The Nation’s Most Ironic Nature Refuge and The Trouble With Wilderness

Irony is a concept I struggle to teach to my students.  They sort of get it when I give them the classic example of a firehouse burning down.  Or when I present Alanis Morrisette’s song “Ironic” as an example of irony, since as we all know the song lyrics do not describe irony at all.

A buck at the Arsenal Refuge. Photo Credit: Aaron Rinker, USFWS

Now I have a new example I can give them: The Rocky Mountain Arsenal Wildlife Preserve.  This nature preserve, near Denver, Colorado, is built upon millions of tons of toxic chemicals.  During World War II, the US Army developed both incendiary and chemical weapons at the site, and later, Shell Oil moved in and used the facility to develop highly toxic pesticides.  Although the government and Shell undertook a massive clean-up operation back in the 1980’s, the site remained too toxic for any kind of intensive human use, like parkland or housing development.  So people stayed away.

But wildlife moved in.

Today, bald eagles roost in the tree tops, elk and deer forage in the woodlands, and ponds and streams teem with fish.  The refuge is home to one of the most successful short-grass prairie restoration projects in the country.

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