Playing God in Yellowstone

The Destruction of America’s First National Park

Alston Chase | 1987, Harper Collins

Beavers have disappeared; their prime food, aspen and willow, have drastically declined. Cougars, bobcats and wolves are no longer here, victims of predator control from earlier times. Deer, moose and bighorn sheep are scarce; visitors seldom see black bears, and the grizzly is threatened with extinction. Meanwhile, bison and elk flourish to the detriment of rangeland.

Wildlife management in Yellowstone has been under fire for decades. Chase reviews the park’s history and examines vacillating policies and political pressures that affect the park’s management.

He finds that attracting visitors is the overriding priority; their safety is the guiding philosophy, and rangers are mere policemen. Chase tells the story of Grant Village, a development site in prime grizzly habitat; he discusses the friction between rangers and naturalists and the exclusion of university biologists (though geologists are welcome).

Current wildlife policy stresses the “intact ecosystem,” i.e., no interference with nature; consequently, bison infected with brucellosis, sheep with “pink-eye” go untreated and stranded animals are left to die. Major environmental groups support this policy.

Chase, who heads an education program at Yellowstone, has written an explosive study. First serial to the Atlantic and Outside magazine. (March 24)

Read review by Donald C. Baur