The Evolving Yellowstone Model: The Past, Present, & Future of Conservation
January 4 - 7
Mark Fiege, Ph.D.
A remarkable and inspiring feature of Yellowstone National Park and other protected areas is that they have never embodied or represented only one static purpose, use, or meaning. Rather, those purposes, uses, and meanings have shifted and expanded over time. A place of natural wonders and wilderness, Yellowstone also is a place of dynamic change and complexity that people have continually reimagined and reinvented as they have encountered it. People are always searching for Yellowstone, always discovering new things in and around it, and in the process, always redefining it. Today, the forces of Earth System change, primarily the climate, press down on Yellowstone. At the same time, calls to re-Indigenize parks and other protected areas and restore them to their original stewards raise the prospect that Yellowstone and comparable lands might outgrow the colonial identities that have defined them over the past 150 years. The future is uncertain, but the Yellowstone of 2072 will be very different from the Yellowstone of 1972 or 1872.
Yellowstone National Park is an outstanding site for us to explore the past, present, and future of conservation in the United States and the modern world. Drawing on a richness of primary documents, scholarship, commentaries, and other sources, we will survey the evolution of Yellowstone and other protected areas as we look toward the future of conservation in North America and on Earth. In light of environmental history and the history of conservation centered on Yellowstone, what might be the likely future of Yellowstone and other parks and protected areas? What might be the worst possible Yellowstone future, and what might be the best? As we seek answers to these and other questions, we will investigate the world-class collection of historical sources in the Yellowstone Research Center. Weather permitting, we also will venture into the Gardiner and Mammoth areas to look for evidence of change in the land itself. We will summarize our findings in brief essays that we will share with each other. When we depart, we can expect to have a grasp of how a deeper understanding of Yellowstone history can inform and enlarge our imagination of the Yellowstone future.
About the Instructor
Mark Fiege is a Professor of History and the Wallace Stegner Chair in Western American Studies at Montana State University, Bozeman. For the past three decades, he has taught courses on environmental history, the history of national parks and protected areas, and western American history. Since joining the faculty at MSU in 2016, he has taught History of Yellowstone, an annual field-based course that sweeps broadly through time and space across the Greater Yellowstone region. He is the author of The Republic of Nature: An Environmental History of the United States (2012), co-editor of National Parks beyond the Nation: Global Perspectives on “America’s Best Idea” (2016), co-author of “Elegant Conservation: Reimagining Protected Area Stewardship in the 21st Century,” Ecology and Society 28(1) (2023), and co-editor of the forthcoming Wallace Stegner’s Unsettled Country: Ruin, Realism, and Possibility in the American West (2024). He first visited Yellowstone National Park in 1965.
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