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38 of 44 people found the following review helpful
on June 26, 2002
I first learned of this book when I was working as a volunteer fire fighter in Northern California back in 1989. The subject came up one evening and the dinner table polarized between the Park Service/Forestry workers and the "environmentalist" crowd. (I was just helping out because my house was at risk from the fire and didn't fit into either camp.) The environmentalists hated the book while the professional forestry managers tried to explain to them that Chase had a lot of good points. I was curious enough to seek out the book to read and learned a lot. Chase's main point is that you can't have it both ways - if you don't want to manage these areas actively you are going to end up with the destruction of habitat and species you were trying to avoid - and proves his case in detail using the Yellowstone disaster as an example. His more recent book, In a Dark Wood, provides more evidence (including a depressing acount of how the unmanged elk herds in Yellowstone are destroying entire ecosystems...
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34 of 40 people found the following review helpful
on February 19, 2000
Chase presents an interesting history of Yellowstone National Park and its human destroyers/protectors. Chase shows the reader how good intentions sometimes do pave the way to bad experiences and worse results. Who could have imagined a national park having fences put up to keep wild animals in? Who would have thought that park rangers would decide that the beavers' dams were too destructive? From my own travels, there is still evidence of beavers and their dams, yet at one point this was nill. That's just one example. Wolves were destroyed because they were seen as a horrible threat, yet now wolves have been reintroduced with brand new controversy. When will we stop playing God? Did we ever not play God in this/and other parks? This is a great read for someone who has interest in national parks and the salvation of these "natural lands." Read it with questions forming, and then go find other sources to answer your questions. This is just one person's research/view point, but Chase gives us a lot to consider and look into. When is it right for humans to interfere? Or is it ever right?
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21 of 25 people found the following review helpful
on September 21, 2005
This is a wonderful book if you are a wildlife biologist or avid wildlife observer. The author does bash the Park Service quite severely, but in all honesty - look into the overall history of the Park Service - he isn't off by far. I truly enjoyed his personal point of view. If you are looking for just a history type book, this really isn't it. This is more of a personal account, more than it is strictly history based about the park service/yellowstone. Highly recommended for those of you with an open mind and a deep concern for our wildlife and national parks.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on January 10, 2008
This is an epic tale of our evolving understanding of nature and whether and how we should mess with it. The book is not an indictment of environmentalism, as another reviewer suggests. If anything it endorses current environmental view of ecosystem and is an indictment of park service policies that were geared toward tourism instead of science. Chase thinks doing nothing with nature is equal folly--after all we've already done to alter the landscape. A wildlife biologist originally recommended this book to me so I could understand the field better.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon May 19, 2009
This was a big-impact book when released. It remains relevant and important, though outdated in some respects. As the title suggests, Chase accuses the National Park Service of having "destroyed" Yellowstone. That's too strong a charge, but "mismanaged" is certainly true, and Chase documents his case very thoroughly.

Chase first documents the destruction of the Northern Range. The Park Service helped eliminate wolves and favored bison and elk. This harmed not only other ungulates (bighorn sheep, deer, moose) but also beavers and beaver dam communities. He gives little attention to the rest of the park, such as the Thorofare or Belcher regions, or even Yellowstone Lake. He's also focused almost exclusively on mammals, though research since the 1970s also documents effects on songbirds, amphibians, invertebrates, and others.

This destruction stems from the Park Service itself. Yellowstone is managed by a misguided, unprofessional agency staffed by law enforcement rangers. These rangers know nothing of science and do not care to learn more. Research always yields to visitor protection, and science makes up only two percent of the budget.

Chase argues that Park Service policy is supported by environmentalists. Because of a mistaken ideology of preservation that excludes humans from the natural world, the environmentalists want a hands-off approach. This approach, Chase insists, neglects the ubiquitous human impact on nature throughout the Greater Yellowstone Area. However, this part of the argument rests much more on Chase's particular values than on any science or social science, and is the part of the book most amenable to criticism.

The book's greatest strength is its critique of the park bureaucracy. He poses this as a critique of ecology, and regularly equates the unscientific policy of "natural regulation" of elk with the scientific field of conservation biology (as it was becoming known as he was writing). That's not tenable.

In fact, the field of conservation biology now includes scientists working on restoration ecology, which is part of the approach that Chase himself advocates. In saying this, I enjoy two decades of hindsight, which should not detract from the book. It's an essential point of reference for debates over wilderness, national parks, ecosystem management, and the bureaucracy.
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16 of 20 people found the following review helpful
on September 23, 1998
Mr. Chase has written a book that should be required reading for anyone involved in natural resource management, be they agency professionals, activists, or recreationists. As a wildlife biologist, I found the book fascinating; Mr. Chase is able to investigate aspects of resource management that often go overlooked in today's media. Beyond that, Mr. Chase provides a brutally honest account of the evolution of Park Service policy. Whether you have a PhD in resource management or you love the park on a personal, more intimate level, this book is for you.
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16 of 22 people found the following review helpful
on September 10, 2007
"Playing God in Yellowstone" by Alston Chase is a scathing indictment of the National Park Service, detailing its many misguided attempts to preserve wildlife while making Yellowstone National Park a tourist hotspot. The federal agency's conflicted mission resulted in the park service's becoming the largest killer of animal life in the park, routinely exterminating wolves, bears, mountain lions, big horn sheep, and elk.

The book also shows how politics trumped science routinely in deciding park policy. Decisions were made to preserve some animal species while eliminating others, without the benefit of any detailed biological studies of the park's ecosystem, which historically was not necessarily a natural habitat for many species found there at the beginning of the 20th century (farmers and cattlemen had cordoned off many grazing areas that antelope and other species had used for millenia). The park service favored elk, because they were popular with tourists, but the elk herds were enormously destructive in eating their way through all available food sources that other species needed to survive. What did the park service do when the elk herd grew too large? Shipped the animals to other parks, and arranged for mass slaughters to keep the herds in check.

The park service also ignored the fact that Native Americans were not the nature-loving shepherds of the forest so often depicted in media portrayals. They employed forest fires as a means of driving game into areas where they could be hunted, and nearly exterminated many species before the white man arrived. (Although Chase does cite scientific studies that show the benefit of forest fires in helping to renew the environment for a wide variety of plant and animal species.)

Meanwhile, such "watchdog" groups as the National Audobon Society, the Nature Conservancy, the Boone and Crockett Club, the Wilderness Society, and World Wildlife Fund were guided by former park service and Department of Interior officials, and tacitly endorsed policies that destroyed much of the natural environment. They, and the Sierra Club, encouraged people to visit the national parks, while conveniently ignoring the hugely destructive effects that hikers and campers wrought on forest areas.

The endless God-like tinkering demonstrates a litany of unintended consequences. This book should be required reading for anyone who wants to understand the pitfalls of misguided environmental policies.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
TOP 50 REVIEWERon August 13, 2012
Alston Chase is also the author of In a Dark Wood: The Fight over Forests and the New Tyranny of Ecology, etc. He wrote in the Preface to this 1986 book, "Writing this book, rather than being an inspirational experience, turned out to be exciting, to be sure, but also disillusioning, exhausting, and sometimes dangerous. I had become a detective carried along in a high-speed adventure, searching for clues to the science, history, and politics of Yellowstone. And I found more hidden traps and intrigue than I could have anticipated."

He notes that naturalist Aldo Leopold (who was "Once a believer in killing wolves and lions to save deer") eventually realized that "The true threat was deer, which, multiplying in the absence of natural enemies, could quickly destroy a forest." (Pg. 25) Later, he notes that Leopold was a convert to the philosophy of Peter Ouspensky (Pg. 303).

He states that "The environmentalists were justified in their skepticism. For park rangers seemed to have all black thumbs... In their attempts to manage this beautiful wild area, they seemed caught in a terrible rachet, where each mistake made the park worse off and no mistake could be corrected." (Pg. 44) He observes, "The science of ecology in which Leopold, (Rachel) Carson, and others had such high hopes was falling short of its goal, even as the environmental movement was hitting its stride... Although few were aware, Leopold's land ethic---now part of the creed of contemporary environmentalism---rested on no foundation at all." (Pg. 325)

He ultimately concludes that Yellowstone had become "a looking-glass world, a place that mirrored our national ideals. As a symbol of our hopes for natural preservation it reflected what we wished to see... If Yellowstone dies its epitah will be: 'Victim of an Environmental Ideal.'" (Pg. 373-375)

This fascinating book is of keen interest for anyone interested in Yellowstone, or in national parks in general.
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on December 10, 2014
As sad as it is, this was a very truthful expose on how the National Park Service has systematically killed bears, wolves, coyotes etc... in Yellowstone and have always lied about it to the public. I personally have been to Yellowstone hundreds of times (no exaggeration) and have personally witnessed much of the destruction described in this book. If you love Yellowstone as much as I do, this book will open your eyes, make you angry and even sick. Shame on the National Park Service!!!
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on March 1, 2015
How can so many 'experts' in their fields be so dumb? We have many clever wildlife biologists and wildlife managers but as soon as they settle into a snug bureaucracy they take on a mantle of power and invincibility. I suppose that climbing the corporate ladder is much more important than giving our suffering wildlife a sorely needed voice. This book is old now but has many lessons which can be learned and applied to this day. Do not read this book if you are easily exasperated.
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