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Jewish World Review March 19, 2001 / 24 Adar, 5761

Thomas Sowell

Thomas Sowell
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Consumer Reports

Ugliness in Yosemite -- A visit to Yosemite National Park and its natural beauties and wonders is always an uplifting experience, even after having visited the park more than 20 years in a row. In recent years, however, the beauty of Yosemite has been tainted by the ugliness of the people who run it.

The National Park Service bureaucrats have begun systematically making it harder for people to visit Yosemite. The most blatant and arrogant example was their forcing the filling station in Yosemite Valley to close down, making the nearest source of gasoline 20 miles away.

This filling station was not spoiling some pristine wilderness. It was located near a large built-up area, which includes a sprawling hotel complex, three restaurants, a bar and a sports shop. The filling station was closed down to make it harder for people to drive their cars into Yosemite Valley.

The National Park Service bureaucrats have their own vision of how people ought to visit Yosemite and cars are not part of that vision. For years, these bureaucrats have spread hysterical and apocalyptic stories about how cars have created practically bumper-to-bumper traffic clogging the roads in the park. At no time during the dozens of visits I have made to Yosemite, during all seasons of the year, have I ever seen anything approaching the picture painted by the park's bureaucracy and spread throughout the media.

A big flood that covered Yosemite Valley to a depth of several feet in 1997 made major repairs and rebuilding necessary afterward. This rebuilding process provided an occasion and an excuse for permanently reorganizing the park, closing down camp sites and otherwise making it more difficult for people to visit Yosemite.

Then, in the last months of the Clinton administration, something called The Yosemite Valley Plan was rushed through, embodying a Sierra Club type of vision of the park, sharply restricting the visits of the great unwashed in their cars, so that Sierra Club types can enjoy Yosemite in splendid isolation.

Now the taxpayers' money is being used to propagandize all visitors to the park into accepting the Yosemite Valley Plan of the park bureaucrats. Material handed out by the guards at the entrances practically gushes over how wonderful the plan is and how much more enjoyable visits will become -- for those who can visit at all, under the new restrictions.

Instead of being able to drive when and where you want, under the new plan visitors will be forced to park their cars and get on buses. You can imagine families with small children, along with elderly people, all herded together and taking the regimented tour, instead of being able to stop and go when and where their own interests and need for food or toilet facilities would lead them.

It is a bureaucrats' collectivist Utopia -- and anyone else's nightmare. Yet one of the bureaucrats who helped create this scheme speaks of himself as "fulfilling a sacred public trust." In fact, what he has done is the very definition of betraying a public trust -- using the powers given to him to serve his own agenda, rather than what the public wants.

Like so many of the environmental storm troopers, this official takes it upon himself to be the adjudicator between humans and animals, if not the ombudsman for the animals in Yosemite. The Yosemite Valley Plan "will benefit Yosemite's wildlife for many years to come" he says, by such things as "restoring areas in Yosemite Valley that have a high value to wildlife."

First of all, the entire Yosemite Valley is just a small fraction of Yosemite National Park.

So even if it were all wall-to-wall pavement, which nobody wants, it would still barely make a dent in the amount of habitat available to animals. In this context, the park official's pious talk about reducing "habitat fragmentation" means little more than preventing those animals living in the valley from having to cross a path or a road now and then -- something they do with no great sign of angst.

As a final insult to our intelligence, we are told that "generations of visitors to come" will benefit from policies that restrict visitors from coming. What the future-generations argument boils down to is this: Future generations of people with the same mindset as the environmental storm troopers will be able to impose their dictates on future generations of other people.

Arrogant ego indulgence is never pretty. But masking it as altruism makes it particularly ugly.

JWR contributor Thomas Sowell, a fellow at the Hoover Institution, is author of several books, including his latest, Basic Economics: A Citizen's Guide to the Economy.


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© 2001, Creators Syndicate