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February 28, 2008

Time Out for Yellowstone (Historical)

On March First 1872, President U.S. Grant signed a bill setting aside an area of nearly 3500 square miles in the Northwest corner of Wyoming, with small extensions into Montana and Idaho, as America’s first national park. The area was so remote it had been bypassed by Lewis and Clark, and when one of the Expedition’s veterans explored it later, his descriptions of its unique geothermal features had been greeted with such skepticism they were not confirmed for decades. Since the 1872 bill had not provided any money to pay its first superintendent, the newly created park was neglected by the federal government and exploited by poachers and vandals for  decades until formation of the National Park Service in 1917. Even then, it had to survive further bureaucratic neglect. In a sense, it was more protected by its remote location than by the law, but after it finally began attracting hordes of visitors following World War Two, Yellowstone's public ownership was what preserved it for modern study of what is undoubtedly its most important feature: as one of the planet’s few supervolcanoes, it provides an invaluable window for study of the critical relationship between volcanism and climate change.

One may reasonably ask why a blog focused on a neglected study of marijuana users seeking to justify  their use as “medical” would take notice of Yellowstone’s anniversary. For me, the parallels are simply too striking to ignore: in each instance, a bureaucratic decision made in relative ignorance created the possibility for future study of a phenomenon that was literally undreamed of by those making the decision. In both cases, the unsuspected activity had continued for decades before either it or its its significance were recognized. Finally; each, in their own way, represent fundamental threats to human human existence that, although perhaps uavoidable in the long run, we are at least obligated to study.

Doctor Tom

Posted by tjeffo at February 28, 2008 06:08 PM