Much is known all about Robert Sterling Yard’s move from the Parks Service to opposition work, because it happened in real life. By contrast, no one is sure who is behind the Twitter accounts AltYosemiteNPS, AltUSNatParkService, and BadHombreLands NPS, “the unofficial feed of Badlands National Park.” In the past week, these and other “alternative” feeds’ tweets and logos began showing up in the social-media feeds of people who don’t trust or like the Trump administration’s environmental direction. Their content blends basic facts about climate change, praise of wilderness from the likes of John Muir and Teddy Roosevelt, and exhortations to oppose Donald Trump’s nominees.
Many of the feeds are widely received as coming from employees of the same agencies in their off-duty—or, if you prefer, rogue—hours. (Though one prominent account now claims to be run by environmental activists and journalists.) The feeds have stepped into a space briefly opened by verifiable public employees who were promptly shut down earlier this week. On January 24, the official Badlands feed posted, “Today, the amount of carbon in the atmosphere is higher than at any time in the last 650,000 years. #climate.” Coming as the Trump administration removed references to climate change from the White House website and froze the Environmental Protection Agency’s funding for research (the freeze was lifted on Friday), this bare factual tweet rang of defiance. Shortly afterward, it was taken down.
Soon thereafter, the alternative accounts began to appear. NASA and the EPA have their anti-Trump Twitter doppelgangers. Even an alternative account for the Herbert Hoover National Historic Site, in West Branch, Iowa, has been reminding followers of Hoover’s warning that, “Immediately upon attaining power each dictator has suppressed all free speech except his own.”
No matter who is running the alt-public feeds, the popularity of their tweets seems to come from their saying and doing things that many of the people who are alarmed by the first days of the Trump administration would love to see from public servants. That the first, actually official Badlands tweets on climate science became a cause célèbre indicates just how subversive and defiant basic science feels to critics who don’t trust the new administration to honor it.
Park rangers and scientists are often special for people who grew up reading Ranger Rick, the National Wildlife Federation’s children’s magazine, and watching Jacques Cousteau’s strange undersea expeditions. To them, rangers represent a kind of officialdom that is basically benign, peaceful, and as likely as not to side with dissenters.
The uber-cranky environmental writer Edward Abbey, the author of Desert Solitaire and The Monkey Wrench Gang (which affectionately describes a plot to blow up an unwelcome dam), worked as a ranger in Arches National Monument and on other public lands. Although Jack Kerouac famously didn’t do his own driving in the trip documented in On the Road, he did work for the Forest Service as a summer fire lookout on Desolation Peak in the North Cascade Mountains, the experience that formed the basis of his rumination on American Buddhism, Desolation Angels. These particular federal employees have always seemed halfway to being gentle anarchists in outsized boy-scout uniforms.