With the couple of weeks we’ve just had, it shouldn’t be a surprise that a lot is currently changing in the United States. Unfortunately, in addition to a myriad of ghastly events, there is something else to be worried about too– our National Parks, our wilderness and our wildlife.
Officially created in 1872 with the establishment of Yellowstone National Park, the National Park System was the first of its kind in the world. Today, the NPS preserves wilderness areas for both flora and fauna, regulates the visitation and conversation and educates visitors in over 400 parks across the country. The idea and system worked so well that now over 100 countries contain over 1,200 parks across the globe.
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As a system to protect our environment and create a space for both humans and wildlife to prosper, ‘America’s Best Idea’ is truly just that. It’s also one to really be proud of. Sadly though, it gets far less assistance than it deserves. It’s also not as stable as many people might assume, especially now.
Why you should be concerned
Being that I spend half of the year visiting national parks throughout the U.S. as a tour guide, I was already aware of the uphill battle the parks themselves face. Entrance fees and federal allocations are only enough to keep parks running and functioning, while most rangers are underpaid and overworked, spending their days trying to protect places that are so easily damaged.
Going-to-the-Sun Road in Glacier NP was completed in 1933 by the park service as one of the first projects meant to accommodate automobile-bourne tourists.
Also, each year the Federal Government determines and allocates a certain amount to the parks. Even under Obama, a president who loved our parks and made a record breaking amount of national monuments and protected over 553 million acres of land and water, the parks still struggled to operate on enough tax dollars. In fact, just a tiny slice comes from the category ‘All Other Expenditures‘ which as a whole contributes 3%.
To put the amount in perspective, this article from 2010 states that the typical American spends more money going to the movies ONCE than their tax dollars go toward the parks. Even while 81% of Americans state they would pay more taxes for the parks (surprising, I know) they are still struggling to operate. The allocation from taxes has not been raised and the park system is almost $12 billion in debt just from backlogged maintenance issues.
This isn’t an issue of a money draining program with no ROI, as a matter of fact the NPS contributes $32 billion to the economy each year and contributes to 295,000 jobs.
Yet, they can’t pay their bills…explain that to me.
Unfortunately with the new administration, there are a handful of other serious issues which are challenging the security and preservation of our parks. For one, it’s easy to see that Trump puts short term profits and business opportunities above protected areas and climate change. This is evident through not only the proposed pipeline but also the border wall, both devastating projects to our natural environment.
To make matters worse, another bill has been introduced into Congress to weaken park restrictions and make it much easier, and possible, to drill for oil and gas inside more than 40 National Parks. In many parks, the federal government does not own mineral rights below the surface. If passed, drilling could occur in these areas with little to no regulation. Overall, these protected wilderness areas “could be subjected to poorly regulated oil and gas drilling, threatening parks’ air, water and wildlife.”
This, along with trying to dismantle the EPA and weaken restrictions on pollution and drilling all over the U.S., would threaten more than park environments. It could damage air and drinking water quality for many citizens regardless of location.
It doesn’t stop there either.
Trump’s nominee for Interior Secretary, Ryan Zinke isn’t the environmental activist he should be either. He is vowing to revitalize “fossil fuels development while disregarding renewables and the need to act on climate change.” Essentially, he wants to go back to burning coal, the single largest source of carbon pollution. Not only that, Zinke and other Republican senators are advocating for and introducing a bill into Congress which would weaken the Endangered Species Act and reduce the population of wolves in North America, a species we brought back from the brink of extinction and is crucial for regulating the eco-system.
To summarize, lack of funding, lack of environmental advocates in Congress, selling off protected national land, oil drilling, fossil fuel energy projects, disrupting eco-systems with the wall and the reduction of endangered species are all reasons you need to be tuning in.
Now here’s more information on above what you can do to help.
How to Protect Our National Parks
1. Visit some new National Parks this year
Knowledge is power and I don’t know a more enjoyable way to educate yourself.
This year, make it a goal to visit a new National Park, or one you still don’t know much about. As a people, the more we know about our national parks, the more likely we are to protect them. Not to mention, if they could be in danger of changing, you’ll want to see them now.
Paying the entrance fees and buying souvenirs is another way in how to protect our national parks too. All of those fees go towards keeping the parks running, much more than our tax dollars do.
Just make sure you’re practicing to Leave No Trace when visiting. The last thing we need is to be destroying them due to frivolous human activity, especially with the new uphill battles they are already facing. Stay on the trails, don’t litter, respect and don’t feed the wildlife. Treat our National Parks the same way your home.
2. Be an advocate for our National Parks with #AmericaTheBeautiful
Whether you’ve already visited a bunch of parks or are working on the above #1, make sure you share your experience. With all the negative press going around right now, The United States could use some love and positivity. Through your photos show others what we have to be proud of and what’s worth protecting. Whether it’s scenery, wildlife or geology, there are over 59 official parks (and countless National Monuments, State Parks and Tribal Parks) with the most diverse scenery I’ve seen anywhere in the world.
#AmericaTheBeautiful from within Monument Valley Tribal Park
I like using #AmericaTheBeautiful as a hashtag when sharing my National Park photos. While some of us are fortunate enough to get outside often, there are still so many Americans who don’t know about the immense beauty are country holds. Use the hashtag and show them!
3. Follow and ‘like’ the Alt National Park Service Page
Soon after Trump entered office, many Department of Interior and National Park Twitter accounts were monitored and scolded for tweeting inauguration day attendance facts and scientific evidence for climate change. Many were forced to delete tweets and stay silent. Bad(ass)Lands National Park was the first to defy the gag-order, but it wasn’t long until their climate change tweets were also deleted from the internet.
In response to this deliberate violation of free speech, a group of parks and a coalition of park employees have created a webpage and new social media accounts under the name Alt National Park Service. These accounts aim to spread environmental knowledge, news and information all without persecution from the government.
The policies surrounding our environment are changing fast. To stay informed and up to date, follow by joining the movement at their website here, or by following their Facebook page and other social media accounts.
4. Support the Endangered Species Act (ESA) and help protect our wolf population
In 1972, the Endangered Species Act was almost unanimously put through Congress. Since then, it has shown a 90% recovery rate in over 100 different species around the United States. In its 42 years in operation the act prevented extinction for almost 99% of the species involved. That 1% of species that didn’t make it were too far gone to be brought back by the time the act came into place.
Without the act, you could have said goodbye to the American Crocodile, the Grey Wolf and even the Bald Eagle.
Today, in an effort to prioritize drilling, logging and other economic activities the GOP is making plans to invalidate it completely.
Wolf spotted while driving through Yellowstone.
This isn’t the only horrific news for our wildlife either. The Trump Presidency could mean a drastic decrease of the American Wolf, and animal critical to the entire eco-system. Nicknamed the, “War on Wolves Act” this could remove ESA protections from wolves in Minnesota, Michigan, Wisconsin and Wyoming. Why? Because hunters and farmers are losing profit.
For environmentalists, the reintroduction of the American wolf has been a great success story. As an apex predator, having a healthy population of wolves means the elk population remains in check, the grasslands aren’t overgrazed, healthy tree life can grow, coyotes remain in balance and smaller animals can thrive. For hunters and farmers, more wolves mean less game to hunt (elk) and an occasional sheep gets killed for prey.
In my opinion the positives far out way the negatives here, and surely there is a way to protect small farmers from the occasional wolf. And if money is the big issue, wolves win again. The reintroduction of wolves into Yellowstone brought in an extra $35 million in tourism from these animals alone.
Clearly, this is a vital act to protect. To do so, call or write your representative and tell them that you support the ESA, you don’t want them to steal our land, and that you oppose any legislation intended to remove wolf protection.
5. Protest the construction of the Keystone Pipeline XL and the Mexico Border Wall
If disregarding treaty agreements, threatening drinking water and costly ineffective construction projects aren’t already enough reason to oppose such newly proposed ideas, then the eco-systems and wildlife should be.
The Keystone Pipeline XL alone puts 4 species and 3 precious habitats at risk. While most may think the pipeline would cross barren uninhabited land, the fact is the pipeline could have a huge effect on the environment. Such a pipeline would cross both the Missouri and Yellowstone Rivers and a spill could mean an extreme risk to species. Say goodbye to the swift fox and the whooping crane, to name a few.
As for the construction of a border wall, more species and eco-systems would be at risk. With already dwindling habitat, the animals lying in the walls path include the: “Mexican Black Bear, cougars, desert bighorn sheep, the endangered North American jaguar and the ocelot – which is down to its last 50 animals in southern Texas.”
Big Bend National Park, on the border between Mexico and Texas, would be the park most effected and damaged by the construction too. A park known for sprawling and wide open expanses of desert and mountain wilderness, a wall would only negatively contribute. It would also cut off habitats, resources, breeding partners and block migration routes for even more species than listed above.
6. Help protect the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and call your representative
Thankfully, I can’t remember a time in my life when I had to be worried for my health when diving into a lake, going kayaking on a river or going for a run within a city. To my recent surprise, for many Americans in the 1960s on the East Coast and in the Midwest, this was a reality. Pollution around the country was so bad there were more premature deaths, more heart attacks and more asthma attacks all around the country.
Until the mid-1970’s GE dumped an estimated 1.3 million pounds of chemicals into the Hudson River poisoning fish which people then ate. In 1948, a thick layer of smog from local mills killed 20 people and causing sickness in 6,000 of the town’s 14,000 residents. 1969, the Cuyahoga River caught fire due to the oil-soaked trash floating on the surface. While it wasn’t the first time a polluted oil-soaked river caught fire but it was the last. The EPA was created in 1970 by executive order under President Nixon.
Still, “despite these facts, many extreme Republicans – especially those funded by polluters like the Koch brothers – want to roll back many of the agency’s regulations. Iowa Senate candidate Joni Ernst in particular wants to go even further in aiding corporate polluters. During a debate in April, she said wanted to “shut down” the EPA because of “rules and regulations burdening business owners,” says NextGenClimate.org.
Overall, even if this bill to abolish the EPA completely doesn’t pass, there are many people in Congress waiting to weaken it to advance economic profit. Whether Republican or Democrat, we the people deserve a safe and healthy environment. Call your representative, connect with your senator and house representative, voice your opinion and help stop this progression.
After you’ve called your representatives, planned a trip to visit a National Park and helped educate others on the plight of our national parks and wilderness, there are many organizations that would gladly accept donations for the cause.
Below are a list or organizations that either directly contribute to our national parks, our environment and/or all the people working to fight for it.
- At the National Park Service you can donate to a specific park, a specific program or campaign of your choice.
- The National Park Foundation is the NPS’s Congressionally chartered national philanthropic partner. You can donate to help support them carry out NPS programs, services and to support our National Park heritage.
- You can also donate to Center for Biological Diversity and Defenders of Wildlife, organizations that will be fighting much of this legislation while preserving our wildlife.
- To get more of our youth to visit nature and involved in the environment, donate to Open Outdoors, part of a White House initiative to get 4th graders to visit National Parks.
8. March for Science on Saturday, April 22– Earth Day
It’s almost time for supporters of science and the environment to speak out. Appropriately set for Earth Day, people are marching for evidenced-based policy making and inclusively in the science community.
Begun on Reddit and originally planned for Washington, D.C. many of other marches are being planned around the country. So whether it’s for our National Parks, the ESA and EPA, our health, climate change or against the wall and Keystone pipeline, peacefully take the streets.
The best way to find news about the closest march to you is to search ‘March for Science’ and your city’s name on Twitter or Facebook to get current announcements and news.
Start brainstorming your sign now.
9. Share on social media and keep reading reputable news sources
Whether it’s by word of or by sharing this article on Facebook or pinning the above images to Pinterest, spread the word. There is a lot to know about the current changes our beautiful landscapes and wildlife face.
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For more in-depth articles on these topics, check out the below:
What our country would look like without the EPA: http://www.alternet.org/environment/what-would-our-country-look-without-epa
Why The Latest War on Wolves? Three Reasons You May Not Know: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/leda-huta/why-the-latest-war-on-wol_b_14370670.html
On the Reality of the Wall, and Big Bend’s already Impenetrable Landscape: http://edition.cnn.com/2017/01/23/politics/border-series-texas/
Trump’s Presidency Means the End of Wolves in the American West: https://www.outsideonline.com/2151411/trumps-presidency-means-end-wolves-american-west
Scott Pruitt, Trump’s E.P.A. Pick, Is Approved by Senate Committee: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/02/02/us/politics/scott-pruitt-epa-senate.html?_r=1