Ensuring Yellowstone’s Future

September 26th, 2008

Posted by: admin

Todd Wilkinson, author of Science Under Siege: The Politicians’ War on Nature and Truth, gave Professor Susan G. Clark’s new book Ensuring Greater Yellowstone’s Future: Choices for Leaders and Citizens a rave review in this week’s Jackson Hole News and Guide. For the last five years, I have worked on natural resource issues in the Yellowstone region. I could not agree more with Todd’s assessment of the book. Of course, my opinion has nothing to do with the fact Susan was my master’s degree advisor. ;-)

Compared with pulp fiction or even the latest sleaze in the National Enquirer, books that are written about the operational process of government bureaucracies often make a strong case for the virtue of narcolepsy.

What I mean to say is show me a dry scientific treatise on the topic of administering Western public land management agencies, and I’ll find you readers who would rather be waterboarded than crack open the pages.

Despite its unflashy title, Ensuring Greater Yellowstone’s Future: Choices for Leaders and Citizens by Susan Clark, founder of the Jackson-based Northern Rockies Conservation Cooperative and adjunct professor of environmental policy at Yale University, is actually a barn burner.

It’s one of the best books ever written about the major jurisdictional fiefdoms the National Park Service, U.S. Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, Fish and Wildlife Service, Bureau of Indian Affairs, Bureau of Reclamation, Army Corps of Engineers and fish and game departments from three states – that collectively oversee the management of more than 18 million public acres in this famous corner of the American West…

A few of Clark’s conclusions:

• Many of our current leaders in Greater Yellowstone are rich in experience but poor in theory – about both the challenges they and society face and the responses needed.

• Business as usual in natural-resource policy at both the national and local level is not sustainable, especially when it advances only short-term interests.

• Public land managers, scientists, conservationists and business leaders need to be given opportunities to think boldly when solving problems without being immediately punished or chastised…

This book should be required reading for politicians, all civil servants assigned to this region and citizens who want their voices heard. Like the controversy over snowmobiling in Yellowstone, natural resource decisions in this ecosystem are like the movie Groundhog Day. Ensuring Greater Yellowstone’s Future charts a different direction and shows that we desperately need leaders who are not afraid of their own shadows.

The full review can be found here.

3 Responses to “Ensuring Yellowstone’s Future”

  1. docpine Says:

    Thanks much, David, for posting something of interest to us natural resource folks.
    It is quite interesting to have my world (for indeed I am one of those civil servants whose work touches the Yellowstone Ecosystem) investigated.

    It is interesting to be portrayed as “poor in theory” “lacking in spine” and can hardly wait to read the book. I ordered it today from my library. How about we start again in a month.. I’ll share with my colleagues and we can have a “practitioner- academic” dialogue? These can be rich and fruitful discussions.

    P.S. as a grad of Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies I have to say in my humble practitioner world- if the Chief of the FWS gave a glowing endorsement of one of his employees’ books it would be taken with a grain of salt..if the CEO of Encana gave a rave review of one of his employees’ books.. I’m just sayin’

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  3. David Cherney Says:


    Thanks for you comments. You can expect more natural resource posts in the future!

    I welcome a discussion and look forward to hearing your perspective. After you have a chance to review the book, send me an email and I will start a new thread.

    Remember that the phrase “poor in theory” was preceded by “rich in experience.” ;-) Another way to view this argument is that many practitioners are overwhelmed with their workload and do not always have time to step back think strategically. I bet that you know civil servants who always feel like they are in crisis mode? A number of individuals I have interviewed in the Yellowstone region have explicitly said such.

    The “rich in experience but poor in theory” argument is not a personal attack on dedicated civil servants. In contrast, it is about how to how to free up time and supplement skill sets to help improve natural resource outcomes. It is an argument about an institutional problem, not an individual.

    I think in all our worlds we should be skeptical of glowing endorsements by those close to the author. As such, I wanted to be as transparent as possible. Take my recommendation with a grain of salt!

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  5. docpine Says:

    I also many times feel that I am in crisis mode, but I question the logic step between we are too busy and we don’t think strategically.

    It’s hard not to live and breathe something every day without thoughts of how things we work on could be better intruding on our consciousnesses- even when we are off the clock, e.g., in dialogues with colleagues over a beer, long drives through those great Wyoming or Montana or Idaho open spaces on our way to work. Indeed, we also read books about our world of natural resource management.

    Anyway, I will try to round up some folks and let you know when we’ve read the book.