KOKOMO, Ind. — Kristen Snoddy knows both sides of the story.
After talking with Montana rancher Druska Kinkie, she learned how her family’s livelihood is impacted by the wildlife from the nearby Yellowstone National Park. She felt pulled to agree with Kinkie, and others, who want the park services to limit roaming animals to protect their cattle herds.
But then Snoddy witnessed the bison, elk, and wolves wandering free in the majestic setting of the park, and talked to the rangers and environmentalists who fight to protect those animals. She then was drawn to that side of the conflict.
This experience showed her how easy it can be to learn a little about an issue, and form an opinion. Snoddy, a senior lecturer in English at Indiana University Kokomo, plans to challenge her students to become more informed, engaged citizens, who can think critically, consider both sides of an issue, and research intensely before forming an opinion.
“I want to help students understand that you can’t just quickly jump to a conclusion,” Snoddy said. “You have to consider multiple points of view, not just those that agree with yours. Sometimes you learn more from thoughtful consideration of views you disagree with.”
Snoddy and Todd Bradley, associate professor of political science, spent part of their summer learning about politics and conflict resolution in the awe-inspiring setting of the Yellowstone National Park, as part of the “Politics and the Yellowstone Ecosystem,” conference sponsored by the American Democracy Project and the American Association of State Colleges and Universities (AASCU).
Yellowstone, the first national park, is home to hundreds of species of animals, including the oldest and largest public bison herd in the United States, and is a tourist destination for outdoor sportsmen. The livestock and land use have been a source of conflict through the years, with controversy about ownership and use of the land by timber, mining, oil, and gas producers, developers, farmers, ranchers, hunters, business owners, recreational users, and environmentalists. Those attending the conference saw the animals in person at Hayden Valley, the best place to view wildlife in Yellowstone Park, and toured ranches impacted by the area wildlife.
Bradley, who researches and teaches conflict resolution, was interested in how the issues affect both sides of the park conflicts, and how those with different views have worked together to create solutions. For example, national park service leaders have worked to release more wolves back into the park, which has driven more elk onto local ranchers’ lands. The elk can carry diseases to the cattle, impacting their ability to sell their animals and meat.
In many cases, it is not possible to find a solution that both sides agree with 100 percent, so these case studies provide good examples of compromise he can share with his students.
“We had in-depth discussions about how to resolve conflict, especially in the long term,” he said. “It’s impossible to have all sides completely happy, but you can give a little and take a little, and work out an agreement everybody can accept.”
He plans to use what he saw and learned as examples of how the democratic process works, in his Model United Nations and government classes.
“Democracies are messy, and must be as inclusive as possible,” Bradley said. “My students will benefit by knowing that issues that appear to be simple are often more complex when we peel back the layers, especially in a democracy. My being in the park provided an opportunity to hear first-hand accounts, as opposed to what I may have learned in books, on television, or on the internet, which makes the experience all that more interesting and alive.”
Indiana University Kokomo serves north central Indiana.