16 March 2013

Beautiful but Broken

I have never been to Yellowstone National Park or Yosemite National Park. The closest I have been is sitting in front of the television as a little boy and watching Yogi Bear and Boo Boo pull their usual tricks on unsuspecting tourists. In my later years I have enjoyed the work of Ansel Adams and the perspective he provides through the lens of a camera of these great “untouched” landscapes. What none of these medias provide is a whole clear picture. What is even more baffling is our education system sheds no light on the subject of our nation’s national parks; instead, we are fed the impression that we have some of the greatest national parks in the world that are kept pristine for all to visit and take pictures.

Myself, along with twenty-one other American students have learned the injustices that our beloved Yellowstone and Yosemite have committed. Even worse, these two parks have become the model for establishing national parks all around the world. It took traveling half way around the world to understand that American national parks have been kicking people off of their land for over 100 years. In traveling to Thailand we were faced with the issue of land rights and how the implementation of wildlife sanctuaries and national parks are displacing rural families and their livelihood.

Learning about Yellowstone and Yosemite was a difficult pill to swallow. “Legislation signed by President Abraham Lincoln in 1864, a 16 sq. km patch of Yosemite Valley became the model for national parks throughout the United States. Indeed, the basic formula-fencing off an area and removing its inhabitants” (Usher, A.D., “The making of thai wilderness”, 2009). To process the idea that President Lincoln was freeing slaves in the east and imprisoning Native Americans in the west challenges my thought towards him being one of the greatest American Presidents ever. I understand that Native Americans have been forced off of their land all across the United States, but to impose the idea that they will ruin the land as a means of justifying displacement is absurd.

After reading through Usher’s articles along with several other land rights issues, our group was faced with the challenge of interviews with wildlife sanctuaries, lawyers, the district office, NGOs, and villages. Trying to be nonbiased and asking questions that do not place judgment was hard to do when trying to get to the heart of these sensitive issues.

On one side are the villagers who say their families have been on the land for several generations and they have maintained and preserved that land as well. This is a simple argument but one that makes complete sense. These villagers want to be able work the land to be sustainable for their families and communities. They maintain that the government has been corrupt and have lied to villagers for the past 50 years.

The other side is the government and their attempt at preservation of natural lands using the model from American National Parks. They too have valid arguments and are working towards their objectives set by the Thai National Government. They maintain that not all villagers have been on the land for generations and are simply looking for the government to hand them some land. The government also carries the burden of insuring that the land reserved for preservation is not mono-cropped or heavily farmed using chemicals.

The arguments from both the government and the villagers are compelling, which raises the question: at what point do we, as Americans understand that our model of national parks is broken. If this is acknowledged then why does it continue to happen more that 100 years later.

Keith Warner
Ohio University


Kalle Davis said...

Keith, I really enjoyed reading your perspectives and thoughts on national parks. As part of the CIEE-SL program in Santiago, Dominican Republic, I have been able to see many national parks that have been kept beautiful, but are facing many challenges of people wanting to develop and destroy what is naturally incredible. While reading your blog, I couldn’t help but think of our week-long rural stay in Rio Limpio: a countryside with a strong emphasis on agriculture. We were able to ride horses to view parts of a national park, but in that beauty we were also able to see the terrible effects of slash-and-burn. A Peace Corps volunteer developed an agricultural school to teach about sustainable farming and how to care for the earth in years past, and they are just now beginning to see the fruits of their labors. Do you think that there is a way for both the villagers and the Thai National Government to win? What do you think would happen if sustainable and clean agriculture was taught to the villagers so the earth was maintained and cared for while the villagers keep their land?

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