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Who owns the "wilderness"? - Elyse Cox

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In 1903, US President Theodore Roosevelt took a camping trip in California’s Yosemite Valley with conservationist John Muir. Roosevelt famously loved the outdoors, but Muir had invited him for more than just camping: Yosemite was in danger. It was part of a struggle to set aside land for both preservation and public use. Elyse Cox details the delicate balancing act of creating a national park.

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About TED-Ed Animations

TED-Ed Animations feature the words and ideas of educators brought to life by professional animators. Are you an educator or animator interested in creating a TED-Ed Animation? Nominate yourself here »

Meet The Creators

  • Educator Elyse Cox
  • Director Rémi Cans
  • Narrator Alexandra Panzer
  • Storyboard Artist Rémi Cans
  • Animator Sergi Ros
  • Art Director Rémi Cans
  • Sound Designer Xosé Antonio, Rodríguez Álvarez
  • Music Inés Mirás Vieites
  • Director of Production Gerta Xhelo
  • Editorial Director Alex Rosenthal
  • Producer Bethany Cutmore-Scott
  • Editorial Producer Elizabeth Cox
  • Fact-Checker Jennifer Nam
  • See more
Additional Resources for you to Explore
Today, protecting unique and remarkable landscapes as national parks may seem like an obvious goal. However, national parks are a relatively new idea that faced many obstacles on the trail to widespread acceptance. What struggles did national parks overcome, and what issues do they face today?

The United States established Yellowstone National Park, the world’s first National Park, in 1872. 44 years later, the United States followed Canada’s example and passed the Organic Act of 1916, establishing the National Park Service. Read the 1916 Organic Act, and note the “dual mandate” of preservation and recreation embodied in its first paragraph. This dual mandate has been one of the central challenges in the history of the United States national parks. Follow the history of the United States National Parks from their beginnings to the present.

The national parks idea was not exclusive to the United States. The second national park in the world was established in 1879 in Australia. Well before 1872, the British poet William Wordsworth captured the sentiment of the national parks idea in his writing on the Lake District. Explore the connection between Wordsworth, the Romantic movement, and the national parks idea.

Today, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) defines a national park as a natural area set aside to protect ecosystems, while providing an environment for spiritual, scientific, educational, and recreational opportunities. Explore some of the many IUCN-recognized national parks around the world:

Royal National Park, Australia’s first National Park;Namib-Naukluft National Park in Namibia;Iguazú National Park on the border of Argentina and Brazil;Mt. Pulag National Park in the Philippines.

During the late 19th and early 20th centuries, John Muir became one of the most vocal conservationists in the United States, and is often called the Father of the National Park System. Yet his public conservation efforts, and the designation of National Park lands, weren’t always successful. in protecting ecosystems from change or destruction. The damming of the Hetch Hetchy Valley served as a cautionary tale that added urgency to the conservation movement. Find out more about the historical significance of Hetch Hetchy.

In the United States, Native Americans have contended with the federal government to regain rights to their lands. Today, theNational Park Service is working to partner with indigenous peoples to places and practices of cultural significance. Some parks, like Yosemite, have started to contend with their troubled history of land appropriation.

Does a National Park always have to look like Yellowstone, or Þingvellir, or Triglav? What if we applied the idea of national parks to marine ecosystems? David Lang suggests we treat our oceans like national parks in the future, and offers a way to get engaged.

Conservationists spoke about the impact of the national parks on people, and about the wider ecosystems in the park, but what about the wildlife in the parks? Lion conservationist Moreangels Mbizah talks about how connecting people and wildlife can deepen our commitment to conservation. Alaska’s Katmai National Park, though it’s one of the most remote parks in the United States, uses technology to connect people and wildlife through their Katmai Bear Cams and annual Fat Bear Week.

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About TED-Ed Animations

TED-Ed Animations feature the words and ideas of educators brought to life by professional animators. Are you an educator or animator interested in creating a TED-Ed Animation? Nominate yourself here »

Meet The Creators

  • Educator Elyse Cox
  • Director Rémi Cans
  • Narrator Alexandra Panzer
  • Storyboard Artist Rémi Cans
  • Animator Sergi Ros
  • Art Director Rémi Cans
  • Sound Designer Xosé Antonio, Rodríguez Álvarez
  • Music Inés Mirás Vieites
  • Director of Production Gerta Xhelo
  • Editorial Director Alex Rosenthal
  • Producer Bethany Cutmore-Scott
  • Editorial Producer Elizabeth Cox
  • Fact-Checker Jennifer Nam
  • See more