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Engineering Eden: A Violent Death, a Federal Trial, and the Struggle to Restore Nature in Our National Parks

Engineering Eden: A Violent Death, a Federal Trial, and the Struggle to Restore Nature in Our National Parks

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Engineering Eden: A Violent Death, a Federal Trial, and the Struggle to Restore Nature in Our National Parks

Длина:
553 страницы
10 часов
Издано:
19 мар. 2019 г.
ISBN:
9781615195602
Формат:
Книга

Описание

“Weaves together a dramatic court case in Los Angeles, a grizzly-bear attack, and a surprisingly fascinating debate . . . a thrilling read.” —The Wall Street Journal

Winner of the California Book Award, Silver Medal for Nonfiction

Longlisted for the PEN/E.O. Wilson Award for Literary Science Writing

One of Outside magazine’s 10 Outdoor Books that Shaped the Last Decade

In the summer of 1972, twenty-five-year-old Harry Eugene Walker hitchhiked away from his family’s northern Alabama dairy farm to see America. Nineteen days later, he was killed by an endangered grizzly bear in Yellowstone National Park. The ensuing civil trial, brought against the US Department of the Interior for alleged mismanagement of the park’s grizzly population, emerged as a referendum on how America’s most beloved wild places should be conserved. Two of the twentieth century’s greatest wildlife biologists testified—on opposite sides.

Moving across decades and among Yellowstone, Yosemite, Glacier, and Sequoia National Parks, former park ranger Jordan Fisher Smith has crafted an epic, emotionally wrenching account of America’s fraught, century-and-a-half-long attempt to remake Eden—in the name of saving it.

“This meticulously investigated history of Yellowstone and its wildlife management problems should appeal to fans of Jack Olsen’s classic Night of the Grizzlies.” —Library Journal

“A wonderful book . . . Smith uses [Walker’s death] as a narrative focal point to explore science, policy making, bureaucracy, ego, even the law, and when he explores something he goes deep.” —John M. Barry, #1 New York Times–bestselling author of The Great Influenza

“First-rate storytelling.” —Seattle Times
Издано:
19 мар. 2019 г.
ISBN:
9781615195602
Формат:
Книга

Об авторе

Jordan Fisher Smith worked for twenty-one years as a park ranger in California, Wyoming, Idaho, and Alaska. The author of Nature Noir and narrator of the documentary Under Our Skin, he has written for Discover magazine, The New Yorker, Men’s Journal, TIME.com, and many other outlets. Visit him at jordanfishersmith.com.


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Engineering Eden - Jordan Fisher Smith

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ENGINEERING EDEN

Winner of the California Book Award, Silver Medal for Nonfiction

An intensely reported, rousingly readable and ambitiously envisioned book . . . weaves together a dramatic court case in Los Angeles, a grizzly-bear attack, and a surprisingly fascinating debate over what constitutes the word ‘natural’ when it comes to national parks. . . a thrilling read. Like the best visions for parks, it combines the human and the animal, the managed and the natural, the controlled and the wild.The Wall Street Journal

Storytelling and historical narrative of the highest caliber . . . Jordan Fisher Smith digs deeply into the evolving tension at the heart of the national park idea: Should parks be left untouched or managed for people’s enjoyment? Clear and compelling, this is a courtroom drama alive with unforgettable characters and a contemplation of our relationship with wild nature.Filmmakers Ken Burns and Dayton Duncan, The National Parks: America’s Best Idea

Timely and thoughtful . . . A vivid account of conflicts within the National Park Service over managing bears and other wild animals—conflicts that contributed to tragic results . . . Smith’s book will draw you in with his passion, thoughtfulness, and first-rate storytelling.Seattle Times

"Engineering Eden is a fascinating book about the relationship between humankind and nature. Jordan Fisher Smith illuminates the often embittered arguments what our role in wilderness should be, and has written a vivid historical account that sheds light on our place in nature’s complex web of life."—Andrea Wulf, author of The Invention of Nature

A dramatic, eye-opening chronicle of the struggle to preserve wilderness while making it accessible to the public . . . A galvanizing storyteller fluent in the conflict between environmental science and politics, Smith brings every player into sharp and indelible focus as he illuminates the urgent issues national parks grapple with as they struggle to wisely manage predators, invasive species, wildfires, and people.Booklist, starred review

Jordan Fisher Smith’s grasp of the science involved in national park and wilderness management is impressive. So is his ability to tell a compelling story in the tradition of John McPhee and Jon Krakauer. The result is a classic, the literary history of America’s relationship to the natural world.Roderick Frazier Nash, author of Wilderness and the American Mind

A searching study of a tragedy and the legal contest that followed it, one that shaped the course of national park policy in the modern age. Is a natural environment modified by humans still natural? It’s not just a question for philosophers . . . Smith, who understands that nature is ‘a web of complex relations,’ tells this complicated story clearly and well. Excellent reading for students of park policy, wildlife management, and other resource issues.Kirkus Reviews

Smith has pulled off an amazing feat: He’s made wildlife management urgent and engrossing, writing about it with clarity, depth and a storyteller’s pacing . . . an outstanding introduction to ecological decision-making.Shelf Awareness

This is a big, ambitious book about a seemingly small, if horrific event—a grizzly devouring a young man. And Jordan Fisher Smith has succeeded in his ambition. He produced a wonderful book, ‘wonderful’ not only because of the quality of the writing, but because the book is filled with wondering; Smith uses that horror as a narrative focal point to explore science, policy making, bureaucracy, ego, even the law, and when he explores something he goes deep.John M. Barry, author of Rising Tide and The Great Influenza

"This meticulously investigated history of Yellowstone and its wildlife management problems should appeal to fans of Jack Olsen’s classic Night of the Grizzlies, as well as to readers interested in the broader issue of how much humans should intervene in nature in order to preserve it."—Library Journal

What is ‘nature’? In a narrative delivered with elegance and vigor, Jordan Fisher Smith shows that our answers to this question have life-and-death consequences, for humans and for the ecosystems in which we live.David George Haskell, author of The Forest Unseen

"A probing look at efforts to manage the ‘wild’ in our fading wilderness—and at the trouble resulting when our guesses are wrong. Engineering Eden is especially timely as we consider our responsibilities to nature on this fast-warming planet." —Tom Kizzia, author of Pilgrim’s Wilderness

In 1972 a Yellowstone grizzly killed a young man; from this tragedy a controversy erupted. Can wildlife be managed with no thought for unintended consequences? Does the Biblical injunction to dominate the earth and its creatures face evolutionary barriers embedded in the randomness of biological life itself? With open mind and deft narrative, Jordan Fisher Smith probes what is an intractable challenge to environmental stewardship.Kevin Starr, author of California and Golden Dreams

Jordan Fisher Smith’s gripping narrative about the death of a camper mauled by a grizzly, and the trial that follows, poses compelling questions about how to preserve wild nature. Highly recommended.Gerald Haslam, author of In Thought and Action and Workin’ Man Blues

[A] painstakingly researched . . . vindication of the Craigheads, who were driven out of Yellowstone . . . because they refused not to speak out against the Park Service.National Parks Traveler

Also by Jordan Fisher Smith

Nature Noir:

A Park Ranger’s Patrol in the Sierra

ENGINEERING

EDEN

a violent death, a federal trial, and the struggle to restore nature in our national parks

JORDAN FISHER SMITH

FOREWORD BY JACK E. DAVIS

Engineering Eden: A Violent Death, a Federal Trial, and the Struggle to Restore Nature in Our National Parks

Copyright © 2016, 2019 by Jordan Fisher Smith

Foreword copyright © 2019 by Jack E. Davis

Originally published by Crown, an imprint of the Crown Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House LLC, New York, in 2016. This edition publishied by The Experiment, LLC, in 2019 by arrangement with Random House, a division of Penguin Random House LLC.

All rights reserved. Except for brief passages quoted in newspaper, magazine, radio, television, or online reviews, no portion of this book may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or information storage or retrieval system, without the prior written permission of the publisher.

The Experiment, LLC

220 East 23rd Street, Suite 600

New York, NY 10010-4658

theexperimentpublishing.com

Many of the designations used by manufacturers and sellers to distinguish their products are claimed as trademarks. Where those designations appear in this book and The Experiment was aware of a trademark claim, the designations have been capitalized.

The Experiment’s books are available at special discounts when purchased in bulk for premiums and sales promotions as well as for fund-raising or educational use. For details, contact us at info@theexperimentpublishing.com.

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Names: Smith, Jordan Fisher, author.

Title: Engineering Eden : a violent death, a federal trial, and the struggle to restore nature in our national parks / Jordan Fisher Smith ; foreword by Jack E. Davis.

Description: New York : The Experiment, [2019] | Originally published by Crown, an imprint of the Crown Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House LLC, New York, in 2016. | Includes bibliographical references and index.

Identifiers: LCCN 2018052386 (print) | LCCN 2018053333 (ebook)

Subjects: LCSH: Yellowstone National Park--Management--History--20th century. | Yellowstone National Park--Environmental conditions--History--20th century. | Nature--Effect of human beings on--Yellowstone National Park--History--20th century. | Bear attacks--Yellowstone National Park--History--20th century. | Violent deaths--Yellowstone National Park--History--20th century. | United States. National Park Service--Trials, litigation, etc. | Negligence--United States--History--20th century. | Trials--California--Los Angeles--History--20th century. | National parks and reserves--United States--History. | Environmentalism--United States--History.

Classification: LCC F722 (ebook) | LCC F722 .S643 2019 (print) | DDC 978.7/52--dc23

LC record available at https://lccn.loc.gov/2018052386

Ebook ISBN 978-1-61519-560-2

Cover design by Sarah Smith | Text design by Anna Thompson

Cover photograph of Yellowstone by Sarah Smith; bear by Lucas T. Jahn/Shutterstock

Map illustrations by Jeffrey L. Ward | Author photograph by Zdenek Mlika

For James and Emma

Contents

Cover

Copyright Page

Dedication

Contents

Foreword

Prologue

Part I: American Eden

1. Los Angeles

2. American Eden

3. Yosemite and Yellowstone

4. Appalachian Spring

5. Frank

6. The Balance of Nature

7. Berkeley

8. Claypool

9. Smitty

10. Trout Creek

Part II: Natural Regulation

11. The Big Kill

12. Starker

13. Prometheus

14. Observable Artificiality in Any Form

15. Reconstruction

16. Cole

17. The Night of the Grizzlies

18. Natural Control

19. Bad Blood

20. Bear Management Committee

21. Firehole

22. The Temptation of Starker Leopold

23. Natural Regulation

Part III: Take it Easy

24. Last Straws

25. Take It Easy

26. Old Faithful

27. The Search for Harry Walker

Part IV: Human Nature

28. Martha Shell

29. B-1

30. The Disciple

31. The Verdict

32. The Appeal

Epilogue

Afterword

Key Figures

Acknowledgments

Notes

Index

Interview with Jordan Fisher Smith

About the Author

Landmarks

Cover

Foreword

Contents

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There is hereby created in the Department of the Interior a service to be called the National Park Service . . . which purpose is to conserve the scenery and the natural and historic objects and the wild life therein and to provide for the enjoyment of the same in such manner and by such means as will leave them unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations.

—the national park service organic act of 1916

Ecosystems are not only more complex than we think, but more complex than we can think.

—frank egler, plant ecologist

FOREWORD

by Jack E. Davis

The search for truth at the heart of this book—a story of tragedy and conflict and the laden relationship between humanity and nature—might begin with one of the old refuse dumps at Yellowstone National Park.

Or it might launch from the basic human proclivity to be in control. A similar tendency exists across species: A wolf pack, for example, will wage war against another pack to defend or expand its territory. The difference for humans is that dominance is driven not simply by an instinct for survival, but also from vanity and the desire for wealth and leisure. Along with our immediate world, humans seek to control the larger one—everything that’s in it, and the forces that shape it—the forces of nature. We redesign, alter, and even reinvent nature. We engineer it, as the title of Jordan Fisher Smith’s perceptive book suggests. Or we try to—sometimes innocently, sometimes arrogantly—and fail, even when we think we’ve succeeded.

The central subject of this book—what happened in Yellowstone National Park in the 1960s and 70s among visitors, scientists, bureaucrats, and bears—offers an example of how manhandling nature can go awry. From its founding, the United States has visualized its identity and destiny in the unbounded physicality of the continent, the vast stretches of land—and all upon it—of which the country took possession. National parks are living museums holding that vision, paying tribute to the country’s national and natural heritages. They are an original idea, some say America’s best. Expressed less romantically, they are an invented ideal, patented in the USA, and embossed with the imprint of civilization.

Americans created Yellowstone and its later siblings to meet their expectation of how the raw and unembellished world should look or be improved, yet all the while believed they were sanctifying nature. What they sanctified were select outstanding features of the nation’s native endowments—such as a dazzling waterfall or picturesque valley. They created parks as showpieces that said their young nation was gifted with rarified beauty and wealth in nature that set it apart from other countries. They created them to provide an escape—from the grime and grind of an urbanizing and industrializing nation—to a garden spot that renewed the spirit and entertained the senses. Although policy emphasized natural features, parks were among the nation’s first tourist traps, and so succumbed to a degree of artificiality. The poisonous, prickly, and predacious had to be eradicated, and the unsightly tidied up or eliminated. Managing wildlife was imperative. Killer animals were trapped and shot to ensure that pastoral species, such as bison and deer, moved in diorama fashion across a serene landscape. Horror would otherwise prevail for seekers of bucolic bliss, if exposed to wolves or mountain lions taking down an elk.

Bears fell between acceptable and unacceptable wildlife. They were dangerous but storybook cute, and a major attraction. They were a spectacle really, called to entertain at the open dumps or, in the case of Yellowstone, on a makeshift stage surrounded by theater-like bleachers and excited audiences, where according to script they scrounged for food leftovers from the parks’ hotels. The final cue directed them to exit and return to the wild, peacefully, until the next performance.

A certain naivete lay behind the popularity of these exhibitions: Apart from our cultural attachment to parks, they are ecologically complicated places; and even with everything that science knows today, nature retains its mysteries. Americans knew far less about the environment in 1872, when they established Yellowstone as the country’s first officially designated national park. Turning a natural place into a cultural one created unexpected consequences, a messiness that experts tried to ignore or work around.

Yellowstone began as a noble experiment in engineering what was supposed to be a kind of Eden. There was no precedent for what Americans were doing, no example to follow. As happens with many experiments, this one encountered setbacks, too often predetermined by ignorance, indifference, and society’s priorities. Technological and economic growth took precedence over all other developments in American culture, as the environment rendered exploitable commodities that enriched and empowered the nation. Nature became property and produce, a storehouse of marketable assets—so-called natural resources—that were God’s gifts to humankind. Although a preservationist creed—to wit, leave nature wild—formed within the early conservation movement, the competing creed, the one that most influenced federal policy, was utilitarian in essence and people-centered in practice: Preserve the forest to protect the watershed that filled the flowing river that moved the cargo barges. An exception to this pecuniary logic existed in the reverence for scenic wonders within the parks. Still, the pervading utilitarianism of resort hotels and drive-in campgrounds cheapened sublime experiences.

In the early years, natural science offered no resistance to this trend. Any significant comprehension of the interconnectedness of life was beyond those biologists. They had yet to study how species interacted with their environment or maintained balances in a given system, such as the food web, of an ecological community. Park managers were not only trying to control nature—they were doing so in the dark. Breakthroughs in science that might have made a difference in preserving natural conditions rarely got a hearing among policymakers, whose agendas underscored increasing visitor traffic.

By the 1920s and 30s, biologists had begun talking—mainly among themselves—about connections and balances, and rethinking the importance of the presumably undesirable, such as wildfires and predators. New insight frequently came by way of stumbling on it, as when devastation to native flora, and biodiversity from herbivore population explosions, revealed the fallacy of predator control. Trying to understand unexpected calamities of intrusion and manipulation advanced the discipline of ecological science as a legitimate field of study, which the American academy had cavalierly ignored until mid-century. By then, favored disciplines were thrusting the country into both the nuclear and synthetic age while reversing evolution. Against this canonical thrust, studies in ecology (and ruined ecosystems) ignited a revolution in questioning traditional relationships with nature.

Jordan Fisher Smith explores this transition in depth, as a prelude to the pivotal moment when the park service decided to put nature back into its parks—to bring America’s best idea closer to the true ideal. Among the many strengths of his book are the big questions he asks and the contexts he fleshes out, taking readers beyond Yellowstone and bears. Engineering Eden is the campfire talk around which every American should gather, and Smith is the science teacher we all wanted in school, skilled at translating the complex into the comprehensible. Whether describing the grand canvas or a picture postcard, he is a virtuoso of landscape and language, reverential in his feeling for nature and the written word. After more than two decades as a park ranger, he knows the terrain: the winding wooded trails of parkland, and the twisted paneled corridors of park-service bureaucracy. There was no less drama in one than the other, no less conflict between people and nature than among people themselves.

Biologists, lawyers, and wildlife advocates became entangled in discord: They collided over how to shut down the dumps and the carnival feeding, and how to stop bears from invading campsites for lost offerings—endangering, indeed mauling, visitors. To break bears of doing exactly what humans had conditioned them to do, some experts supported a cold-turkey approach—and others, a gradual one. Some called for intervention (give nature a nudge), others rabidly opposed it (let nature work it out). The assembly of characters in the book is large, but here again Smith is in command as a writer, keeping them properly sorted, showing each as a multidimensional individual. Their conflict raised questions of professional reputation, park policy, the future for wildlife management, and even the meaning of nature. Egos flared, lawsuits were filed, lives were lost. The truth is, no one could be certain of the right approach. At the time, scientists were still working out basic ideas in ecology; they could not expect to know the correct methods for restoring an ecosystem, and much less for preventing human-made tragedies that continue to threaten the lives of both Homo sapiens and Ursidae.

Smith’s object lesson is focused on how the past might guide us through twenty-first-century challenges, bigger than bears and parks. Facing climate change, rising seas, and the Sixth Extinction, humans can either work with nature or take their last futile stand against it.

Ultimately, Smith doesn’t begin his search for truth with the human proclivity to control nature or with bears unceremoniously gorging at the dump. A master at crafting narrative, Smith opens with a young farmer—his body wracked with the ache of hard work—who sets out from his home in northern Alabama to replenish his spirit and body at Yellowstone. In these pages, readers join Harry Eugene Walker as he enters a realm of beauty and tragedy; they emerge potentially wiser about humanity’s journey ahead.

Jack E. Davis is the author of The Gulf: The Making of An American Sea—awarded the Pulitzer Prize for History in 2018—and the award-winning An Everglades Providence: Marjory Stoneman Douglas and the American Environmental Century. A professor of environmental history at the University of Florida, he grew up on the Gulf coast, and now lives in Florida and New Hampshire.

PROLOGUE

In the spring of 1972, the chronic pain in Harry Eugene Walker’s right arm had come to coexist with such a yearning for freedom and self-determination that it was hard to distinguish one ache from the other.

Harry was twenty-five, and he had been raised since early boyhood to succeed his father as owner and manager of a family farm in northern Alabama. His labor was critical to the farm’s survival, yet the farm didn’t make enough for him to have his own place. So he stayed in his childhood room in the little white house on a hill overlooking the lower pasture, where he came to chafe against his mother’s criticism and attempts to direct his life. Because money was so short, in addition to working on the farm, Harry had other jobs: among them, as an equipment operator for a construction company and part-time soldier for the National Guard.

The ache in the elbow and the ache for breathing room came to Harry at all times: rolling over in bed at night, pitching a hay bale, reaching under a cow to hook up the milking machine. It hurt when he moved the levers on a backhoe for the construction company and when he saluted his commanding officer at the National Guard, whose authority he had come to resent even more than that of his mother.

The pain got bad toward the end of 1971, and favoring his right arm led to muscular pain in Harry’s neck and back. He went to the hospital, and the doctor who injected his elbow with cortisone and gave him a cervical collar said Harry would need to take up more sedentary work. But Harry didn’t see how, yet. People depended on him.

It’s not uncommon for a rebellion of the body to a way of life to be treated solely as a medical problem, and in the spring of 1972 Harry had surgery on his elbow. But because nothing else had changed, less than a month into what would have been a four- or five-month rehabilitation, he was called into work at another of his jobs, where the weakness in his arm seems to have contributed to causing a minor traffic accident in his employer’s vehicle.

Harry had never taken a real vacation. He had been talking with his father about having some time off to think about things. On Tuesday, June 6, 1972, someone offered him a ride out of town, and Harry left Alabama, headed north, with no exact destination in mind.

WESTERN UNITED STATES

YELLOWSTONE NATIONAL PARK, 1967

PART I

AMERICAN EDEN

1

LOS ANGELES

All right. call the matter," said Judge Andrew Hauk to the court clerk, seated below and in front of him.

Seventy-two-dash-three-zero-four-four, Dennis G. Martin versus the United States, announced the clerk.

It was a Thursday morning, the ninth of January, 1975, when the trial concerning the death of Harry Walker, known by then as Martin v. United States, convened in United States District Court in downtown Los Angeles. The courtroom was an impressively large chamber with fluted mahogany pilasters at intervals along its hardwood-paneled walls, their capitals touching a high ceiling of acoustical tile and fluorescent lights. A small audience was scattered in three blocks of hardwood pews, separated by a low fence from the judge, lawyers, court clerk, court reporter, and bailiff.

A tall lawyer in a fine suit with an unruly head of curly, salt-and-pepper hair stood up from his chair at the leftmost of the two attorney’s tables at the front of the room.

Stephen Zetterberg for the plaintiffs, Your Honor, he said.

William Spivak, Your Honor, said the assistant US attorney, rising from his seat at the defense table to the right. He was an owlish, balding man in his thirties with glasses. For the record, I would like to renew my objections to the venue, he added.

Spivak was referring to a highly irregular maneuver by which Zetterberg had gotten a case about an Alabaman who died in Wyoming adjudicated in a Los Angeles court that normally would have had no jurisdiction in the matter. Federal district courts are spotted all over the United States, and a given case will be heard in a particular court when one or more of the parties lives in that district, when the disputed matter took place there, or because assets in the case are located there. None of these things had been true of the Walker case when Stephen Zetterberg took it on, and what he then did was an expression of the creativity he brought to lawyering.

In court, Stephen Zetterberg affected a restrained, dignified manner. Uncoiling his lanky frame to announce his readiness to proceed that morning, he reminded one witness of Abraham Lincoln. But underneath his solemnity he was a passionate man. He had grown up, and still lived and worked, in Claremont, a pleasant university town east of Los Angeles, with tree-lined streets laid out on a gentle slope of alluvium at the base of the San Gabriel Mountains. He graduated from Pomona College and Yale Law School, and during World War II he served on a Coast Guard ship patrolling for submarines out of Pearl Harbor. After the war, Zetterberg returned to the law in greater Los Angeles. By the 1960s his practice was thriving, he was active in politics, and California’s governor offered him a series of judgeships. Zetterberg turned them down. He later explained that judges had to take whatever cases came before them, and in private practice he could take the ones that really interested him.

Zetterberg saw the courts as a democratic institution through which the little people could confront powerful adversaries, such as government and corporations. He was attracted to cases involving an underdog. His son, Charles, who became his partner at Zetterberg & Zetterberg after law school, complained affectionately that at any given time his father always had some hopeless matter that could be counted on to bleed the practice of billable hours while the younger associates tried to keep the lights on and make a living. The Walker case was that one in the 1970s.

The case of Harry Walker had three things going for it. First among these were Harry’s survivors, the Walkers themselves. To Zetterberg, they were the salt of the earth, American Gothic without the dour expressions. Second, they genuinely needed his help. Deprived of their son’s labor on their farm, they were in danger of going out of business. Third, there was a great expert witness on their side, a famous biologist who would testify that something had gone terribly wrong with the Park Service’s management of nature at Yellowstone. And there was Yellowstone itself. Zetterberg had no personal enmity toward national parks. On the contrary, he loved them. He and his wife were avid hikers, and the fact that the case would involve visits to Yellowstone, Grand Teton, and Yosemite for research and depositions was a major attraction for him. Finally, Zetterberg had already handled two other lawsuits against the Park Service; he knew the case law.

Martin v. United States had acquired its name from Dennis Martin, a young associate lawyer who sat next to Zetterberg at the plaintiff’s table. A Yale Law classmate of Hillary Clinton’s, Martin had been recruited to the firm in the spring of 1972, in one of Zetterberg’s periodic trips back to New Haven to scout promising members of his alma mater’s graduating class. Martin was clerking for Zetterberg and hadn’t even passed the California bar when he became involved in Zetterberg’s scheme to extract the Walker case from its natural venues and bring it to California just so Zetterberg could represent the Walkers.

When the Walker family contacted him about Harry’s death, Zetterberg sent Martin to a state court with a motion requesting that Martin be named administrator of Harry’s estate. In order for that to happen, at least some of Harry’s assets would have to be located in California, however Harry’s estate—consisting of little more than a few clothes, a secondhand car, some fishing rods, hunting rifles, a shotgun, and a pool cue—was at his parents’ home in Alabama.

Zetterberg’s pleadings were a circular arrangement of interdependent ifs. Administrators of estates are empowered to take various actions, and Martin told the judge that if he were to be so appointed, he planned to sue the federal government for negligence in Harry’s death. If the estate were to win such a suit, the award would be paid to the estate in California. Therefore, the judgment’s potential value could be construed as a California asset—just as an account receivable is listed as an asset on the balance sheet of a business. If such an asset could be construed to exist, then the estate had California assets, and it could sue in a California court to create the judgment the whole idea was based on. The argument was a Mobius strip, a snake eating its own tail. Zetterberg referred to the maneuver as bootstrapping, after the tall-tale notion of reaching down to grab your own bootstraps and lift yourself off the ground.

The state judge apparently admired Zetterberg’s fancy and approved Martin as administrator. Zetterberg and Martin then filed suit against the Park Service in Los Angeles. In a preliminary appearance before Judge Hauk, Assistant US Attorney Spivak objected, but Hauk came down on Zetterberg’s side. Now Spivak renewed his objection and Judge Hauk defended his decision. There was no—as he put it—skullduggery or callosity toward the law in what Zetterberg and Martin had done, and he intended to give a fair trial. The case of Harry Walker’s death at Yellowstone National Park would be heard in Los Angeles.

I ruled that way before. I rule that way again, Hauk concluded. I am going to keep the jurisdiction. I think, therefore, we will proceed.

it had taken over two years for Martin v. United States to reach trial, and when it was finally docketed for early January 1975, Stephen Zetterberg’s office made arrangements for Harry’s father, mother, and youngest sister to travel from their Alabama dairy farm to Los Angeles. It was the first time any of them had ever set foot on an airplane. Harry’s mother, Louise, spent the trip to LA in the aisle seat, farthest from the window, gripping the seat arms with a pained expression every time the aircraft lurched over a thermal. Harry’s father, Wallace, had grieved no less deeply than his wife over the loss of their only son, but he displayed as much youthful glee at his first view of the earth from above as did his twenty-year-old daughter, Jenny. Hurtling west over Louisiana, the two of them watched, transfixed, out the window as dusk wrapped the earth thirty thousand feet below, even as the aircraft’s wings sparkled in the orange sunlight. At Los Angeles International, the Zetterbergs picked them up and installed them in a Claremont resort hotel.

On the first morning in court, Wallace sat listening in the pews. Jenny and her mother were out sightseeing with Stephen Zetterberg’s wife. Zetterberg stood facing the judge at the podium between the defense and plaintiff’s tables, which the lawyers were required to use when presenting their cases or questioning witnesses.

All right, said Zetterberg, next I would like to offer what amounts to— Here he paused, glancing over his shoulder.

Would you mind stepping out, Mr. Walker?

Wallace stood up stiffly and made his way to the exit at the back of the room. Zetterberg waited for the door to swing shut, then finished his sentence.

—what amounts to an autopsy report of Harry Walker, consisting of seven pages. Mr. Spivak has a copy in his hand.

The document contained the death certificate and pathology report, as well as the typewritten narrative of a strong-stomached Yellowstone National Park wildlife biologist who’d been dispatched to a Livingston, Montana, funeral home to serve as the Park Service’s witness to the autopsy. The latter read, in part:

The body was examined carefully for tooth marks in an effort to measure spacing between canine tooth punctures. Very few puncture wounds were found, however, and none appeared to have been caused by large canine teeth. Most of the injuries seemed to have been caused by claws.

The body cavity and cranium were opened by Dr. Steele; and the brain and body organs not previously removed by the bear were examined. Dr. Steele remarked that other than slight sub-cranial bleeding, which could have been the result of a mild concussion, there was no apparent skull or brain damage. The larynx had been crushed, apparently by a bite to the throat; and Dr. Steele felt at the time of the examination that anoxia from this injury, coupled with shock, seemed to have been the cause of death.

All right, said Judge Hauk from the bench. The autopsy report of the decedent. Any objections? he asked Assistant US Attorney Spivak.

I don’t know what this adds, replied Spivak. It’s been stipulated that the decedent died in a bear attack.

Stephen Zetterberg explained that the cause of death, a crushing injury to the neck from the massive power of the grizzly’s jaws, yet without the puncture wounds that would normally have been inflicted by the canine teeth, demonstrated that a particular old, toothless bear was involved.

Bears are known for their long memories, part of a general tendency in nature to remember more than it forgets, in layers of stone, in the concentric rings of ancient trees, the migrations of elk, antelope, and trumpeter swans, even in our own recollections of the joys and sorrows of childhood. The autopsy was part of an arrangement of facts with which Zetterberg intended to indict authorities at Yellowstone National Park for believing that nature would forget our past mistakes the minute we tried to remedy them. Zetterberg didn’t think nature worked that way, any more than people did. He had watched nature, hiking in the San Gabriel Mountains near his home, and in Yosemite, but he spent much of his working life in court, and courtrooms are full of long-remembered grievances.

2

AMERICAN EDEN

Yellowstone national park is an approximately rectangular, 2.2-million-acre plot of public land in the northern Rocky Mountains, located in the northwest corner of Wyoming, bordered by Idaho on the southwest, a small strip of Montana to the west, and the bulk of Montana to the north. Founded in 1872, it was the first national park in the world, a pioneering experiment in keeping a beautiful place unaltered against the most fundamental characteristic of human civilization: the alteration of everything we touched.

Located on a volcanic plateau, much of Yellowstone is over seven thousand feet above sea level. The greater part is forested, some in fir and spruce, but mostly in rank upon rank of lodgepole pine. Yet the park is most famous for the smaller portion that is open land: expanses of meadow, sagebrush steppe, and stony ridges dotted with herds of big herbivores—bison, pronghorn antelope, elk, deer, and bighorn sheep—that reflect a mythic sense of what the West looked like before swaths of it were adapted for domestic livestock, alfalfa fields, tree plantations, gas wells, and housing tracts.

The Continental Divide takes an indistinct course across Yellowstone’s volcanic highlands, capriciously assigning drainages to the watersheds of the Pacific and Atlantic oceans. The southern part is drained by the Snake River, which flows into the Columbia, and from there into the Pacific. In the north, east, and west, the Yellowstone, Madison, and Gallatin rivers carry the park’s waters to the Missouri, and thence down the Mississippi to the Gulf of Mexico. At one curious location near the south boundary, Two-Ocean Creek splits into Atlantic Creek and Pacific Creek. Here a trout twelve inches in length can cross the Continental Divide in safety, remarked the nineteenth-century fur trapper Osborne Russell.

The name Yellowstone—which referred to the Yellowstone River before it was attached to the plateau at the headwaters, or the park—was in circulation among late-eighteenth-century fur trappers in New France as Roche Jaune. Anglicized as the River Yellow Stone, the name appeared on an 1805 map dispatched to President Thomas Jefferson by Lewis and Clark. By the late nineteenth century it had become associated with the rich ocher color of the rock in the 1,500-foot-deep Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone in the north-center of the park, but it may have referred originally to the pale yellow sandstone bluffs the river passes downstream, in eastern Montana.

Yellowstone is ringed by mountains—the Absarokas, the Beartooths, the Tetons, and the Madison and Gallatin ranges, but its middle gives an overall impression of flatness. That was the impression Lieutenant Gustavus Doane got of it on a summer day in 1870, as a thirty-year-old Army officer heading up a protective detail of soldiers on an expedition composed of territorial officials. On the twenty-ninth of August that year, Doane ascended a peak north of Yellowstone Lake, and looking south from on top, he noticed an oval-shaped void in the Rocky Mountains thirty by forty-five miles across. Doane was an educated man, and he guessed its origins. The great basin, he wrote, has been formerly one vast crater of a now extinct volcano.

He was right, except the volcano wasn’t extinct.

Few of history’s contradictions are as striking as the fact that the first really big natural landscape that human beings set out to preserve in perpetuity happened to be sitting on an active volcano that could be expected, within ten years or ten thousand, to vaporize the whole place. Eighteen or more million years ago, a huge plume of molten rock emplaced itself under the western edge of North America, moving inland as the continent was added to by material scraped off the seafloor in the slow-motion collision between the continental and oceanic plates. As the West Coast grew farther away, every once in a while the molten material would force its way to the surface and erupt in a series of what

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