In one way, the old European monarchies with their corps of idle aristocrats had the right idea: Preserve the land. Of course, that sometimes meant, "let the peasants starve," but that's another argument. At least they didn't entertain the illusion that letting pillagers and poachers loose on their land was a wise policy.
Today marks the date in 1872 when President Grant signed into law the bill setting aside what we now know as Yellowstone National Park for future generations. It's been a part of the American landscape for so long that most of us can't conceive of any higher use for these lands. Which brings to mind an unsettling memory. I seem to recall that when President Reagan nominated James Watt for the post of Secretary of the Interior, some senators questioned his track record of supporting the massive commercial exploitation of federal lands. His profound reply was something like, if I remember correctly, "Senator, Jesus could come back at any time and we need to use this land while we still can." I don't know if any mouths dropped open among his questioners, but if they didn't, the senators must have been asleep.
I tell my American History students that Westerners and Easterners have (in many cases) very different attitudes toward federal land ownership. This is understandable when one looks at a map of Nevada or Idaho and sees how much of the landscape is under Uncle Sam's control. I can understand the attitude of, "Use the land" but with the caveat that "as long as we remember that we're borrowing it from our descendants." The Lakota and Arapaho might say, "at last you guys are getting smart." Custer may have died for our sins in coveting someone else's territory, but he has plenty of disciples nowadays. The promise of cheap coal, oil, gas, or timber is pretty alluring.
So let's enjoy what we have while we still have the ability to enjoy it. Happy Birthday Yellowstone and may many future generations have the chance to experience your glories!