Doug Emhoff in the Tetons
Second Gentleman Doug Emhoff announces that laws championed by the Biden-Harris administration "provided $52 million to the National Park Service to fund projects throughout the country related to ecosystem resilience, restoration, and environmental planning needs." (Photo: T. Chavis/National Park Service)

In the 1930s, ranch­ers and right wing radio pun­dits fought bit­ter­ly against expan­sion of Grand Teton Nation­al Park, and ridiculed a wheel­chair-bound Franklin D. Roo­sevelt when FDR used his author­i­ty under the Antiq­ui­ties Act to pro­tect the Jack­son Hole val­ley as a nation­al monument.

The mon­u­ment would, they said, be a play­ground for rich folk like the Rock­e­fellers, who had been buy­ing up land with the aim of pre­serv­ing the val­ley with a back­drop of the Teton Range. The area was final­ly added to the nation­al park under Pres­i­dent Har­ry Tru­man in 1950.

Nowa­days, Grand Teton Nation­al Park wel­comes three mil­lion vis­i­tors each year. One of them, this week, was America’s first Sec­ond Gen­tle­man Dou­glas Emhoff. The spouse of Vice Pres­i­dent Kamala Har­ris came to announce that $44 mil­lion in fed­er­al funds will go to Nation­al Park Ser­vice cli­mate resilient con­ser­va­tion projects, forty-three of them in thir­ty-nine states.

The 13,775-foot Grand Teton makes a stir­ring back­drop for con­ser­va­tion announce­ments. George H.W. Bush, who labeled him­self “the envi­ron­men­tal pres­i­dent,” used the Tetons as props for sign­ing leg­is­la­tion that strength­ened the Clean Air Act. Of course, Bush was also press­ing Con­gress to allow oil drilling in the Arc­tic Refuge, which it declined to do at the time.

The projects announced by Emhoff are of par­tic­u­lar impor­tance to the North­ern Rock­ies. The Park Ser­vice will go to work restor­ing sage­brush to Jack­son Hole, in places once cleared by ranch­ers so they could grow hay.

Park sci­en­tists will also tack­le pro­tec­tion, preser­va­tion and restora­tion of the threat­ened, high-ele­va­tion White­bark Pine.

Why should we care about the White­bark Pine? Because it is an indi­ca­tor species in a time of cli­mate dam­age. Fly over the Greater Yel­low­stone Ecosys­tem and you will see orange (dying) and gray (dead) pines. Warm­ing tem­per­a­tures have tak­en a toll. White­bark Pines have fall­en vic­tim to blis­ter rust caused by a non­na­tive fun­gus. Warm­ing tem­per­a­tures have allowed moun­tain pine bee­tles to repro­duce in one year rather than mul­ti-year cycles. The bee­tles kill the old­est, largest trees.

White­bark Pines hold in place and slow the melt of win­ter moun­tain snow packs on steep ridges. Their cones are a food sought after by chick­adees, wood­peck­ers, cross­bills, chip­munks, red squir­rels and Dou­glas squir­rels. Of great­est con­se­quences, the fat­ty cones are a vital food source for female griz­zly bears.

Grand Teton Nation­al Park is home to “399”, the most famous and pho­tographed griz­zly bear in the North­ern Rock­ies. She is twen­ty-sev­en years old, yet still emerged this spring fol­lowed by a cub.

She has giv­en birth to triplets and came out of her den in 2020 fol­lowed by four cubs. Park rangers put out cones on roads when they see her.

“Griz­zly bear 399 is an ambas­sador for her species and vis­i­tors trav­el from all over the world to see her and her cubs, so we must con­tin­ue to imple­ment the best bear safe­ty prac­tices for bears to thrive in the Greater Yel­low­stone Ecosys­tem,” in words of Park Super­in­ten­dent Chip Jenk­ins, for­mer­ly the boss at our North Cas­cades Nation­al Park in Wash­ing­ton State.

”We must act now before it’s too late, too late to pre­serve this incred­i­ble, icon­ic land­scape of Grant Teton,” said Emhoff.

The Jack­son Hole val­ley has seen its share of heroes and vil­lains in America’s land wars. Famed con­ser­va­tion­ist Mardy Murie lived past the cen­tu­ry mark where her home in Moose, Wyoming, now hous­ing a con­ser­va­tion insti­tute. She was a force behind pas­sage of the Wilder­ness Act and, with hus­band Olaus, fought for cre­ation of the Arc­tic Refuge. Murie was award­ed the Pres­i­den­tial Medal of Free­dom by Pres­i­dent Clin­ton, him­self a sum­mer vis­i­tor to the Tetons.

Wealthy folk have also set­tled out­side the park in near­by Jackson.

A Wil­son, Wyoming, ranch­er-con­ser­va­tion­ist named Jake Kit­tle once took me on a man­sion tour, point­ing out to me place where a heat­ed porch allowed the own­er to enter­tain even when snow was falling. Said Jake: “The rich don’t come here for the beau­ty. They come here to be rich.”

Wealthy Repub­li­cans, notably Dick Cheney and James Bak­er, have digs near­by. While Cheney was Vice Pres­i­dent, the Park Ser­vice would block off pub­lic access to a bend of the Snake Riv­er so the Veep and bud­dies could go fly fish­ing by them­selves. Cheney is not pop­u­lar in the valley.

By con­trast, actor Har­ri­son Ford is know for pro­tect­ing ripar­i­an zones on his 800-acre hold­ings and putting on ease­ments that pre­vent its future subdivision.

Two promi­nent Wash­ing­ton elect­ed offi­cials have used Grand Teton Nation­al Park to estab­lish that a woman’s place is on top. Future Unit­ed States Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Jolene Unsoeld became the first woman to scale the north face of the Grand Teton, togeth­er with hus­band Willi who was an ear­ly climb­ing guide. (He would lat­er climb Masher­brum and the West Ridge of Mount Everest.)

On a fundrais­ing for­ay to Jack­son, where wealthy pro­gres­sive donors have homes, Sen­a­tor Maria Cantwell took time out to sum­mit Grand Teton, in the com­pa­ny of Wilder­ness Soci­ety Pres­i­dent Doug Walk­er. The “gen­tle­la­dy from Wash­ing­ton” has also climbed Mount Rainier and Kil­i­man­jaro, Africa’s high­est peak.

Sen­a­tor Cantwell has gone on to cham­pi­on con­ser­va­tion, from the bar­ren ground griz­zly bears of the Arc­tic Refuge to the brown bears of Alaska’s Admi­ral­ty Island to the salmon runs of Bris­tol Bar. She helped make pos­si­ble the projects announced at Grand Teton Nation­al Park by Doug Emhoff this week.

About the author

Joel Connelly is a Northwest Progressive Institute contributor who has reported on multiple presidential campaigns and from many national political conventions. During his career at the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, he interviewed Presidents Bill Clinton, Barack Obama, George W. Bush, and George H.W. Bush. He has covered Canada from Trudeau to Trudeau, written about the fiscal meltdown of the nuclear energy obsessed WPPSS consortium (pronounced "Whoops") and public lands battles dating back to the Alpine Lakes Wilderness.

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