Our most treasured National Parks are abused more each day.
The Park Service is busier than ever, but continues to be neglected in the federal budget.
The idyllic paradise of refuges like Yosemite Valley, Zion’s Virgin River Gorge, and other hot spots are being crushed under the weight of rampant tourism.
Park Service’s dual mission of protecting the resource but providing for enjoyment seems, at times, on the edge of collapse.
The Writing is on the Wall
Even more so than the rest of the world, our Parks are barrelling toward an unsustainable state of failure.
The purpose of this article is to present a collection of news headlines that illustrate the point. After all, the first step in moving forwarding is admitting that we have a problem.
Needed repairs on the simplest, most basic needs in the Parks like roads, buildings, and utility systems are not getting done. The Park Service currently needs almost 12 billion dollars for these repairs that it simply does not have.
The Park Service operates under an annual budget of about 3 billion, so the deferred maintenance backlog quoted above has no end in sight. The proposed 2020 budget wants to cut the Department of Interior by an additional 500 million (one half billion).
Private concessions companies like Recreation.gov (misleading domain, eh?) operate visitor services like campgrounds, hotels, and restaurants under government contract within the parks. These companies gross over just one billion annually, and the Park Service takes an average franchise fee of 5%.
If you only read one article that I’ve linked to from this post, let it be this one (above). A team of professional journalists (far more accomplished than myself) has done an excellent and thorough job of discussing the problems that are going on in the outdoors right now.
Here’s a quote from the article that nicely sums things up, highlighted in yellow:
The least-studied mammal in Yellowstone is the most abundant: humans.
“Two thirds of Yellowstone’s visitors surveyed think that finding available parking is a problem, and over half think that the amount of roadway traffic and congestion are problems.”
“Last year more than 86,000 people visited Zion over the four-day holiday weekend… the line on Scout Lookout was one to two hours long, with many reports of visitors running out of water and feeling that the trail was too crowded, raising safety concerns. The evaporative toilets at Scouts Lookout were also well over capacity and pedestrian impacts to soils and vegetation resulted from crowding.
“Upward of 8,000 cars and a potential 23,000 tourists have been counted in the valley on summer days in recent years. Horror stories of two-hour traffic standstills are common”
“We get fistfights in the parking lot,” said visitor service assistant Emlon Stanton. “We’ve even had people that get out of their vehicle, jump into a space and stand there (to claim it,) and then their vehicle is nowhere to be found, and then somebody tries to pull into them and bumps ’em.”
Our busiest park continues to break its own records.
The backcountry faces a crisis, too. Increased visitation in the wilderness means more unpreparedness, accidents, and search and rescue calls. Mount Whitney is the highest peak in the lower 48 states and falls under the management of Sequoia National Park.
“Since it entered the American consciousness, the Grand Canyon has provoked two major reactions: the urge to protect it, and the temptation to make a whopping pile of money from it.”
Park Superintendents have been quietly approving the construction of cell phone towers for several years.
Though invisible to the eye, cell phone data and communication abilities arguably detract from the core values for which our National Parks were first established, and the values they should represent in the future.
“There is a new crusade by some lawmakers, dubbed the ‘anti-parks caucus’, to unlock more public land to drilling and other development.”
The ultimate fate of several of our National Monuments is still tenuous.
…and Organ Pipe National Monument, and clearly all wilderness areas along the southern border.
“Some of the most sacred and ecologically sensitive areas in the country, from the Grand Canyon to Yosemite and Denali, may decay into ghosts of their former mighty selves and be unrecognizable to future generations expecting to inherit a planet hotter than they received.”
The vanishing glaciers of Montana’s Glacier National Park have long been a notable example of the effects of climate change, but there’s a recent flash of good news in the quiet removal of signs stating that all the glaciers will be gone by 2020.
The short answer? Maybe. A redwood tree’s genetic code is interestingly 12 times longer than that of a human being. Maybe that’s how they’ve been around for so long.
“Vandals have spray painted over ancient petroglyphs and painted boasts on famous rock formations. They have chopped up precious plant specimens, knocked down stalactites and dumped just about anything you can imagine beside crystal clear streams. “We just haven’t seen this type of vandalism in the past,” said Darla Sidles, the superintendent at Saguaro.
A rise in vandalism is partially attributed to the ability to share everything on social media, but it’s primarily been a change in attitude with the free-for-all atmosphere of recent government shutdowns.
Social Media and Geotagging
“It could take years for behavior to change because smartphones are not going away. We want to start a responsible conversation now about social media and conservation.”
Have You Seen Enough?
This is just the tip of the iceberg.
Is there any hope?
What do we do?
Stay tuned for some ideas in the next post.