10 April 2015

Our Worst Idea

In documenting how our national parks represent America's best idea, filmmaker Ken Burns also gave us a glimpse of what our thinking looks like at its worst, and another example of this poor thinking has arisen at Olympic National Park in Washington state.

The United States Navy seeks to turn the park into a venue for its war games. This plan threatens the park's ecosystem, wildlife, and human visitors with noise and electromagnetic weapons (click here for a more detailed news story about it). It also puts at risk the cherished idea that our national parks represent.

Six years ago, in The National Parks: America's Best Idea, Burns demonstrated how the creation of the parks brought to the world a new combination of democracy, environmental protection, and civic duty. The parks came from public land, helped protect species and ecosystems, and gave generations of Americans something to pass down to those that followed them.

Burns' documentary also captured the constant threat facing the parks. From the start, people have looked for ways to exploit the national parks for personal gain. This self-centered approach to a social institution and an environmental cornerstone has placed several of the parks, including the Grand Canyon, on the verge of destruction at various times in the past. Through a simple application of logic, it is our worst idea, and the Navy's war-games plan is the latest incarnation of it.

One of the biggest lessons from the Burns documentary is that the idea of the national parks as well as the parks themselves must constantly be defended. In this spirit, a petition has been created to challenge the Navy's proposal for using Olympic National Park. To sign it, click here.

When it comes to our national parks, we deserve the best.

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