Skip to comments.Vanishing Elbow Room and Breathing Space: Crowds Flee to Northern Rockies from Packed, "Pandemicked" Cities
Posted on 12/02/2020 7:32:54 AM PST by SJackson
Sadly, in 2020 life is imitating art in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem of Montana, Idaho, and Wyoming.
Art: In the Paramount Network’s hit contemporary Western series Yellowstone, set in western Montana’s rugged Rocky Mountains, Kevin Costner plays grizzled old cattle rancher and crusty patriarch John Dutton.
For generations, Dutton and his forebears running the vast family ranch named “Yellowstone,” have had to contend with bone-chilling winter temperatures, blizzards, disease outbreaks, broken fences, snarling and sneaky predators, cattle rustlers, rowdy cowboys, aggrieved Indian neighbors, and environmental regulators.
Now, in the 21st century, he must also face off with an unprecedented nemesis far more treacherous and relentless than these earlier threats to the ranch’s profitability and survival: rampaging in-migration, population growth, encroaching development pressures, and greedy developers.
Life: read this excerpt from a recent piece in The New York Times and weep:
“The phenomenon of gridlock in a natural paradise has been seen across the West for years. But in Montana it has accelerated markedly this year, fueled by urbanites fleeing the pandemic. Now, many residents are concerned that the state that calls itself the Last Best Place has bragged a little too loudly and too often.”
Open space and big sky at risk in Montana:
Missouri River downstream of Great Falls; the Lewis and Clark Expedition paddled and poled upstream here in 1805, en route to their grueling month-long portage around five waterfalls where the City of Great Falls stands today.
I myself know all too well about that gridlock: even 35 years ago, I once got stuck in bumper-to-bumper traffic one summer day at the entrance to Glacier National Park’s fabled Going-to-the-Sun Highway in northwestern Montana.
But I turned away and fled the throng and vehicle exhaust: I had absolutely no interest in dealing with traffic and crowds as if I were visiting a jam-packed Disney-style theme park in crowded southern California or central Florida. Yet this was practically in Canada! (From which I had just come, after backpacking and hiking amidst the alpine meadow wildflowers and glaciers in majestic Jasper and Banff National Parks in the Canadian Rockies.)
The Mountain Journal adds:
“Like a wild West boom town of old, growth around Bozeman and Big Sky, Montana is happening at breakneck speed. This unprecedented expansion of human footprint isn’t owed to traditional resource extraction but a new kind of industrial activity: real estate opportunity and land development that seemingly knows little bounds. At present, bickering …has left any discussions of how to plan sensibly for the future, while maintaining the natural character of place that lures newcomers in droves, in a quagmire.”
The NY Times article recounts that in 2020, “trailheads are cramped with parked cars and fishing on the Madison River is like a Disneyland ride.” A board member of a local chapter of the NGO Trout Unlimited complained that: “It seems like everyone was flocking to Montana this summer.”
Business has been brisk for outdoor outfitters who sell and rent equipment to anglers, mountain bikers, kayakers, rafters, hikers, campers, and cross-country skiers. And who could be so churlish as to complain about good sales for small businesses at a dismal time of lockdowns and quarantines, when so much of the country and the world would kill to be as lucky?
Yet many locals and natives understandably fear that this burst of commerce will not be short-lived, but instead, signifies change that is far more permanent, profound, and negative: of Montana and Yellowstone losing the very qualities people celebrate and seek.
They worry about nature being loved and trampled to death, a dire prospect raised more than half a century ago by environmental historian Roderick Nash in his acclaimed 1965 book Wilderness and the American Mind, which documented changing American attitudes towards the wilds, from fear and hostility centuries ago to admiration and affection today.
In this view, 2020 may represent not a fleeting Coronavirus pandemic epiphenomenon. Rather, it may be the acceleration of what was already a long-term trend. A trend of urbanites and suburbanites discovering and flocking en masse to a hitherto sublime mountain paradise: and by the force of their very numbers alone, taming or even slaying it. An unintended but inexorable consequence of numerical excess.
“You call some place paradise – kiss it goodbye,” wrote songwriter Don Henley in the Eagles’ classic elegiac song “The Last Resort.”
The Times article adds that, “the cramping of recreational pursuits is just one dimension.”
“The Greater Yellowstone ecosystem, which takes in more than 34,000 square miles of wildland around Yellowstone National Park and includes the cities of Bozeman and Jackson, Wyo., is considered the largest nearly intact temperate ecosystem in the world.
“It is one of the few places in the continental United States where landscape-level ecological processes can play out, including wolf packs hunting elk and deer, long-distance wildlife migrations and wildfires that can be left to burn in order to rejuvenate the natural landscape.”
Since timber wolves were reintroduced into Yellowstone National Park (the first national park in the U.S. and the entire world) a quarter-century ago, after an absence of 70 years, wildlife biologists and conservation planners have touted the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem – consisting of Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks and five surrounding national forests – as an enormous real-world laboratory experiment of applied ecological restoration.
Rapid in-migration, human population growth, and development in this region jeopardize not just the quality of life for existing (and future) residents, but the integrity of intact ecosystems. Habitat destruction, degradation, and fragmentation and human interactions (e.g., collisions with vehicles, attacks on people, raiding garbage, livestock depredation) are some of the greatest threats to large mammals such as grizzly bears, wolves, elk, and bison, which roam across huge areas and require large territories to survive and maintain genetic fitness (avoiding inbreeding).
Neither The New York Times nor the Mountain Journal would ever think of emphasizing or even mentioning it of course – lest they be “cancelled” by the open borders zealots among their readers – but national rates of immigration-driven population growth of some 20-30 million new residents per decade over the past half century have been a major driver of unwanted growth in “Last Best Places” like Montana.
In the future, given that immigration is expected to account for up to 90% of U.S. population growth to 2060, its effects will be even more pronounced. The graph below from the U.S. Census Bureau shows that the future U.S. population depends largely on the level of immigration Americans choose…or which is forced on us by Congress.
The February 2020 Census Bureau report “A Changing Nation: Population Projections Under Alternative Immigration Scenarios” indicates that: “Different levels of immigration between now and 2060 could change the projection of the population in that year by as much as 127 million people, with estimates ranging anywhere from 320 to 447 million U.S. residents.”
While immigrants from regions with warmer climates do not tend to seek out or settle directly in cold, remote spots like the Northern Rockies, their large numbers often induce secondary domestic migration by displaced native-born Americans. Mass immigration in recent decades has had an enormous effect on the standard of living and quality of life in tarnished, densely populated urban areas such as Greater Los Angeles, Bay Area cities, and New York City.
Many natives have opted to flee toward places with lower housing prices, less traffic congestion, crime, and ethnic tensions, and also, places that are wilder, and places which boast more natural landscapes with more wildlife and fewer humans. The pandemic has only exacerbated long-standing concerns about excessive population density and overcrowding.
Half a century from now, whether Montana, Idaho, Wyoming, and the Greater Yellowstone Ecosy can still boast of being wildlife-rich, scenic, unspoiled “paradises” will depend in good part on whether American citizens can prevail upon their politicians and special interests to reduce immigration rates.
Piegan Pass in Glacier National Park:
Whether or not opportunities for genuine solitude in wilderness will endure in the Northern Rockies’ future – given population growth trends – is by no means certain
Outdoors/Rural/wildlife/hunting/hiking/backpacking/National Parks/animals list please FR mail me to be on or off . And ping me is you see articles of interest.
Thank you for this article.
Locust voters. Brace yourselves for a mega-tsunami of foreign locusts with Biden's amnesty.
In fact, Somalia ought to be a refugee DESTINATION because even if they were to have a population density like California (including the relatively unpopulated portion north of the bay area), they should be able to support an addition 46 MILLION people.
If the Jews or even the Chinese were running the country, they probably could.
Centuries old story. Davy Crockett said it was time to move when you could see someone else’s campfire at night.
Plenty of great spots left though, thank goodness.
There are other people in the world!
That field I used to play in is now a convenience store!
I wish those other people would go away!
The problem is, those other people allow you to be where you are.
Those other people stock the shelves at the store.
Those other people plow the snow off the road.
Those other people grow your food.
Those other people keep the airport going.
This always leads to the same conclusion.
There are too many people.
How do we reduce the number of people?
Abortion? COVID? Concentration City Camps? Famine?
I really enjoy a deserted beach.
I also really enjoy watching children play in the sand at a beach.
I really enjoy fishing a deserted stretch of river.
I also really enjoy watching a raft full of teenagers enjoying themselves on a river.
I am not God.
Bill Gates is not God.
We might not like the selection criteria if they want to reduce the population.
That absolutely characterizes the situation in and around Coeur d'Alene, Idaho. The once-beautiful Rathdrum Prairie, filled with century-old farms, is rapidly getting developed with huge subdivisions of affordable houses as people pour into the area. The stretch from Postfalls, ID north to Rathdrum, ID is going to be non-stop subdivisions real soon and not one crop will be grown there.
Unfortunately, there is no solution. Without growth controls, the prairie farmland is lost. With strict zoning and growth controls, you have much higher land and housing prices making the area unaffordable (just as happened in the San Francisco Bay Area).
There was a lot more breathing room in the country when we had "only" 150 million people (when I was a kid).
This looks a lot like the Rathdrum Prairie of old. You can still glimpse parts of it today, but you have to hurry.
Montana has become our favorite state over the past few years, because of the wide open spaces and lack of people.
The skiing in Big Sky is unmatched.
In 1972 I was working a summer job at a marina. Mowing, hauling fish guts and heads, watermelon rinds and such to the dump, etc. Real glamor job.
I would go inside the store there at lunch and watch the news while sitting on the floor to eat my lunch.
I distinctly remember the announcement of our population having passed 200,000,000 and thought there were too many people.
Since those days our little county has at least doubled in population. The highway in front of the farm is now more like a freeway. I once had to wait for a long time to hear a distant car coming down the road at night and now there are cars at 2 AM regularly going by.
There were only five houses in sight across the valley as seen from our little hill, now there are 12.
Things are not better, there are no more meaningful jobs than there were, there is more poverty, more aimless lives, more crime, more drugs and alcoholism, more pollution, more trash, less community pride and responsibility.
Once upon a time the location of jobs controlled population cells. Not now. The west will look like a series of strip mall developments. Most will never venture into the back country but there will be enough that do the area will be forever changed. Once you have so many people there is never the opportunity to escape with an original idea. If you have the thought of going to a quiet place on a pretty day so have 10,000 others. You will never be alone again except in your own small space. I wish I was surrounded by trees in my own little corner of the world instead of in the middle of a big pasture that is more like a fishbowl now.
The Internet has done a lot to help people “discover” previously unknown places. I’ve got a number of favorite parks and hiking trails near my house. Up until ten years ago, they were undiscovered and largely empty. Now the parking lots are always full and the trails crowded. Once I get past the one mile point, the trails empty out and generally at two or three miles you won’t see a soul.
The change in the past ten years has been huge.
As much as COVID is a major pain in the neck, our road traffic here on the San Francisco Peninsula is still down by two-thirds and maybe three-quarters. There aren’t as many insane drivers out. There are normally packed intersections here that used to take two or three light changes to get through. Now I’m often pulling up at the light as the first car. People seem to be taking life more slowly now.
‘The US Population would shrink under a Zero Immigration scenario.’
And this is a problem because...? :)
We started watching Kevin Costner’s ‘Yellowstone’ last night. It’s awesome and covers a lot of the problems they’re having in the Wild, Wild, West. Very well written, good characters, interesting ‘problems.’
“Oscar and Emmy winner Kevin Costner is the marquee attraction of the ensemble cast in this drama series, starring as the patriarch of a powerful, complicated family of ranchers. A sixth-generation homesteader and devoted father, John Dutton controls the largest contiguous ranch in the United States. He operates in a corrupt world where politicians are compromised by influential oil and lumber corporations and land grabs make developers billions. Amid shifting alliances, unsolved murders, open wounds, and hard-earned respect, Dutton’s property is in constant conflict with those it borders — an expanding town, an Indian reservation, and America’s first national park.”
I don’t know. You’d think it would make defunding the police easier. And make it less necessary to poop in the street in urban areas and in bathrooms in parks.
At this point the elites are moving CONSUMERS, not WORKERS, into many areas; they’re subsidized by US taxpayers, and increasingly, by US companies.
Every year I see more and more news stories of “free” school supplies and holiday food giveaways; the recipients look like the same people who’ve been given everything else for free as well. The decline of those seeking the original American Dream (opportunity to work for a better life) has never been more noticeable...
While the beaches and parks near cities in my area are overrun on nice days, those in the mountains are similar to what you describe: Crowded roads and parking lots, but the further out you go, the less people you see. I find that hiking the old roads of the settlements that predated the parks are much more peaceful than the marked trail systems; no litter at all, or occasionally an old-fashioned bottle - you really get the impression that not a soul has been there in many decades (even if you can hear highway traffic in the distance).
I’ve also noticed an increase in stealth camping in those areas, and it is annoying - many first-timers who don’t bother to find a good spot but will literally put a small tent up right on a footpath. To their credit, they are neat and don’t litter. Years ago the rangers were aggressive in stopping this; I believe budget woes have reduced them to skeleton crews.
Generally backpacking has declined in this area (the NYC metro area); I attribute it to a population of “replacement Americans” who never participated in it (and don’t trust scout groups) coupled with fears of Lyme Disease.
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