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For the Benefit and Enjoyment of the People

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“Leave it as it is. The ages have been at work on it and man can only mar it.” Theodore Roosevelt

September 29, 2009 – Last night’s second installment of Ken Burns’ National Parks: America’s Best Idea, brought to mind a sight in Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Park that was the saddest I saw during my stay there. On our way to the trailhead to hike to see the Boole Tree, one of the oldest and tallest sequoias left in Kings Canyon, we drove past a vast green meadow in the Converse Basin.

The grassy meadow on our left was studded with tall conifers and what at first seemed like enormous odd-shaped boulders strewn about, but a closer look revealed that they were the stumps of once majestic giants. Weathered a silver gray and blackened a bit at their bases from fire, they were the remnants of an impressive grove of trees that fell victim to the greed and commercial interests of loggers looking to exploit the area’s forests for a quick, and what they thought would be, substantial profit. Unfortunately for them, the expense of logging such huge specimens proved too costly and the wood itself split and cracked and was unsuitable for most uses.

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Regardless of the unprofitability of the lumber operation, Converse Basin was virtually stripped bare of its giant sequoias from the late nineteenth century through the first decade of the twentieth. The Boole Tree, the one we were on our way to see, was ironically named for the general manager of one of the logging companies responsible for the massive clear cutting.

Thankfully, men like John Muir, George B. Grinnell and Theodore Roosevelt fought to ensure that the remainder of these living monuments were to be preserved within the parks for future generations. The foresight of these early conservationists can never be underestimated because their efforts made America unique among nations, spread the concept of a National Park system to other countries and ignited the modern conservation movement all over the globe.

Don’t miss the rest of the documentary on PBS, airing all week long. Check your local listings.

Photos by Stacey Dougherty. Copyright 2009. All rights reserved.

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