FREE-MARKET ENVIRONmentalists,nthat small band of economists,ndidn’t talk much about the NationalnPark Service in the early 1980’s.nIn their effort to convince the publicnthat the government is often a poornsteward, they concentrated on commodity-producingnagencies that arensupposed to be efficient, agencies suchnas the Forest Service and the Bureau ofnLand Management. Their recommendationnto put even these agencies intonprivate hands met such fierce resistancenthat it seemed futile to discuss thenNational Park Service, which has annalmost sanctified image as a protectornof pristine nature.nThat situation changed in 1986nwhen Alston Chase published PlayingnGod in Yellowstone. His book providedna case study of mismanagement thatnsupported nearly every point that thenfree-marketers wanted to make. Chasenargued persuasively that the park’snwildlife habitat had deteriorated to thenpoint where its ecological balance wasnseriously askew. He contended that thencause was the “hands-ofi^’ or “naturalnregulation” approach adopted in 1972,nwhich was designed to let nature regulatenYellowstone’s wildlife as if whitenmen had never arrived.nWhen Yellowstone burst into flamesnin 1988, Chase’s criticisms receivednnew attention. As the fires burned outnof control, critics inside and outsidengovernment blamed the Park Service’sn”hands-off” policy (which quickly becamenknown as the “let burn” policy).nThis policy, which allowed lightningcausednor “natural” fires to burn out ofncontrol, ignored the fact that fires hadnbeen suppressed for nearly a hundrednyears; the buildup of fuel contributednto the severity of the 1988 fires.nChase had identified other problemsnwith the “hands-off^’ approach, too.nFor example, predators such as the wolfnand the mountain lion were eliminatednlong ago, so Yellowstone’s habitat isnhardly “natural” today. Without predatorsnand without any regulation ofnherd size by the Park Service, elknnumbers have grown rapidly. Severalnbiologists and range scientists arguenthat elk overgrazing has halted regrowthnof vegetation such as willownand aspen and contributed to the nearextinctionnof beaver on the park’snnorthern range. The “hands-off” approachnalso meant that the elk’s popu­n8/CHRONICLESnlation was headed for a crash when ansevere winter came and food becamenscarce. That day came during thenwinter following the fires; one-quarternto one-third of the elk are believed tonhave died, mostly from starvation.nSo it turns out that, just like then”commodity” agencies, the NationalnPark Service is subject to political pressuresn— not just occasionally but inherently.n”So long as the parks are ownednand operated by government, the managersnmust be politically responsive tonthe various interest groups and constituentnpressures within the stated missionnof each park,” writes RichardnStroup in a new multi-authored book,nThe Yellowstone Primer (edited bynJohn A. Baden and Donald R. Leal,nPacific Institute for Policy Research),nwhich picks up where Playing God innYellowstone leaves off. “Yet the verynexistence of different interest groupsnwith conflicting goals, each quitenlegitimate . . . means that achievingnthe public good is a difficult task.”nUntil the 1988 fires the “hands-off”napproach was a politically successfulnstrategy. It was championed by leadersnof the top activist environmentalngroups, strong political allies of thenPark Service, and for the most part itnavoided conflict with the general public.nIndeed, Park Service rangers hadntried killing elk in the I960’s to cull thengrowing herd, but the public outcrynwas so great that they had to stop —nand “hands oiF’ or “natural” regulationnjustified future decisions not tonintervene. (A park official contendsnthat a similar public outcry would havenbeen heard if the Park Service hadnintervened to gradually burn off thenaccumulating tinder that worsened thenfires of 1988.)nNonintervention policy may havenworked politically, but it hasn’t enhancednor protected the environment.nIf Yellowstone is going to preserve itsnwildlife, managers need greater freedomnfrom special interest groups butnalso more accountability for their actions.n(The National Park Service publicnrelations machine often takes thenplace of accountability.)nPrivate nonprofit organizations arenmore effective in protecting the environment,npartly because they have thenfreedom to intervene when doing so isnconsistent with their mission. For example.nThe Nature Conservancy pro­nnntects grizzly bears on its preserve atnPine Butte, Montana, by setting andncontrolling fires that stimulate plantngrowth and by planting native vegetationnsuch as chokecherries that grizzliesneat. And Ducks Unlimited activelyncreates wetlands to protect waterfowl.nSince private ownership of any nationalnpark is not politically feasible,nfree-market environmentalists haventried to come up with approaches thatnmimic private ownership. One of thosenis Richard Stroup’s proposal for quasiprivatenpark endowment boards thatnwould manage segments of nationalnparks.nStroup’s idea is to dedicate each parknunit (a large, diverse park would havenmore than one unit) to a narrow purpose,ncreate a board of environmentalistsncommitted to that purpose, andngive them freedom to act as long asnthey remain true to the narrowly specifiedngoal. Rather than obtain supportnfrom congressional appropriations (thenavenue for political control), the endowmentnwould be financed the waynprivate organizations finance their activities—bynmeans such as entrancenfees, voluntary donations, and even,nwhen an endowment board deems itnappropriate, oil or mineral rights. Thenpurpose of a park endowment boardnwould be to find a way to let managersnconcentrate on carrying out their mission,nsomething that Park Service managersnare hampered from doing now.n—Jane S. ShawnCHILDREN ARE DYING in annincreasing number of ingenious ways,nand the only thing more disturbingnthan this trend is the even more ingeniousnway in which society is rationalizingnand legally justifying their deaths.nTwo-year-old Robyn Twitchell diednat his parents’ home in Massachusettsnon April 8, 1986, after suffering fornfive days with constipation caused by anbirth defect. The parents are currentlynon trial for manslaughter because theyndenied their son all medical treatmentnand attempted to cure him solely withnprayer, in accordance with their ChristiannScience faith. Lawyers for thenTwitchells, however, claim that the trialnis nothing less than a case of religiousnpersecution, for a 1971 Massachusettsnchild abuse and neglect law recognizesnspiritual healing as a legitimate alterna-n