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"If you have ever stood at Jenny Lake and looked across to Cascade Canyon weaving its sinuous way toward the summit of the Tetons, you will know the joy of being in a sacred place, designed by God to be protected forever." --Horace M. Albright, 2nd Director of the National Park Service from Creating the National Park Service: The Missing Years by Horace M. Albright & Marian Albright Schenck

Albright's Mission

Over the last several months, I thought about starting a photoblogging series on DailyKos on the National Parks, but with the advent of the New DailyKos 4.0, I decided that using the new group functionality might be a better way to get more people involved and in a broader way in talking about the parks and the issues, politics and science affecting them. Along the way, if we provide inspirational photography and valuable help in encouraging and assisting others in going to the parks, all the better.

I'll start by providing an introduction of myself, my kossack credentials and areas of interest. I'm a 35 year old born and raised Texan currently living in Austin. I am an advocate of social justice and equality in the mold of the liberal social agendas of two of my favorite Texans, Lyndon Baines Johnson and Ann Richards. My hobbies and interests include photography (particularly landscape photography), genealogy, computers & math, politics, history and the national parks. I lurked around on DailyKos during the 2004 Presidential election, finally mustering the courage to join in May 2005. My infrequent diaries have mainly focused on issues related to LGBT equality with occasional forays into other areas. While I always had quite a bit an interest in nature, I got bit by the National Park bug in 2006 during a family vacation to the Tetons and Yellowstone. The trip also reignited my interest in photography. Since that time I've photographed in 15 National Parks and Monuments and 8 Texas State Parks and enjoy the activity as a way of de-stressing and "focusing" on something more beautiful than the daily grind of life.

My favorite park is Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming. To me, those mountains provide one of the most stunning backdrops on Earth, the jagged rocks rising sharply, no foothills to obstruct their dramatic rise above the Jackson Hole valley.

Schwabachers Landing

When our family took our trip through the Tetons and Yellowstone in 2006, we spent just one day in Grand Teton National Park and it left me wanting more. I have returned there twice since and am in the early stages of planning yet another trip there this fall. I like exploring and while I always hit a few of the very well known, very well traveled spots in the park, I also like finding the places there more off the beaten path, such as my favorite spot, literally off any path or trail in the park, a very old and beautiful limber pine known as the Old Patriarch seen here with the setting moon (in a shot I planned over nine months in advance):

Moonset over the Old Patriarch

I think my interest in the parks stems from the confluence of several of my other interests. With photograph, it combines the aesthetics of the art and composition with computers (no just in processing images, but the ever more geeky aspects of planning a shooting location and figuring out things like when the moon is to set over a particular spot). As the child of two history teachers that also loves science, I love reading about the interplay of history and science of the parks and the many struggles undertaken to protect these special places from destruction or development, struggles which often touch upon and influence our political discussions, particularly on matters of science and climate change.

One of the more striking quotes for me from Ken Burns' Emmy winning documentary The National Parks: America's Best Idea was a quote from Kim Heacox:

Part of the changing relationship with national rks as we evolved as a nation went from scenery to science. The scenery was obvious. It was overwhelming, it was stunning. The science is not so obvious. Science embraces mystery, and it begins to look into the future in ways that most people can't preserve. It asks questions that most people don't ask, and it says, "We need to hold on to these places, and I can't give you a precise reason why, but the reason will come along later, and if we don't have them, we'll never be able to explore the answers to the questions we'll be asking." So they hold the answers to questions we have not even yet learned to ask.

It is stunning the amount of science and research that comes out of our national parks and how this research has subsequently influenced public policy. Just as a recent example...a mere 15 years ago, wolves were reintroduced into Yellowstone National Park.

Moving to the Edge

Scientists wanted to explore the impact that reintroduction of the species would have to the greater Yellowstone ecosystem. While ranchers strongly opposed the plans out of an over exaggerated fear of the risk wolves would pose to humans and livestock, the pursuit of science eventually won out and the gray wolf (Canis lupus), was reintroduced in the park. For the most part, the wolves in Yellowstone had been wiped out in 1926 with occasional sightings of wolves transiting through from other areas. For nearly 70 years, wolves were not a substantial player in the Yellowstone ecosystem, so their reintroduction would give scientists the first clear look at the affect of the predators on the Yellowstone ecosystem. And by "affect," I mean restoration of the ecosystem towards the time before man upset the balance of nature there. The results have been stunning. For every question the reintroduction answered, it spawned a host of new questions and gave us a much greater look and understanding of the interconnectedness of the ecosystem. As just one example of the cascade affect, as odd as it may sound, the reintroduction of wolves has had a positive impact on songbirds and wading birds in Yellowstone. You see, without wolves, elk will tend to linger in open field along streams more frequently, eating the soft shoots of budding aspen, willow and cottonwood trees that grow along the streams and creeks. Since the wolves have been returned, elk can no longer do this without fear of being pursued by a wolf pack, so the trees have returned along creek beds, preventing the erosion that had lead to many streams widening, shallowing and warming, which had been affecting whether many species of fish could survive in the stream. With the erosion subsiding, the streams have become deeper, the tree canopies providing shade for them as well. The trees have also brought back the beavers, which trappers had largely eradicated from the ecosystem earlier in the 1800's. The beavers fell some of the trees to build dams to hold back the waters in small, usually shallow ponds. With fish being more populous and with shallow ponds to support them, wading birds and other small birds start to frequent the ponds along with moose, who like to eat vegetation that grows in the water in the ponds. And these are just some of the affects we have been able to perceive in just 15 years.

I look forward to other contributions about the national parks, monuments, historic parks or sites, state parks, or other related type parks. I'm also looking for other admins interested in the national parks to help facilitate the group. I want this to be a group effort to educate and enlighten others.

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