Americans flock to the nation's "best idea"

Record Number of visits to Yellowstone Park in 2009-

This has been in the news the last couple days. Rocky Barker blogged today about it, tying it to the recent popular PBS television film, “The National Parks: America’s Best Idea.”  Here is Barker’s blog in the Idaho Statesman. Americans flock to nation’s “best idea.”

My comment is that it’s true Americans love their national parks, except for a relative handful of anti-government types. I also know from experience in the field and teaching that most Americans are generally clueless about the rest of the public lands they own: national forests, national wildlife refuges, and, especially the BLM lands.  Granted people will say, “Oh yes, the national forests, but it doesn’t come to mind quickly. This gives a great opportunity for special* interest groups to dominate how these other public lands are used. Lack of public knowledge makes hard to organize folks to defend what we might call “the public interest” in these matters.

Politicians and interest groups that have big plans for the public lands often try to smooth folks by saying “our plans in no way involve our wonderful national parks.”  What they don’t say is their plans will affect maybe millions of acres of BLM lands.

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* As a political scientist I prefer the more neutral term “interest group, which simply means an organized group that seeks to have the government do (or not do) something over which it has jurisdiction.


  1. Dusty Roads Avatar
    Dusty Roads

    A reasonable question to ask, concerning the number of visitors would be; How is this tally established, by entrance passes sold, vehicle entrance count, or – ? I can’t see how they come up with any kind of “real” number figures when a car can have one to fifteen people in it and all passes are good for at least seven days ~ a period in which one or more individuals in/on a vehicle can go in many times during that span of time even in one day. And what about those who go in at one gate, leave to go to a community outside a different gate and return to pass through the park on the same day? Just wondering.

  2. Save bears Avatar
    Save bears

    They use a formula, based on some deep thinking statisticians guess

  3. Alan Avatar

    At each entrance station there is a vehicle counter. For each vehicle that crosses the strip, day or night, they mutiply according to a formula which varies by month. I think in January it is something like 2 visitors per car and in July it is something just under 3. They then discount (throw out) a certain percentage of vehicles (which also varies depending on the month), to account for employees and concessionairs. Tour busses, guides, are accounted for based on the number supplied by the driver. Prior to the installation of these strips, entrance rangers would actually attempt to do a head count of people in each vehicle and a guess would be made for night entries. Every time I go into the park by myself I think, “Well, there’s two more vistors to the park!” Also say that when I leave and re-enter (go home for lunch etc.) In other words, there is really no way they can tell for sure if this year was record visitation or not! Just an educated guess.

  4. Larry Thorngren Avatar

    I spent a windy day in one of the nations’ best ideas. (Yellowstone) Very few people here today. It would have been easy to count them. Lots of elk and bison in the morning. Saw two black wolves and about half a dozen coyotes.
    Watched 9 members of the Druid Pack yesterday. All have the mange and look bad. I heard that the radio-collared alpha female was found dead after being missing for a month.

  5. Ralph Maughan Avatar

    Yes, she has been known dead for a couple weeks. The population keeps falling.

    Where’s that 30% growth rate Dave Mech writes about in his declaration?

  6. paulWTAMU Avatar

    I know that wildlife refugees don’t get a lot of press as a group; there’s a nice one about 20 minutes from my house that’s really sweet but I lived here about 4 years before I even heard of it. It’s not in a direction I’d usually drive (I don’t have any reason to go to Umbarger) so I didn’t even know it was there till I was driving to OK. and saw the sign.

  7. Jay Barr Avatar
    Jay Barr

    No doubt the radiocollar led to the mange problem in the Druids, right Larry.

  8. Larry Thorngren Avatar

    Jay Barr
    Thank you for pointing that out. One of the two wolves I saw yesterday was radio-collared (in keeping with the 50% rule the researchers seem to insist on) and two of the coyotes were radio-collared. It would be nice to come to Yellowstone National Park and see some wild animals without collars. The collared wolves do seem to die or get killed by other wolves quite regularly Jay. Must be because the other wolves love them to death, right Jay? The mange infested Druids spend a lot of time scratching at their radio collars. Must be because the collars feel so good. Right Jay?
    The Yellowstone Bison researchers have been out in force all week, darting and radio- collaring the poor bison. I saw five or six of them running after a bison they had darted. The grizzlies can be relied on to clean up any mistakes(jugular shots or overdoses) they make, right Jay?
    No one else in this park has trouble locating bison. Where does Yellowstone find these people? Friends of yours Jay?

  9. JW Avatar

    next time you go to yellowstone you will probably complain about the collars then go follow the researchers who track them to help locate your wolves to photograph.
    The effect of the collars is relatively minimal and the amount of data obtained has been phenomenal. I guarantee you that wolves wouldn’t be seen in this light without collars and we would have no idea how many wolves (around 150 give or take depending on the year) without collars on about 1/3 of them. And the potential buffer zone (or whatever one wishes to call it) around the park can be thanked to Park collared wolves getting shot.
    Please start commenting on something else on this blog besides collared individuals. You may not like collars, which many of us respect (ie, your comments), but to repeatedly belittle the people that have helped wolf restoration is ridiculous, and in my strong opinion fighting the wrong fight.

  10. Jay Avatar

    Poor larry, you’re just mad because you don’t have a radio receiver to go find the wolves so you too can exploit them for financial gain.

    Hey, on another note, did you apologize to the Smiths and others for your false accusations of impropriety (yet again) on the calendar? No? Go figure…you’re a real classy guy larry.

  11. Alan Avatar

    I won’t get into the “collar/no collar” arguement; there are good points on both sides. But thought I would share a joke that has gone on among some photographers:
    This photographer is driving around Yellowstone when he can’t believe his eyes; three beautiful wolves playing right next to the road, and no radio collars! His grabs his camera and takes a fantastic set of photographs, exclusives. Wonderful behavior shots; howling, playing, you name it.
    When he gets home there is a message on his answering machine from an editor he knows from National Geographic. They are looking for shots similar to what he got! He can’t believe his good fortune as he e-mails the photos to the editor.
    The photos are rejected! He calls the editor and asks why. “You can’t pull one over on us,” the editor says; “those aren’t wild wolves!!” “What in the world makes you say that?” the photographer demands.
    “Anyone can tell they aren’t wild,” the editor replies; “they don’t have radio collars!!”
    Now back to our regularily scheduled thread…..

  12. Save bears Avatar
    Save bears

    So very true Alan….

  13. jimbob Avatar

    Ralph—AMEN to your comments! I couldn’t have said it better, AND I’ve had it with all of the political charades and games. Almost all people want the parks AND their wildlife protected!


Dr. Ralph Maughan is professor emeritus of political science at Idaho State University. He was a Western Watersheds Project Board Member off and on for many years, and was also its President for several years. For a long time he produced Ralph Maughan’s Wolf Report. He was a founder of the Greater Yellowstone Coalition. He and Jackie Johnson Maughan wrote three editions of “Hiking Idaho.” He also wrote “Beyond the Tetons” and “Backpacking Wyoming’s Teton and Washakie Wilderness.” He created and is the administrator of The Wildlife News.

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Ralph Maughan