrified forests, lava formations, and the "black glass" Obsidian Cliff. Eagle Peak, 11,370 ft (3,466 m), is the highest point. Yellowstone Lake, the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, and waterfalls are notable features on the Yellowstone River, which crosses the park. The park has a wide variety of flowers and other plant life. Bears, mountain sheep, elk, bison, moose, many smaller animals, and more than 200 kinds of birds inhabit Yellowstone, which is one of the world's largest wildlife sanctuaries. Fires in 1988 burned about 36% of the park, but animal and plant life rebounded quickly, as the nutrient influx in the ash nourished the soil.

See also National Parks and Monuments, table.

See J. Muir, Yellowstone National Park (1979); B. T. Scott, The Geysers of Yellowstone (rev. ed. 1986); G. Wuerthner, Yellowstone & the Fires of Change (1988).

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Yellowstone National Park

Yellowstone National Park Park in nw Wyoming and reaching into Montana and Idaho, USA. Established in 1872, it is the oldest and one of the largest US national parks. Formed by volcanic activity, the park contains c.10,000 hot springs (including the giant Hot Springs) and 200 geysers (the most famous of which is "Old Faithful"). Other scenic attractions include Yellowstone River and the petrified forests. It is one of the world's greatest wildlife sanctuaries. In 1988 large-scale forest fires devastated much of the park. Area: 900,000ha (2.22 million acres).

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