Quantcast
Environmental News for a Healthier Planet and Life

Protecting Our National Parks for Another 100 Years

Climate
Protecting Our National Parks for Another 100 Years

By Jillian Mackenzie

"Europe has cathedrals. We have national parks," said Stephen Saunders, president of the Rocky Mountain Climate Organization, neatly capturing the significance of these 59 national treasures, which include important monuments as well as parklands. But as we honor their majesty on this 100th anniversary of the National Park Service, we must also recognize and address the biggest threats to our natural versions of Notre Dame.

Fort Jefferson in the Dry Tortugas National Park, Florida.Deatonphotos / Shutterstock

Climate Change

"We have never before lost a national park," Saunders said. "But we are on track now to lose some to higher seas."

New York's Ellis Island, part of the Statue of Liberty National Monument and Dry Tortugas, the 100-square-mile national park off Key West, are just above sea level. Thanks to heat-trapping pollution, which warms and expands ocean waters, "these parks are at risk of being submerged and disappearing—not just in storm surges, but entirely," Saunders said.

That pollution also puts our parks at risk for uncharacteristically fierce wildfires.

"Hotter, drier conditions mean more intense fires that can permanently change forest to scrubland in beloved landscapes like Yosemite," noted Niel Lawrence, the Natural Resources Defense Council's (NRDC) senior expert on federal forestlands.

Funding Struggles

The enjoyment of national parks is at a record-breaking level, with a predicted 315 million visitors this year (up from 307 million in 2015). While that seems like happy news, the parks are straining under the pressure.

"There is a $12 billion backlog of unfunded projects," said Ani Kame'enui, director of legislation and policy at the National Parks Conservation Association. "There are cracks in the Washington Monument, potholes at Glacier National Park, nonworking faucets at the Grand Canyon—the list goes on."

On the surface, the most recent government spending bill, passed by the House this summer, seems like an environmental win. It proposes a $2.9 billion budget for the National Parks Service for 2017, which is $79 million more than the previous year's allocation. But look closer, Kame'enui said and you'll see not only that the money is shy of the funds needed to address the backlog, but that tacked on to the bill are a pile of policy riders that undermine the natural resources national parks aim to protect. "For instance, the bill includes provisions to prevent implementation of the Stream Protection Rule, a measure to improve the health of communities near streams from the mountains of West Virginia to the valleys of Tennessee," she said.

Well pads along Little Missouri River with Theodore Roosevelt National Park in background.Chris Boyer / Kestrel Aerial Services, Inc.

Fossil Fuel Extraction

Areas near national parks are continually subject to the pollution and environmental damage that comes with dirty energy projects, such as oil drilling in the Bakken formation near North Dakota's Theodore Roosevelt National Park; a large coal mine outside Utah's Bryce Canyon National Park; and oil and gas drilling around the boundaries of Canyonlands, also in Utah. Big Cypress National Preserve, which recharges aquifers that supply drinking water to much of southern Florida and serves as a watershed for Everglades National Park, is facing threats from extensive oil and gas exploration in pristine wetland areas in the preserve.

Theodore Roosevelt National Park

"Oil exploration has historically happened in Big Cypress preserve," said Alison Kelly, a staff attorney with NRDC. "But now an oil company is starting one of the largest explorations ever proposed in a national park unit." The first phase of the four-phase project was just approved, though it is being contested by a lawsuit filed by NRDC and other environmental groups.

Mount Gould is a peak on the Continental Divide in Glacier National Park.Wikipedia

Antigovernment Extremists

Long-standing disputes over whether the federal government has the right to own and manage land in the West have boiled over in recent years. In 2014, Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy led an armed standoff against Bureau of Land Management (BLM) officers; they were trying to confiscate his cattle because he'd refused to pay BLM fees dating back to 1993 for illegally grazing the animals on protected land.

In 2015 his son, Ammon Bundy, led a 40-day occupation of Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Harney County, Oregon, in support of ranchers Dwight and Steven Hammond, a father and son who were convicted of arson for lighting fires on BLM-managed land where they had leased grazing privileges for their cattle. The Hammonds' attorney said the Bundys did not speak for them, but regardless, the standoff seemed aimed to galvanize opposition to federal control of land. As the local sheriff said in a statement at the time, "These men had alternative motives, to attempt to overthrow the county and federal government in hopes to spark a movement across the United States."

Sharon Buccino, director of NRDC's Land and Wildlife program, fears that national parks could be the next targets. "Our public lands are a place for us to unite and connect," she said. "Extremists like the Bundys seek to monopolize what belongs to us all for their own individual profit and glorify their own freedom at the expense of the freedom of others."

The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists' "Doomsday Clock" — an estimate of how close humanity is to the apocalypse — remains at 100 seconds to zero for 2021. Eva Hambach / AFP / Getty Images

By Brett Wilkins

One hundred seconds to midnight. That's how close humanity is to the apocalypse, and it's as close as the world has ever been, according to Wednesday's annual announcement from the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, a group that has been running its "Doomsday Clock" since the early years of the nuclear age in 1947.

Read More Show Less

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

The 13th North Atlantic right whale calf with their mother off Wassaw Island, Georgia on Jan. 19, 2010. @GeorgiaWild, under NOAA permit #20556

North Atlantic right whales are in serious trouble, but there is hope. A total of 14 new calves of the extremely endangered species have been spotted this winter between Florida and North Carolina.

Read More Show Less

Trending

There are new lifestyle "medicines" that are free that doctors could be prescribing for all their patients. Marko Geber / Getty Images

By Yoram Vodovotz and Michael Parkinson

The majority of Americans are stressed, sleep-deprived and overweight and suffer from largely preventable lifestyle diseases such as heart disease, cancer, stroke and diabetes. Being overweight or obese contributes to the 50% of adults who suffer high blood pressure, 10% with diabetes and additional 35% with pre-diabetes. And the costs are unaffordable and growing. About 90% of the nearly $4 trillion Americans spend annually for health care in the U.S. is for chronic diseases and mental health conditions. But there are new lifestyle "medicines" that are free that doctors could be prescribing for all their patients.

Read More Show Less
Candles spell out, "Fight for 1 point 5" in front of the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin, Germany on Dec. 11, 2020, in reference to 1.5°C of Earth's warming. The event was organized by the Fridays for Future climate movement. Sean Gallup / Getty Images

Taking an unconventional approach to conduct the largest-ever poll on climate change, the United Nations' Development Program and the University of Oxford surveyed 1.2 million people across 50 countries from October to December of 2020 through ads distributed in mobile gaming apps.

Read More Show Less
A monarch butterfly is perched next to an adult caterpillar on a milkweed plant, the only plant the monarch will lay eggs on and the caterpillar will eat. Cathy Keifer / Getty Images

By Tara Lohan

Fall used to be the time when millions of monarch butterflies in North America would journey upwards of 2,000 miles to warmer winter habitat.

Read More Show Less