Stephen T. Mather

While visiting Petrified Forest National Park in Arizona, we found this plaque, a common one in national parks.

Conservation’s all-stars are often unlikely heroes. They may be artists like John Audubon whose drawings inspired many thousands, or Jay “Ding” Darling, a cartoonist by trade, but who later became Chief of the Bureau of Biological Survey, predecessor of the U.S Fish & Wildlife Service, immigrants such as John Muir, who fathered an entire conservation movement called the Sierra Club, or authors like Rachel Carson, whose prose inspired civilian and government action against pesticides that were poisoning our world.

Many national parks and monuments can trace their roots directly to the efforts of a particular person who, inspired by a singular place, fought doggedly, often against great odds, so others could be inspired as well. One such hero was Jim White, who as a teenager, descended on a rope into a hidden hole in the Earth only to discover what is now known as Carlsbad Caverns. He fought for many years to get park protection for the area. Another was Marjory Stoneman Douglas. According to the National Wildlife Federation’s, Conservation Hall of Fame, “In the 1920s, Douglas wrote editorials urging Everglades protections, and in the 1930s and 1940s, she lobbied on the state and federal level for designation of the area as a national park. But it was the publication of her now-famous book, The Everglades: River of Grass, in 1947 that transformed the national consciousness. Later that year, she watched as an honored guest while President Truman dedicated Everglades National Park.”

One hero, one you may not have heard of, was Stephen Tyng Mather. Mather was born on July 4th, 1867, two years after the end of the Civil War. A skilled businessman, by his mid-thirties, as president of the Thorkildsen-Mather Borax Company, he branded the 20-Mule-Team logo and brought the company to the top of the industry becoming a multi-millionaire in the process.

Mather always enjoyed the outdoors and often sought solitude there for persistent bouts of depression. He joined the Sierra Club and visited national parks whenever he could.

The story goes that in 1914, dismayed at the conditions he found in several national parks, he wrote to Washington with his complaints. Franklin Lane, Secretary of the Department of the Interior, wrote back, "Dear Steve, If you don't like the way the parks are being run, come on down to Washington and run them yourself."

Mather did just that, and was appointed assistant Interior Secretary. He immediately began lobbying for an agency dedicated to the management of national parks. On August 25, 1916, President Woodrow Wilson signed the bill authorizing the National Park Service. The following April, Mather was appointed as its first director. Critics might think that Mather was just feathering his nest with a cushy federal job, but as a millionaire, he didn’t need the money and even donated land, sponsored research and paid salaries on occasion.

For 12 years, Mather led the National Park Service, nearly doubling the acres within the system with a careful plan. He wanted each park to be a jewel. He carefully selected the most scenic of locations. Proposals that were similar to existing parks were better managed by someone else, in his view.

But the parks he added are not really his greatest contribution. He set lasting policies on how scenic, cultural and historic resources were to be managed for enjoyment of the people but without impairment for future generations, developed the concessionaire system to allow for limited services inside parks and initiated the interpretive system to explain to visitors what they were seeing. He laid the foundation for all future management and is largely responsible for how national parks are today.

Virtually every park we have visited has memorials to Stephen T. Mather in the form of visitor centers, mountains, canyons, roads or other facilities named in his honor. The National Parks Conservation Association’s highest honor is the Stephen T. Mather Award. The greatest honor in my mind though, was the final words on a large bronze plaque that can be found in many national parks and monuments: “There will never come an end to the good that he has done.” Not many people can make that claim.

Help Idaho Wildlife

When we traveled across the state in October 2017, most of the vehicles we saw using the wildlife management areas did not have wildlife plates. Buying wildlife plates is a great way for non-hunters and hunters alike to support wildlife-based recreation like birding.

C'mon folks, let's help Idaho's wildlife by proudly buying and displaying a wildlife license plate on each of our vehicles! 

See below for information on Idaho plates. Most states have wildlife plates so if you live outside Idaho, check with your state's wildlife department or vehicle licensing division for availability of state wildlife plates where you live. 

And tell them that you heard about it from!

Wildlife License Plates

Idaho Wildlife license plates provide essential funding that benefits the great diversity of native plants and wildlife that are not hunted, fished or trapped—over 10,000 species or 98% of Idaho’s species diversity. Game species that share the same habitats (such as elk, deer, antelope, sage-grouse, salmon, trout) also benefit from these specialty plates.

No state tax dollars are provided for wildlife diversity, conservation education and recreation programs. Neither are any revenues from the sale of hunting or fishing licenses spent on nongame species. Instead, these species depend on direct donations, federal grants, fundraising initiatives—and the Idaho Wildlife license plates.

Both my vehicles have Bluebird Plates. I prefer the bluebird because the nongame program gets 70 percent of the money from bluebird plates, but only 60 percent of the money from elk and trout plates - 10 percent of the money from elk plates supports wildlife disease monitoring and testing programs (to benefit the livestock industry) and 10 percent from cutthroat plates supports non-motorized boat access.

Incidentally, in 2014, the Idaho Legislature denied the Department of Fish and Game the ability to add new plates or even to change the name of the elk and cutthroat plates (very specific) to wildlife and fish plates, a move that would have allowed for changing images occasionally and generating more revenue. It would seem that they believe that we Idahoans don't want a well funded wildlife program.

I think it is time we let the Legislature know that Idahoan support wildlife funding and that we would like to see these generic plates come to fruition.

"WOW. What a phenomenal piece you wrote. You are amazing." Jennifer Jackson

That is embarrassing, but actually a fairly typical response to my nature essays. Since The Best of Nature is created from the very best of 16 years of these nature essays published weekly in the Idaho Falls Post Register (online readership 70,000), it is a fine read. It covers a wide variety of topics including humorous glimpses of nature, philosophy, natural history, and conservation. Readers praise the style, breadth of subject matter and my ability to communicate complex and emotional topics in a relaxed and understandable manner.

Everyone can find something to love in this book. From teenagers to octogenarians, from the coffee shop to the school room, these nature essays are widely read and enjoyed.

Some of the essays here are my personal favorites, others seemed to strike a chord with readers. Most have an important message or lesson that will resonate with you. They are written with a goal to simultaneously entertain and educate about the wonderful workings of nature. Some will make you laugh out loud and others will bring a tear to the eye and warm your heart.

Readers Write:

"You hit a home run with your article on, Big Questions in Nature. It should be required reading for everyone who has lost touch with nature...great job!" Joe Chapman

"We enjoyed your column, Bloom Where Planted. Some of the best writing yet. The Post Register is fortunate to have your weekly columns." Lou Griffin.

To read more and to order a copy, click here or get the Kindle version 


Copies are also available at:

Post Register

Island Park Builders Supply (upstairs)

Barnes and Noble in Idaho Falls

Harriman State Park, Island Park

Museum of Idaho

Valley Books, Jackson Wyoming

Avocet Corner Bookstore, Bear River National Wildlife Refuge, Brigham City, Utah

Craters of the Moon National Monument Bookstore, Arco, Idaho