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Contradictory Mission of the National Park Service

July 15, 2011

As we have reported on Million Trees, the National Park Service (NPS) is eradicating most non-native trees on its properties in the Bay Area.  (see “Our Mission”)  We were therefore taken aback when we stumbled on a news report in the Martinez News-Gazette about the NPS destroying 20 redwoods at the John Muir National Historic Site, which is an NPS property.  It seems these redwoods are the victim of the confused, sometimes contradictory mission of the NPS.

Update:  The links in this article are no longer functional.  We therefore provide a new link that corroborates the statements we have made in this article:  “John Muir National Historic Site:  Strentzel-Muir Gravesite Plan”

Redwoods are, of course, one of California’s most revered native trees.   However, in this particular location, the NPS chooses to destroy them because they were not planted by Muir’s family.  Therefore, the NPS does not consider them “historically accurate.”  NPS says their mission requires that they cut them down.

Ironically, it is the NPS that planted those particular redwoods only 20 years ago.  They planted them after destroying the non-native eucalyptus trees that were in fact historically accurate because they were planted during Muir’s lifetime.  The eucalyptus trees were presumably destroyed because they aren’t native to California.  The redwood trees were planted in their place because NPS says their policies require them to replace every tree they destroy.

Are you confused by this story?  So are we.  We think NPS must be confused as well.  They seem to have several contradictory policies.  Their obsession with native vegetation required them to destroy eucalyptus trees 20 years ago.  Their policy requiring them to replace every tree they destroy obligated them to plant native redwoods.  Twenty years later their policy requiring them to adhere to the historical record has obligated them to cut the redwoods down.  Presumably, that same policy will require them to replant eucalyptus trees.  Where will they go from there?  One wonders.

John Muir National Historical Site, NPS photo

A little historical perspective

The NPS website for the John Muir National Historic Site describes John Muir as the “Father of the National Park Service.”  They also credit him with the creation of the Sierra Club and as the person who convinced President Teddy Roosevelt to create many of our most famous national parks:  Yosemite, Grand Canyon, Sequoia, and Mt. Rainier.  Is the destruction of two generations of mature trees any way for the NPS to honor its father?

The John Muir National Historic Site in Martinez is the home that was built by Muir’s wife’s parents in 1882.  Muir and his wife moved into the home in 1890 after his wife’s father died.  Muir lived in the home for the last 24 years of his life.

Muir’s daughter reported that her father bought about a dozen different varieties of eucalyptus from a neighbor and she helped to plant them on the property.  The property was planted with many non-native plants and trees, including palms that now tower over the property.  Clearly, the Muir family didn’t share the NPS obsession with native plants.  Nor did he think too highly of those who destroy trees:

Any fool can destroy trees.  They cannot run away; and if they could, they would still be destroyed, chased and hunted down as long as fun or a dollar could be got out of their bark hides, branching horns, or magnificent bole backbones.”

–John Muir, Our National Parks, pg 364

As public policy and horticultural fads lurch from one extreme to another, the trees are the losers in man’s conceit.   And those who love trees stand helplessly by, watching the destruction, powerless to prevent it, although we pay for it with our taxes.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. July 15, 2011 1:06 pm

    Excellent posting, well-written and well-researched. This is one of the best of many terrific postings on this website.

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  1. Sierra Club Alienates its Would-be Allies | Save Mount Sutro Forest

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