How the influence of European Romanticism recast Yellowstone as a place to witness the raw power of God in nature, rather than a satanic place to be tamed and cultivated.
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Every year, nearly three million people
visit Yellowstone National Park.
For many Americans, Yellowstone has become the iconic landscape -
It contains the beauty of the mountains,
it contains the wonders of the geysers
and one only has to look at a herd of buffalo,
roaming and drinking from the stream
to feel absolutely in touch with what it means to be American.
They go to wilderness for an escape from modern life,
into a vast, uninhabited landscape.
A world of nature untainted by the hand of man.
But places like Yellowstone are not as natural as they look.
They're a modern invention.
The American wilderness was not saved - it was created.
It began as someone's home
and to make it a wilderness, they had to be expelled.
They had to lose that land, they had to be dispossessed.
The unnatural history of Yellowstone
is the story of the creation of wilderness in America.
It's a tale of railroad barons and Indian wars.
A battle to save one species and to destroy another.
But it is also the story of a powerful and controversial idea
that shaped America
and underpins the way that most of us think about nature today.
If I had one term to ban from the English language,
it'd be "wilderness".
I think it's the most despicable...
denigrating, racist term in the English language.
Today, places we describe as "wilderness" or "wild"
are highly valued in our culture but this wasn't always the case,
even in America.
When the earliest English colonists arrive
on the Eastern Seaboard of North America,
they bring certain religious assumptions with them
that lead them to think of the wild as a satanic, dangerous place,
a place where you'll lose your soul, a place populated by demons.
There's very little affection for that landscape.
Little sense of being drawn to the wilderness as an attractive place.
It's a scary place.
Landscapes we call wilderness were, to these deeply religious people, "the waste".
As men and women struggling to make a living from the land,
it was the pastoral, cultivated landscape they found beautiful and godly.
They see that their role in this is literally as an agent of God.
He created the rough draft and he put them on earth to finish it
and so finishing becomes their metaphor.
They move in, they're going to finish the whole continent,
make it as if a garden and the wilderness will disappear.
This old, negative perception of wilderness
and of wild, uncultivated lands began to change,
not in America, but in Europe.
Over the course of the 18th Century, wild places once avoided
because they were seen as ugly and satanic
became sought out by poets, philosophers and artists
looking for a very special, powerful experience.
To understand why we now think about wilderness the way we do,
you first have to come to grips with...
a word I think we kind of take for granted today,
which is the word "sublime".
In the 18th Century, that word came to mean
"places in nature where God was most eminent in the world".
You would go experience the sublime in those places.
To stand... face to face with your God.
What the sublime represented
is sort of the extreme sport of the 18th Century in Europe.
It was to stare at a waterfall or to stare into a chasm,
or to look up at a magnificent mountain.
What the viewer is doing is, is sort of experiencing sheer terror
and revelling in the experience.
Sort of ravishing in being able to encounter the awful power of God.
The sublime became a key feature of Romanticism.
Artists such as Turner and poets such as Byron
were exploring these depths of feeling and emotion
through the concept of the sublime.
And Turner would go to the Alps and paint the Alps.
Turner would supposedly tie himself to a ship's mast
and experience a sea storm.
One of the things you'll see in the European sublime
is it has to be a landscape which appears to be devoid of humans.
The Alps become the favourite sublime landscape.
As you go up high enough, above the villages,
there, finally, you're confronting a world without humans.
All the places where, in fact, you confront nature
unmodified and unrestrained by human beings.
This aspect of the sublime would slowly transform
elite, American visions of wilderness,
when Romanticism crossed the Atlantic
at the beginning of the 19th Century,
just as the United States was emerging
as a new, independent nation.
One of the greatest achievements of Romanticism in the 19th Century
was to invent the modern nation as we know it.
A nation that looked, not to the divine rights of kings,
not to the crown for its authority,
but looked instead to the people
and the land that had made those people who they were.
So in America, the myth of wilderness
is also one of the founding myths of American nationalism.
The wilderness is the place out of which America came.
It was where the pioneers went
and the struggle to make a nation out of the wilderness, the frontier,
is central to America as a nation, as a people.
The first American notions of a sublime or a Romantic sublime
are located in what is called the Hudson River Valley
in upstate New York,
where painters could go out into nature
and experience the full majesty,
the spectacular nature of American landscape.
But as the United States expanded westward, the focus shifted.
By the decades following the Civil War,
the great centre of the Romantic sublime for Americans
is the far west.
It's places like Yellowstone.
Before long, this Romantic idea of wilderness,
as uninhabited places with sublime scenery,
would collide with the real landscapes and inhabitants of the West.
People for whom the very idea of wilderness was meaningless.
Only to the white man was nature a "wilderness".
To us it was tame.
Earth was bountiful
and we were surrounded with the blessings of the Great Mystery.
Not until the hairy man from the east came
and with brutal frenzy heaped injustices upon us
was it "wild" for us.
When Europeans come into the western part of North America,
what they see are grasslands on a scale
which many of them had never encountered before.
They see mountains covered with forests.
What they see is deserts
which stretch longer than they could ever imagine.
I mean, they see this monumental landscape.
And for them this, of course,
must be the way it was without human beings having touched it,
but if you begin to look closely, virtually everything you see
had been manipulated by Indian peoples over time.
American Indians had been shaping the ecosystems of the West
for over 12,000 years.
They limited the numbers of large mammals through their hunting.
They encouraged the growth of food-producing plants
through selective gathering
and shaped the undergrowth and size of forests
through their use of fire.
But Europeans were blind to all this.
It was not a barren land, it was not an empty land,
it was not a wilderness by the European standards.
Nothing out in the west was a wilderness
until the Europeans made it a wilderness.
By the mid-19th Century, the tribes living in and using the area
that would become Yellowstone National Park
included the Crow, the Shoshone Sheepeaters and the Blackfeet.
The Crow lived a life that straddled the plains,
where they hunted bison,
and the mountains, where they gathered wild foods.
The end of the summer season was a good time for harvesting berries.
During the spring and the summer months,
Yellowstone was very popular,
because they were able to go up into the mountains
without having deal with 20-foot snow drifts
and to harvest animals
such as the mountain goat and the bighorn sheep.
And they would take the hide,
because they were thinner and they would use it for summer wear.
Then, into the fall, the animals were at their heaviest weight,
and that was a very good time for them to go into the mountains,
including the Yellowstone, to harvest the elk and deer and moose,
many of the great meats my ancestors ate.
The Shoshone Sheepeaters lived year-round in the area
that became Yellowstone National Park.
They followed the migrations of vast herds of wild bighorn sheep,
the species that archaeologists believe once dominated Yellowstone,
and upon which the Sheepeaters relied.
A fur-trapper called Osborne Russell
provided one of the first descriptions
of this little-known Yellowstone tribe in the 1830s.
They were all neatly clothed in dressed deer and sheep-skins
of the best quality,
and seemed to be perfectly contented and happy.
Osborne Russell's journal describes them as having these big dogs,
and having beautiful horn bows made out of sheep horns,
where they were able to soak the horns off the sheep
in the geysers,
and then cut them and turn them into bows which were, you know,
three-and-a-half feet long and get the power of 60, 75 pound pull.
I mean, incredibly strong.
The relationships of these tribes to wildlife
and the dramatic landscape went far deeper than subsistence.
They were the basis of their religious life.
They also, of course, spiritually connected to the geysers,
and we have, you know, some of the most powerful Sheepeaters,
the ones that had the most powerful medicine,
had what's called the water ghost medicine.
The hot water was made hot by ghosts that lived in the water,
and so if you could get the power of those ghosts,
then you could become a very powerful person.
Native American medicine, for some people, it's power,
it's knowledge, it's the ability to cure an ailment.
It's the ability that someone's mind isn't right
and the ability to help them,
you know, find themselves or to help them get better.
To heal, you know, their soul.
The Crow people believe in energy that comes from nature,
and people could sense it and see it.
And the Crows learnt to use this energy,
they didn't tame it, they didn't harness it,
they just became a part of it.
People would go and fast so they could use some of this energy.
And even the other tribes around here
believed that we were different from them
because of this energy that we used.
Moving freely across their extensive lands,
following the wild plants and animal resources that each season offered,
the hunter-gatherer Indians of Yellowstone
were able to sustain themselves prior to white settlement.
But by the late 1860s, a new threat was approaching,
over the horizon to the East.
One that would result in the loss of their homelands
and lead to the creation of the first National Parks.
For 19th-century Americans, the railroads were a magic wand.
You build a railroad and the landscape through which they pass
is utterly transformed, almost instantly transformed,
and the narrative they set in motion
is the standard, predictable frontier narrative,
beautifully captured in that painting of John Gast's.
You see Lady Liberty, standing for progress,
hovering over a landscape with the railroad passing beneath her,
and as the railroad moves west, the wild retreats,
native peoples retreat, the bison herds retreat,
and behind them come all the symbols of progress,
the surveyor, the person laying out the boundaries of farms,
the farms, the edge of the cities and behind them the factories
and the great metropolises
that drive this narrative of American progress.
Railroad building had been incentivised during the Civil War,
when the US government gave away Indian territory
to railroad companies in the form of land grants.
In my view, it was environmentally disastrous,
economically disastrous and socially disastrous.
You begin building railroads often to a place where, in fact,
there's very little need of them, there's no need of them.
One man deeply implicated in this process was the financier Jay Cooke,
who was heavily invested in the Northern Pacific Railroad.
His railroad was planning a route
across the northern plains and Rockies
that would pass just north of Yellowstone.
One of things that occurs to Jay Cooke is the idea
that what we need is destination points in the West,
what we need is an equivalent of European sublimes.
He finds out about Yellowstone,
and Jay Cooke sees Yellowstone
as a destination point on the Northern Pacific.
The problem for Jay Cooke was that, in 1870,
very few people knew about Yellowstone.
But a government scientist called Dr Ferdinand Hayden
would change all that.
He was a geologist with what became the US Geological Survey,
and resolved to put together an expedition to Yellowstone,
next summer, the summer of 1871.
Recognising the potential for publicity
around Hayden's expedition,
Cooke approached him and provided funds
for a photographer and an artist to go along.
So he took lots of scientists,
and, of course, all the usual packers and cooks and helpers.
Some guests, who were sons of influential people.
This team travelled around, surveying and mapping the region.
They were mostly educated men from the East Coast,
steeped in the romantic traditions which they brought with them
to an unfamiliar Western landscape.
By time people go west,
they know what they're supposed to see,
they've been educated in romanticism and the sublime
and so what they present is a spectacularly sublime
and Romantic West.'
This was especially true of the images created by Thomas Moran,
the expedition's artist.
In Moran's painting of the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone,
there's two little figures right in the middle of the painting,
and they're absolutely enveloped
by this extraordinarily vast, broad scene
of this brilliant blue waterfall,
mist coming up from the waterfall,
and the river cutting through this wide, multi-hued canyon.
You put yourself into the perspective of these tiny figures
and then you begin to realise how overwhelming
and extraordinary the landscape is.
We're standing at the edge of the great canyon of Yellowstone.
He's got a descending foreground,
and he's got huge side diagonals which pretty much force you
into the painting,
and so there's very little to stop you from falling.
So that process actually creates the sublime experience.
After the expedition,
Hayden began compiling his scientific report on Yellowstone.
He gets a note from Jay Cooke suggesting to him
that he enter into the report
a recommendation that Congress turn Yellowstone
into a National Park, or a national pleasure ground.
So Hayden's report then becomes part of the scientific evidence
for why we need a National Park at Yellowstone.
And so began the political lobbying for America's first National Park,
a campaign fronted by Hayden
but financed largely by Jay Cooke and the Northern Pacific Railroad.
The campaign was not necessarily a high-minded campaign,
in the sense that not everyone's motives...
were to advance culture,
or to protect American nature.
Jay Cooke desperately wanted a park there
to get tourists on this railway he was trying to build.
Persuading Congress to set land aside for a park
at a time of unprecedented claims by homesteaders,
miners and lumber companies would require some serious justification.
Hayden's report stressed that Yellowstone's high elevation
and harsh climate made it unsuitable for farming.
It also highlighted the scientific importance of the region.
Hayden knew that there weren't very many geysers on earth,
but Yellowstone had the lion's share,
two thirds, at least, of all the world's geysers,
and Yellowstone had the big ones, you know,
the ones that erupted taller than 100 feet.
Big stuff in geology.
So he drew the boundaries of Yellowstone specifically
to try and encompass all the geysers.
Those lobbying to make Yellowstone a National Park
also appealed to Americans' growing sense of national pride
in their natural heritage.
One historian has talked about what he calls monumentalism,
which is the idea that America had something that was unique,
one of a kind when compared to the old-world culture of Europe.
Europe might have cathedrals and Europe might have a long history,
but the United States has Yellowstone.
The United States has mountains.
The United States has a sublime scenery
that's better than anything you can find in Europe,
and the usual comparison is to the Alps,
that these are just far better than the Alps.
So what they begin to do is give this sense of American nationhood
as not needing the European past, it'll take on these natural roots
which Yellowstone itself becomes a foundation of.
To ensure Congress understood the monumental nature of Yellowstone,
Hayden held an exhibition of images produced by his expedition -
Moran's colour sketches,
and the landscape photographs of William Henry Jackson.
And that illustrated to the members of congress that Yellowstone
was a place of curiosities and grand wonders
that was deserving of preservation.
The Act creating Yellowstone National Park
was signed into law by President Ulysses S Grant
on March 1st, 1872.
And its wording became a blueprint for subsequent National Parks.
And it said that the tract of land
lying near the headwaters of the Yellowstone River
would be forever free from settlement, occupancy, or sale,
and set apart and dedicated as a public park or pleasuring ground
for the benefit and enjoyment of the people.
And declared that they must be retained in their natural condition.
But retaining them in their natural condition
was not a charter for nature preservation by modern standards.
Hunting, fishing, and the cutting of timber
would all be allowed in the new park.
They were concentrated almost entirely on those
marvellous geological and geothermal wonders.
They didn't give a thought, really,
to so many things that we value the place for now,
like its fantastic array of wildlife.
And there was another, more ominous oversight.
In the Act, there was no reference to Indians living in Yellowstone.
But in 1871,
Dr Hayden specifically asked members of the Shoshone tribe to leave
and go to reservations,
and some of the tribal members did leave the park at that time,
and others did not.
The very moment that the United States begins to set aside
romantic places like Yellowstone or Yosemite
as icons of American nationalism
is the very same moment that the United States is...
segregating Native peoples on reservations,
moving people off of their native lands and onto reservations.
America had its first National Park
but for the main lobbying force behind it,
Jay Cooke and the Northern Pacific Railroad,
the sense of triumph was short-lived.
In 1873, his finance company collapsed,
triggering a nationwide financial panic.
The United States plunged into years of economic depression
and construction of the railroad to Yellowstone ground to a halt.
In the 1870s, Yellowstone was a wilderness
that was only lines on a map.
It had no superintendent, no employees,
no police force, and no way to reach it effectively.
This meant that fewer than 500 white tourists
made it to the new park each year.
And, with no-one to stop them,
local Indians quietly continued to use Yellowstone in traditional ways.
But the presence of any Indians in America's first National Park
would be short-lived.
1877 is a pivotal year both in terms of indigenous people
and the National Park idea.
You have Yellowstone National Park,
that's been around now for about five years or so,
and you have tourists visiting the park.
They have expectations not that different from modern tourists.
They're going to explore, see the wonders, write home about them,
and they're going to have a grand time.
Meanwhile, the Nez Perces are fleeing the troops of General Miles.
The Nez Perces were an Indian tribe that lived hundreds of miles
to the west of the park,
and did not consider Yellowstone part of their territory.
When the US Army attempted to confine them to a reservation,
the Nez Perces tried to escape to Canada...
..and by August 1877, had reached Yellowstone National Park.
By this time, the Nez Perces had been betrayed, they'd been bloodied,
the young men are angry, they have lost wives,
children, sisters, and there's part, particularly of the young men,
who want to kill any white person that they meet.
So when the Nez Perces encountered white tourists near the geysers,
an altercation ensued.
The tourists were briefly held captive
and one white man was shot and left for dead.
One group of pursuing Nez Perces went north
to confront another tourist party, that was camped on Otter Creek,
and there they had a little skirmish.
They shot Charles Keane and killed him, wounded Andrew Weikert,
and scared the Dickens out of the other people.
The Nez Perces hurried north, out of the park,
but were captured by the army just short of the Canadian border.
So that was the end of the Nez Perces campaign,
but the local press out here in the West just went ballistic,
as far as these savages killing these tourists in Yellowstone.
The bad press was deeply troubling
to the superintendent of Yellowstone National Park,
Under-funded and under-staffed,
Norris now worried that tourists would stay away from Yellowstone.
His fears deepened over the next two summers
as local Indian tribes also clashed with the US Army
in the vicinity of the park.
And by 1879, if anyone has a sense of Yellowstone it's,
"Oh, it's where we have Indian wars every year,
"it's not a place for tourists."
And so the management of the park becomes...
dedicated to protecting tourists
and eliminating Indians from the park boundaries.
Norris organised for the removal of those Shoshone Sheepeaters
who lingered in the park.
There is evidence that at some point they did get all of the Sheepeaters
kind of in one location and then get them onto a reservation.
Norris also tackled the other tribes who used the park seasonally,
travelling at his own expense to neighbouring reservations
to tell Indians to stay out of the park.
What happened when the Indian people all around, including my ancestors,
when they were outlawed from going to Yellowstone,
it took away a great food source.
And one of the sustaining...
factors of human life
is to have a spiritual connection to our god,
and the Yellowstone area, as it is known now,
is a place where a lot of that strong connection was found.
Early park officials even re-wrote history
in an effort to allay the concerns of tourists.
They spread a myth that Yellowstone's Indians
had traditionally feared the geysers
and avoided the very wonders that tourists wanted to see.
They were not afraid of the geyser itself,
they didn't want to abuse the energy that was coming
from those geysers and those steams in those areas,
those hot areas, they didn't want to abuse it.
It's part of their lives,
and this is how we survived for a long time.
The enduring and pernicious aspect of the myth
that Indians were afraid of the geysers
and stayed away from Yellowstone
is that it effectively erased the long indigenous history in the park.
This helped to cement the notion that wilderness was,
and should be, an uninhabited space.
I think this romantic idea of the wild as an un-peopled place
was so powerful,
that whether or not Indian wars were taking place,
whether or not National Parks
and Indian Reservations were being created at the same time,
there still would have been powerful cultural impulses to say
Indians don't belong in these National Parks,
let's have them be somewhere else.
The removal of Indians from Yellowstone
created America's first uninhabited wilderness.
It also set a precedent for the separation
of native peoples from wild lands
in the designation of subsequent National Parks.
And it entrenched the idea of wilderness as a tourist destination.
After years of economic recession,
construction of the railroad to Yellowstone finally resumed.
The Northern Pacific Railroad came to Yellowstone in 1883,
and that was the shot in the arm
that really kicked Yellowstone into gear for tourism.
Suddenly, Yellowstone had 5,000 visitors instead of 500.
Ladies stepped off the train
dressed up in their finery with parasols and tall boots,
and gentlemen were wearing ties and coats.
Everybody was wearing their best finery to the wilderness.
But you had to have money. You know, it cost 120
to ride across from New York to the West.
That was a lot of money in 1883 and that didn't include
your five-and-a-quarter day trip around Yellowstone,
which was an additional 50 or so.
By that time, you had the rise of the capitalist class,
you had the industrial revolution happen in the US,
so you had people with a lot of money and free time on their hands,
and so they were looking for an escape.
These tourists were not quite ready for a full-on encounter
with the Romantic sublime.
The experience of wrestling a living from the land
was still too recent in the memories of most Americans for that.
Their idea of wilderness
was to stay in this fancy...
what we would call a five star, six star hotel today,
like the Old Faithful Lodge or other kinds of stuff,
and to take the stagecoach tour through the thermal areas,
that was their idea of wilderness.
Yellowstone was fast becoming the iconic American wilderness destination it is today.
But there was one key element still missing.
By 1883, when the first tourists
stepped off the train in great numbers,
hardly an animal was to be seen.
This was the legacy of unregulated hunting in Yellowstone National Park
in the first decade of its history.
Everybody that was here was armed
and they mostly shot at everything that moved.
In the American West in the late 1800s, there was this infamous,
really, slaughter of large mammals.
The part of it that we've all heard about
was what happened to the bison.
Millions of them were killed and mostly for their hides.
Any place where there were concentrations of large mammals,
somebody would show up
and take advantage of that opportunity, it was the market.
Frontiersmen saw this as part of the "civilising"
of the Western wilderness, but far away on the East Coast,
an elite minority were worried.
Certain groups of Americans in the late 19th Century
did not treat the vanishing of what they saw as wild nature,
and of the noble animals like buffalo and elk as a good thing.
And they have a rationale for it. In the late 19th Century,
there's a crisis of manhood.
There's a sense that the Americans seemed to be growing soft,
they seemed to be growing effete,
they seemed to be growing more and more like Europeans.
And the only way to counter this
is how Americans countered it in the past,
is this confrontation with raw nature.
But you can't have a confrontation with raw nature,
you can't, in fact, absorb its values, toughen yourself up,
if there is no wild nature left to go into.
So it becomes essential for American manhood itself
to preserve a vestige of the game, to preserve a vestige of nature.
One upper-class, East-Coast man who embodied these concerns
was George Bird Grinnell.
He was a Yale-educated naturalist, palaeontologist, and big game hunter
who became editor of Forest and Stream,
a hunting and fishing magazine.
He managed to turn Forest and Stream magazine
into the foremost voice for American conservation,
and Yellowstone was one of his pet issues.
Grinnell had witnessed the slaughter of Yellowstone's wildlife
on his first visit to the park in 1875.
Ironically, it was this sport-hunter
who would see Yellowstone's potential as a wildlife preserve,
particularly for bison, which were on the brink of extinction.
By the 1880s, Yellowstone National Park held America's last,
To someone with Grinnell's savvy about biology, about politics,
about media, about public interest,
they were such an obvious and powerful symbol,
you just couldn't not see the opportunity they presented.
Grinnell launched a campaign to save Yellowstone's bison,
calling for a law to ban hunting in the National Park,
and requesting the Army be brought in to stop the poaching.
But without legislation, even they were powerless to end the slaughter.
In 1894, Yellowstone and the bison got lucky.
Grinnell had sent a young reporter named Emerson Hough to the park.
Whilst he was there, the authorities got a tip-off
that a notorious local poacher was in the park, killing bison,
and Hough accompanied army scouts to the scene of the crime.
He had shot six.
So he was in process of gutting out a bison and cutting off its head
when up came the soldiers and drew a bead on him and hands in the air.
Hough's poaching story was just what Grinnell needed
to galvanise public support for his campaign
for government legislation to protect Yellowstone's bison.
It incensed the American populous.
Those in Congress were able to use this as an impetus
to get this bill passed to protect Yellowstone's wildlife.
In 1894, it became illegal to hunt in Yellowstone National Park.
In the nick of time, Americans had recognised
the aesthetic and cultural value of their wildlife.
Once animals came along as an important visitor attraction
there was this whole new dimension of things for people to care about.
Geysers were swell and beautiful scenery was swell
but it was all a little remote from your average American
who could identify a lot more with big brown eyes
and beautiful antlers and all those kinds of things.
Henceforth, wildlife would take up its place alongside monumental scenery
as a defining feature of wilderness in the American mind.
As more wild lands were set aside as National Parks,
and tourist numbers increased,
it was clear that the park system needed bespoke management.
As a result, the National Park Service was created in 1916.
The most important goal of the early Park Service in the United States
was to take these places and make them accessible.
So building highways, building overlooks,
guiding the tourists through these landscapes,
making them car friendly.
All of that is central to the core of the Park Service project
from 1916 for the next 30 years, really.
Wildlife fitted into this agenda
because of its value as a tourist attraction.
The new Park Service did what it could to ensure that tourists
got to see animals at close quarters.
The superintendent at Yellowstone, Horace Albright,
who would later become Director of the entire Parks system,
pioneered this approach.
He believed that the animals should be more or less exhibited,
like a zoo, you know, fence them and put them in these little...
little enclosures, and feed them, which is what a zoo is all about,
and let the public see them that way as entertainment.
Partly to this end, Horace Albright maintained
a captive breeding programme for bison in Yellowstone.
For him that meant visitors driving the roads,
see some bison off in the distance and think,
"Oh, those are wild, native bison."
When, in fact, discretely concealed,
was the fence that kept them in view
and that was... that was good enough for Horace
and actually, it was probably good enough
for almost all of the visitors of the time.
Most people in early 20th-century America
saw wild creatures in sentimental terms,
and as symbols of their frontier past.
They did not yet appreciate the innate wildness of animals,
nor the relationship between species.
Ecology was still a science in its infancy.
There was this idea that there were good animals and bad animals
and the good animals were deer and elk
and these pretty little herbivores that, you know, cavorted gaily
in the meadows and ate grasses and did no harm,
and were idyllic.
And the bad animals were predators, animals of the fang and claw.
Human beings had this duty
to protect the good animals from the bad animals
and that we should therefore manipulate,
we should kill all these bad animals, and just shoot them.
Without understanding how ecosystems worked,
men like Albright believed that killing predators would ensure
larger numbers of the species that tourists wanted to see.
So National Parks joined other government agencies
in eradicating predators.
The last Yellowstone wolf was killed in 1926.
So, by the time the Park Service has done all these things,
it's a pretty ironic wilderness that's been created here,
it's a kind of artificial construction of...
a wilderness that meets people's needs,
that is kind of a domesticated wilderness
but it's hardly the authentic, real place that it purports itself to be.
The average tourist may have been satisfied
with a tame version of wilderness.
But for a new generation of wildlife managers,
the situation was deeply troubling.
These were people who harkened back to the Romantic ideal
of wilderness as a place to encounter raw nature
but they were also schooled in the new science of ecology.
The most influential of these was Aldo Leopold.
Aldo Leopold, he is the person who in the middle of the 20th Century
began to change the ideas of many Americans about
what it was in wilderness that needed to be protected.
He saw wilderness as an ecological baseline against which to compare
all the systems that we have transformed.
He was a passionate advocate of the primitive experience of the wild
and it is really Leopold's ideas that point toward
what the wilderness of the second half of the 20th Century
and the wilderness of today, really, will become.
Aldo Leopold began his career with the Forest Service in New Mexico.
And when he was working in New Mexico he was a big advocate
of protecting game through killing wolves and other predators.
Aldo Leopold changed his mind quite publicly about his own beliefs.
He's one of these people with a rare ability
to admit to having been wrong.
Leopold reversed his opinions on predators
in an essay called Thinking Like A Mountain.
He describes killing, with a group of his friends, a mother wolf,
and going down to the wolf as she's dying, and he looks into her eyes
and sees what he calls a fierce green fire dying in those eyes.
That speaks to him as what for him becomes a voice of the mountain,
a voice of the wilderness itself, saying,
"This animal has a role to play here
"and in fact this animal is protecting this ecosystem.
"Those deer will destroy this ecosystem,
"this wolf is protecting those places."
Leopold's story was prophetic
and it was the management of Yellowstone's elk
that eventually brought these ecological concerns to a head.
Like bison, elk were popular with tourists and in the early days,
the park managers had tried to boost their numbers
by feeding them in winter and eliminating wolves.
By 1910 to 1915, there was concerns
of overgrazing, they saw soil erosion,
they saw excessive browsing on the willows
and the aspen species, and the berry-producing shrubs
and so people were worried that there were too many elk now
and that the elk were over-grazing the park.
To protect Yellowstone's willows, aspen and other vegetation,
the Park Service tried to reduce the number of elk by trapping
and trans-locating them to other parts of the West.
But numbers still increased.
In 1940, Aldo Leopold suggested reintroducing wolves
to control the elk population
but few people countenanced the idea at the time.
So elk numbers rose, and reluctantly the park began to cull them.
Rangers went out and, in the early 1960s,
killed thousands and thousands of elk. The peak was one year
where they killed more than 3,000 elk in one winter.
In doing that, they finally crossed a threshold of public tolerance.
It was a public relations disaster.
Yellowstone announced they would stop the elk cull.
But the government appointed an independent team of ecologists
to look at how the National Park Service was managing its wildlife.
And then lo and behold, in 1963, the scientific community issued
what was called the Leopold Report.
And that changed everything in National Parks.
The report reflected a modern, ecological view of wilderness,
and proposed a new mission statement for parks
that would see them not just as tourist destinations
but as historically authentic ecosystems.
"We would recommend that each park be maintained,
"or where necessary recreated, as nearly as possible in the condition
"that prevailed when the area was first visited by the white man."
"A National Park should represent a vignette of primitive America."
This really became the staple for a generation
of scientifically-trained ecologists in managing of National Park lands.
What they sought to do was to reconstitute wildlife populations
and distributions within a park that might closely approximate
the diversity and arrangements that were present 180 years ago.
If Yellowstone was going to be returned to a "vignette of primitive America",
then Aldo Leopold's proposal for the reintroduction of the wolf
was finally on the agenda.
Many people have questioned that Yellowstone might have had
too many ungulates, too many elk,
and what was their impact on the ecosystem.
And perhaps wolves could weigh in on that situation
and change the dynamic naturally.
So, Yellowstone really was some of the best wolf habitat in the world,
without any wolves here.
But it was still decades before Aldo Leopold's dream was realised.
I can remember when I was wearing my ranger hat in the 1970s
and giving my campfire programmes,
that the restoration of the wolf seemed like some...
..fantastically remote thing that would happen in a better age.
You know, that we would have to come a long way as a society
before we would be prepared to overcome all of our prejudices
and do right thing.
So you can imagine how I felt when it happened.
In January 1995, six wild wolves were brought from Canada
to Yellowstone National Park.
I was there, you know,
I remember the trailer was maybe two cars
ahead of the car I was in, and off to the left I could see a cow elk,
watching it go by.
You're thinking, "You don't know," you know?
"You can't know but you'll figure it out."
It was things like that, that allowed it to finally sink in
and make me realise this is really happening.
And then I was just jazzed.
I was so excited, you know, I had to run around.
The wolves were allowed to acclimatize in pens for a few weeks
before they were released into the park to roam free.
That summer I was hiking with a friend
and we were staying in one of the back country patrol cabins.
And about two in morning we got up to answer the call of nature,
quite by chance at the same time.
And we're both standing outside the cabin
when we hear this long, sustained, throaty howl.
And I remember thinking, "I am so lucky to be here to hear that.
"this first year of the reintroduction,
"when that sound has essentially not been heard in Yellowstone
"for more than 60 years."
Not everyone greeted the wolves with enthusiasm,
particularly once their numbers increased
and they spread outside the park.
When you are a rancher in the American west raising cattle
and you've got wolves that are killing calves,
you see those wolves as competitors to your livelihood,
they're undermining your way of life.
If you're not a rancher, if you're a tourist,
if you're wanting to go and experience wilderness as it is,
then nothing is nobler, nothing is wilder
than a pack of wolves running across that landscape.
For many Americans,
the wolf has become THE iconic wilderness species.
A romantic symbol of wildness.
And now wolves are transforming the Yellowstone ecosystem.
We're finding that wolves are keystone species
and what that is, an animal that occurs in fairly low numbers,
or at low density, that has large effects.
The importance of wolves can be seen in the recovery
of some of the vegetation that we have here in Yellowstone.
Plants like aspen, willow and cottonwood
not growing for a very long time.
Since wolves have been restored, they've started growing more.
The resurgence of willow has allowed songbirds
and beavers to make a comeback
and the dams beavers build with willow trees
provide habitats for countless other creatures.
Do wolves have something to do with that?
Wolves eat elk, and elk eat willow,
and wolves may have changed that dynamic.
The return of the wolf to Yellowstone
is, for many, the fulfilment of an ecological vision
of what National Parks and wilderness should be about.
That is, "vignettes of primitive America".
Areas that are maintained in the ecological state
in which they were found by the first white visitors.
And yet, there has always been something missing
from the ecological vision of wilderness.
Wolves were never a keystone species,
humans were actually the keystone species.
The humans were the important predators, the keystone predators,
and they were the keystone fire-starters on it
that created the ecosystems you think are actually natural.
National Parks turns out to be entirely unnatural,
because you don't have humans in the system.
20th-century ecological debates about wilderness
took place without reference to the role American Indians had played
in shaping the wild plant and animal populations
that park managers and conservationists
were trying to protect.
It is a testimony to the power of the Romantic 19th-century vision of wilderness
that ecologists could have been so blind.
Ecologists are human beings like all the rest of us.
We inhabit cultures and our cultures teach us
to see certain things and not see certain other things.
American ecology grew up with an idea of wilderness
that lead ecologists to seek out landscapes
that were as unmodified by people as they could imagine.
In America today, the very idea of wilderness is being challenged.
American Indians are fighting for the right to access National Parks
to practice religious ceremonies at sacred sites
and to hunt and gather traditional wild foods.
Archaeologists are revealing the full extent to which Indian tribes
manipulated their environments in the past.
And their findings are informing the way that ecologists manage
some wilderness areas today.
But the model of pristine wilderness that evolved in Yellowstone,
and was later applied to wild places around the world,
still dominates the way that most of us think about wild nature today.
In the next programme, we look at how new discoveries
are re-writing the history, and, very possibly, the future,
of one of the last great wildernesses, the Amazon.
Subtitles by Red Bee Media Ltd
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As the world's first national park, Yellowstone has long served as a model for the protection of wilderness around the world. For Americans it has become a source of great national pride, not least because it encapsulates all our popular notions of what a wilderness should be - vast, uninhabited, with spectacular scenery and teeming with wildlife. But Yellowstone has not always been so. At the time of its creation in 1872, it was renowned only for its extraordinary geysers, and far from being an uninhabited wilderness it was home to several American Indian tribes.
This film reveals how a remote Indian homeland became the world's first great wilderness. It was the ambitions of railroad barons, not conservationists, that paved the way for a brand new vision of the wild, a vision that took native peoples out of the picture. Iconic landscape paintings show how European Romanticism crossed the Atlantic and recast the American wilderness, not as a satanic place to be tamed and cultivated, but as a place to experience the raw power of God in nature. Forged in Yellowstone, this potent new version of wilderness as untouched and deserving of protection has since been exported to all corners of the globe.