Throughout the United States, but especially in the West, the
question of who will control public lands is a hotly debated topic. The
public lands of the West, including national parks, forests, grazing, and prairie lands, are all sites of controversy. The major points of
contention are over ownership and use of the land. Timber, mining, oil and gas producers, developers, farmers, ranchers,
hunters, business owners, recreational users, and environmentalists are
all groups who assert claims to influence and use. Yet whose interests
have primacy? And in a democracy, how do the interests of all of these
groups get addressed and resolved?
For the past eight summers, faculty representatives from participating
AASCU institutions have spent a week in Yellowstone National Park with
our partner, the Yellowstone Association,
studying controversies about wolves, bison, snowmobiles, and grizzlies.
To date, more than 140 faculty members from more than 70
campuses have participated in the program. Each summer, the week-long
program begins with study of the science and history of the
controversies, listening to scientists and park rangers. Then at the end
of the week, the faculty participants travel beyond the park boundaries to interview local citizens on both
sides of the issues, including political activists, business people,
ranchers, and ordinary citizens. Faculty then return to their campuses
to design programs for students, some focused on the controversies in
the Yellowstone ecosystem, while others are focused on local public land
and resource issues.
In 2007, a group of participants created a documentary entitled Mammoth to Mammoth about this
initiative. A number of former participants have created
programs for undergraduates that take place in Yellowstone. Many more
have created programs on their own campuses and in their own regions
about public lands or public resource issues, modeling their program
curricular programs on the Yellowstone experience. In 2010, the Stewardship of Public Lands: A Handbook for Educators monograph was released, detailing the work of the AASCU institutions as they explore the various issues surrounding the Stewardship of Public Lands. This monograph is available for purchase on the AASCU website (see Resources, below).