From Livingston, Montana, on the banks of the Yellowstone River, a group of seasoned political progressives gather at SoundColor Studios to cook up factual, informative, and thoughtful conversations with politicians, those who hope to be politicians, historians, artists and other interesting people.… read more
In this, our last live interview before COVID-19 and social distancing required us to go remote, we sat down with John Clayton, to talk about his latest book, “Natural Rivals”, subtitled “John Muir, Gifford Pinchot, and the Creation of America’s Public Lands.” John shares how he came across an account of Muir and Pinchot camping together in 1896 at Lake McDonald in what is now Glacier National Park. He realized they were not fighting but were collaborating on finding a solution to the crisis of how to define and protect the idea of public lands, national parks, and national forests. A political battle was raging. Corruption and dysfunction in government were rampant. Robber barons were building political and financial power at the expense of human and natural resources and were degrading the environment. Scientists were being ignored. At the same time, the public was growing more and more alarmed about the loss of natural habitats, wildlife, and resources. Vast expanses of the nation’s forests were being cleared at an unsustainable rate, the passenger pigeon had gone extinct and it looked as though bison would soon follow. It was at this time that the two men, in spite of their differences, came together to form an alliance that would result in the 1897 Organic Act, a law that established the legal idea of public lands and out of which the U.S. Forest Service would emerge. Describing their different philosophies, John says, “Preservation and conservation have a lot more in common when both are set against the wanton exploitation of natural resources for immediate private gain. But they also have some conflicts with each other if you are going to preserve a spot in nature as Muir would have encouraged you to do. It would look a lot like wilderness.” We talk about how the conflict of preservation -vs- conservation continues to this day, with wildly varying views about public land use and expanding wilderness areas. Complicating the argument, the Trump administration has placed a man known for wanting to get rid of all public lands, William Perry Pendley, at the head of the BLM, the very agency that is charged with protecting and managing them. We also discuss the parallels between the division created in the crisis of the 1890’s and what our country is facing today with the climate crisis and the misery it will cause on a global scale. Again, corporate greed and wanton environmental degradation is rampant. Governmental corruption and dysfunction prevail. And again, science is being ignored.
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