The 388 parks, monuments and recreation areas managed by the National Park Service cover some of the most beautiful and iconic landscapes in the United States. From mountains to glaciers to forests, they protect rare ecosystems and species. They also ensure that people can enjoy nature, and they bring tourism money to nearby communities.
Some of these parks, though, are now in trouble due to a wide variety of potential threats. What exactly is putting our national parks in danger, how serious is the situation and what can we do about it? Keep reading to find out.
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Republican lawmakers recently proposed a bill that would transfer protected federal lands to the states. Lawmakers who support the bill have said the lands have little value when the federal government owns them. Supporters argue that they bring in approximately $6.46 billion and create around 6 million jobs.
Those who are against the change worry that protected lands could be sold off once under state control and opened up for oil drilling or property development. States might choose to do this to make money, while others would have little choice due to budget restrictions.
Actions like this have been met with opposition. After a bill to sell more than 3 million acres of public land caused an uproar among conservationists, hunters and fishermen, U.S. Congressman Jason Chaffetz of Utah announced that he would withdraw it.
Pollution and Climate Change
National parks also face a less direct threat from pollution, climate change and other damage to the environment. The pollution levels in some parks are almost as bad as those in urban areas. In Great Smoky Mountains National Park, for example, emissions from industry and power plants blow in from outside the park. That’s not the type of smoke Great Smoky should be known for.
Climate change may cause long-term changes to national parks, as it will to the rest of the world. Glaciers in Montana’s Glacier National Park are already melting. As climate change continues to worsen, we may see more forest fires and storms, as well as higher temperatures that change the ecosystems of the parks. Because national parks are such iconic representations of nature, the effects of climate change seem even more pronounced within them.
Many of our national parks don’t have enough funding to keep up with repairs, maintenance and the needs of visitors. Roads, buildings and water systems could all use some attention. Some have estimated the parks need around $600 million just to get the infrastructure up to par.
The National Parks Conservation Association has expressed concerns over the Trump Administration’s proposed budget for fiscal year 2018, which includes large cuts to the Department of Interior and Environmental Protection Agency budgets. It also has said that Trump’s hiring freeze may prevent the parks from having enough personnel.
From the Outside In
Though a main goal of establishing the parks is to enable people to enjoy them, the influx of people from places around the world has also created challenges for the health of the parks. Overcrowding can degrade the natural landscape and the habitats of the animals that live there.
When people come to parks, they also sometimes accidentally carry with them species that aren’t native to the area. They might accidentally have seeds of foreign plant species or bugs that aren’t from the area. If these species make their new home in the park, they won’t have any natural competition and may destroy native species.
Some non-native species may escape from homes into the park. For example, people sometimes keep exotic snakes as pets, but if they escape or are released into the wild, they can cause problems. More than 650,000 invasive species have already been identified in national parks in the United States.
U.S. national parks provide critical protection for unique and important ecosystems and create a way for people to easily enjoy and learn more about nature. These national parks in danger from budget cuts and pollution; however, they must be preserved if we want to keep enjoying the benefits from these parks.