The power and the majesty of Glacier National Park was both invigorating and exhilarating when Mary and I were fortunate to visit for two days in July. In part the amazement came from the preconception created by the term ‘glacier’,
which suggests icy, frigid, arctic-like. Instead the Park is warm, green, verdant and inviting, rich with waterfalls and colors, hidden lakes and enchanting trails, magnificent vistas and feats of human engineering. Rather than chilling the spirit
Glacier National Park warms the spirit.
You know that I looked for honey bees throughout the park, without success. I also googled beekeeping associations in Whitefish and Kalispell equally unsuccessfully.
Timothy Egan‘s book, The Big Burn, which describes the first major wild fire involving a national park, presented itself instead.
As in 2012, the summer of 1910 was excessively
hot and dry, resulting in dry vegetation which was set alight by lightening and by hot cinders flung from locomotives. By mid August there were 1,000 to 3,000 fires burning in Idaho, Montana, Washington and British Columbia, covering some three million
acres which burned over two days and led to the deaths of 87 people, including 78 firefighters. It is believed to be the largest, although not the deadliest, fire in recorded U.S. history.
A system of national parks had been
the dream of President Theodore Roosevelt, supported by his chief forester, Gifford Pinchot. The national forests, they argued, belonged to the ages. The proposal inspired immense opposition from the mining and agricultural industries in particular,
castigated by Roosevelt as ‘robber barons and plunderers of the public domain’ who used their considerable influences to solicit support in Washington. By the time of the great fire the forestry budget had been squeezed so tight that
on average a single ranger was responsible for more than 300 000 acres of forest.
The creation of the National Parks Service in 1905 attracted some of the best young minds in the country, fresh
out of the Yale School of Forestry (derisively called ‘Teddy’s Boy Scouts’) but no one had anticipated or experienced a fire such as that of 1910 and neither the rangers nor anyone else knew how to control it, which in turn gave further fuel
to the mining and agricultural industries who argued that academia was no preparation for the realities of environmental conservation and preservation.
To the enemies of the Forest Service the fire was a chance
to kill the crusade of conservation, made easier by the fact that the previous year Roosevelt had left office to go to Africa and Europe, leaving the presidency in the hands of the befuddled William Taft.
seemed to be won, but fast forward to July, 2012, and the lines of vehicles waiting at the gate to pay $25 to enter Glacier National Park. The occupants of those cars, trucks, motor bikes and camper vans presumably took the existence of the park
for granted, not realizing that this magnificence exists only because a handful of men and women persevered with their passion in the face of significant hostility which thought in terms of dollars rather than of nature, which measured short term financial
gains at the expense of long term environmental losses.
Fast forward another 100 years to 2112 and I wonder what ideas that appear radical today will seem obvious in retrospect because a small handful of people believed
in them sufficiently to fight and persevere? Hopefully honey bees will be on that list.