National Parks See More Visitors, Worrying Health Officials and Park Staff
With social distancing as the new norm and spring break plans canceled, many families and people finding themselves temporarily out of work are looking for a getaway that is both beautiful and isolating. They have found the U.S. national parks open and ready to welcome them, which have parks staff worried about exposure to the novel coronavirus, according to The Guardian.
Park workers have taken to social media to share photographs of crowded visitor centers and lines of people standing shoulder-to-shoulder as they wait to crowd onto shuttle buses, as The Guardian reported.
To take steps to minimize contact, some parks have started to close their visitor centers and have removed staff from the entrance gate where fees are collected, effectively making the park free to visitors. At Lake Mead National Recreation Area, the collection gate is unmanned and the park headquarters lobby is closed while the park remains open.
Following guidance from the @WhiteHouse, @CDCgov, & local & state authorities, the NPS is modifying operations, inc… https://t.co/XzFpQtLRTS— National Park Service (@National Park Service)1584469792.0
In Great Basin National Park, the visitor center is closed and cave tours are canceled, but park rangers are available to answer questions and distribute maps, according to the CBS Las Vegas affiliate.
In nearby Utah, local residents are visiting the national parks, making up for the absence of foreign visitors who have had their travel plans canceled by travel restrictions. However, some of the most popular attractions have been canceled, like the shuttle buses through Zion National Park, according to the Salt Lake Tribune.
Last week, the area around Zion actually saw an uptick in visitors. While the federal government is keeping national parks open, some local officials are trying to protect the people who live around the park. The Southeast Utah Health Department issued orders limiting tourist services to protect Moab, the gateway to Arches and Canyonlands national parks. The health department ordered businesses where people gather to close and only offer curbside, "no contact," service. It also banned nonlocals from checking into hotels or camping outside the park, as the Salt Lake Tribune reported.
"Moab is asking people to please stay in their home community," Mayor Emily Niehaus said, according to the Salt Lake Tribune. "This is an urgent message to people considering travel to Moab."
Keep your paws clean. Wash often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, avoid touching your eyes, nose, and m… https://t.co/sPJxdY0qSH— National Park Service (@National Park Service)1584459285.0
In the Grand Canyon, private companies are taking matters into their own hands. We proactively canceled all our trips," said Dave Logan, owner of Flagstaff, Arizona-based Four Season Guides, as The Guardian reported. "We decided to do it not only for the health of our guests but also for the health of our guides. We don't want them getting sick and then spreading the virus around in our community."
Some states are going the opposite way. New York, for example, which has declared a state of emergency, seems to be encouraging visits to state parks, keeping them open and waiving admissions fees in all state, local, and county parks, according to a statement from Governor Andrew Cuomo.
The U.S. National Park system has actually closed a few parks, but only in dense cities. They include the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, the National Mall in Washington, DC, and the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island in New York.
In an open letter released on Monday, an organization representing Park Service retirees called on the Department of the Interior to issue broader closures to protect the staff and the public, according to CNN.
In the letter, Chair Phil Francis of The Coalition to Protect America's Parks said that "to suggest to the public that gathering at national park sites is acceptable ... is irresponsible to the visiting public and employees," as CNN reported.
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By D. André Green II
One of nature's epic events is underway: Monarch butterflies' fall migration. Departing from all across the United States and Canada, the butterflies travel up to 2,500 miles to cluster at the same locations in Mexico or along the Pacific Coast where their great-grandparents spent the previous winter.
Millions of People Care About Monarchs<p>I will never forget the sights and sounds the first time I visited monarchs' overwintering sites in Mexico. Our guide pointed in the distance to what looked like hanging branches covered with dead leaves. But then I saw the leaves flash orange every so often, revealing what were actually thousands of tightly packed butterflies. The monarchs made their most striking sounds in the Sun, when they burst from the trees in massive fluttering plumes or landed on the ground in the tussle of mating.</p><p>Decades of educational outreach by teachers, researchers and hobbyists has cultivated a generation of monarch admirers who want to help preserve this phenomenon. This global network has helped restore not only monarchs' summer breeding habitat by planting milkweed, but also general pollinator habitat by planting nectaring flowers across North America.</p><p>Scientists have calculated that restoring the monarch population to a stable level of about 120 million butterflies will require <a href="https://doi.org/10.1111/icad.12198" target="_blank">planting 1.6 billion new milkweed stems</a>. And they need them fast. This is too large a target to achieve through grassroots efforts alone. A <a href="https://www.fws.gov/savethemonarch/CCAA.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">new plan</a>, announced in the spring of 2020, is designed to help fill the gap.</p>
Pros and Cons of Regulation<p>The top-down strategy for saving monarchs gained energy in 2014, when the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service <a href="https://www.fws.gov/southeast/pdf/petition/monarch.pdf" target="_blank">proposed</a> listing them as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. A decision is expected in December 2020.</p><p>Listing a species as endangered or threatened <a href="https://www.fws.gov/endangered/esa-library/pdf/listing.pdf" target="_blank">triggers restrictions</a> on "taking" (hunting, collecting or killing), transporting or selling it, and on activities that negatively affect its habitat. Listing monarchs would impose restrictions on landowners in areas where monarchs are found, over vast swaths of land in the U.S.</p><p>In my opinion, this is not a reason to avoid a listing. However, a "threatened" listing might inadvertently threaten one of the best conservation tools that we have: public education.</p><p>It would severely restrict common practices, such as rearing monarchs in classrooms and back yards, as well as scientific research. Anyone who wants to take monarchs and milkweed for these purposes would have to apply for special permits. But these efforts have had a multigenerational educational impact, and they should be protected. Few public campaigns have been more successful at raising awareness of conservation issues.</p>
<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="91165203d4ec0efc30e4632a00fdf57d"><iframe lazy-loadable="true" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/KilPRvjbMrA?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span>
The Rescue Attempt<p>To preempt the need for this kind of regulation, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service approved a <a href="https://www.fws.gov/savethemonarch/pdfs/Monarch%20CCAA-CCA%20Public%20Comment%20Documents/Monarch-Nationwide_CCAA-CCA_Draft.pdf" target="_blank">Nationwide Candidate Conservation Agreement for Monarch Butterflies</a>. Under this plan, "rights-of-way" landowners – energy and transportation companies and private owners – commit to restoring and creating millions of acres of pollinator habitat that have been decimated by land development and herbicide use in the past half-century.</p><p>The agreement was spearheaded by the <a href="http://rightofway.erc.uic.edu/" target="_blank">Rights-of-Way Habitat Working Group</a>, a collaboration between the University of Illinois Chicago's <a href="https://erc.uic.edu/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Energy Resources Center</a>, the Fish and Wildlife Service and over 40 organizations from the energy and transportation sectors. These sectors control "rights-of-way" corridors such as lands near power lines, oil pipelines, railroad tracks and interstates, all valuable to monarch habitat restoration.</p><p>Under the plan, partners voluntarily agree to commit a percentage of their land to host protected monarch habitat. In exchange, general operations on their land that might directly harm monarchs or destroy milkweed will not be subject to the enhanced regulation of the Endangered Species Act – protection that would last for 25 years if monarchs are listed as threatened. The agreement is expected to create up to 2.3 million acres of new protected habitat, which ideally would avoid the need for a "threatened" listing.</p>
A Model for Collaboration<p>This agreement could be one of the few specific interventions that is big enough to allow researchers to quantify its impact on the size of the monarch population. Even if the agreement produces only 20% of its 2.3 million acre goal, this would still yield nearly half a million acres of new protected habitat. This would provide a powerful test of the role of declining breeding and nectaring habitat compared to other challenges to monarchs, such as climate change or pollution.</p><p>Scientists hope that data from this agreement will be made publicly available, like projects in the <a href="https://www.fws.gov/savethemonarch/MCD.html" target="_blank">Monarch Conservation Database</a>, which has tracked smaller on-the-ground conservation efforts since 2014. With this information we can continue to develop powerful new models with better accuracy for determining how different habitat factors, such as the number of milkweed stems or nectaring flowers on a landscape scale, affect the monarch population.</p><p>North America's monarch butterfly migration is one of the most awe-inspiring feats in the natural world. If this rescue plan succeeds, it could become a model for bridging different interests to achieve a common conservation goal.</p>
The annual Ig Nobel prizes were awarded Thursday by the science humor magazine Annals of Improbable Research for scientific experiments that seem somewhat absurd, but are also thought-provoking. This was the 30th year the awards have been presented, but the first time they were not presented at Harvard University. Instead, they were delivered in a 75-minute pre-recorded ceremony.