The National Park Service is facing a dilemma as over half of its key board members resigned last week amid tensions with its parent agency, the Department of the Interior. The primary responsibility of board members is to advise both the Interior Secretary and the Director of the National Park Service on matters related to nature preservation. Reasons cited for resignation included the alleged unwillingness of the Interior Secretary to meet with the board, a twice annual requirement.
The news comes at an unprecedented time as talks of shrinking national monuments and opening the door to drilling on public land have become hot topics at the forefront of climate discussions. The resignations have caused yet another breach between the current U.S. Administration and public employees -- many of whom argue that the administration’s complacency toward environmental concerns impacting public parks is in sharp contrast to the majority of public interest.
Board members serving as an advisory council have progressively come to feel marginalized under the current administration. In July, Glacier National Park superintendent, Jeff Mow was denied the opportunity to serve as tour guide for Facebook CEO, Mark Zuckerberg’s trip. During his travels, Zuckerberg planned to highlight the effects of climate change using glacier melt as an example. The Department of Interior abruptly halted Mow’s insight providing no substantial reasoning for doing so. Yet, it was clear to those paying attention; the public is not only aware of the human caused effects of climate change, but there’s an insatiable desire to get educated with the facts, something that Mow has clearly pointed out which surely would have served as a blow to the Department of the Interior. In true bureaucratic showmanship, attempts to silence Mow were capitalized and he ultimately sat the trip out.
To make matters worse, the U.S. Government is in the throws of a shutdown, with public employees forced into an awkward position. A national park visit usually comes equipped with park rangers or guides available to answer questions as well as restroom facilities that are routinely checked. Without these services, tourism is at risk as some visitors could venture off into unfamiliar territory with know one to call for help should a dangerous situation arise.
Our National Parks Today
Last summer, the National Park Service announced that major national parks would increase entry fees. The alleged reason was to boost revenue which would be used toward park infrastructure and other major repairs. Despite bipartisan differences, there has been overwhelming public outcry following the decision. Among the concerns, the development of fossil fuel initiatives which directly counter past regulations that sought to diminish or restrict further dirty energy use. Climate and nature scientists, alarmed by the seemingly numerous public safety risks, have expressed grave concerns over air quality, disruption to wildlife habitat, and ultimately the compromised nature park experience for visitors. Senior Manager of the National Parks Conservation Association summed it up precisely when he stated, “there are sound impacts, light impacts, it can affect wildlife movement inside and outside of the park.”
Another disparity within the national park system is that of the diversity and inclusion of visitors of color. A recent survey conducted by New American Media asked minority voters for their opinion on increasing park visitation for people of color and found that the vast majority were in support. Further, the survey revealed that many were in favor of proposals which aimed to increase the minority footprint in urban parks. Overall, 93 percent indicated their belief that protecting public land was an important commitment that should be taken seriously by any Administration.
The Dire Consequences of A Warming Planet On Our Parks
Glacier National Park, a 1,500 square mile area of wilderness tucked away in the Rocky Mountains that make their way through Montana, has seen a dramatic change in its glaciers within in the last half century. Massive ice sheets may not provide the sort of habitat that makes for year-round living, but there are some species that call it home. Tiny animals from ice worms to snow fleas to several species of birds are native to glaciers and are a food source to larger animals such as bears or mountain lions. When these habitats are compromised, animals die, forcing their predatory seekers to hunt elsewhere or risk starvation. According to researchers who’ve been tracking water runoff, as much as one third of the glaciers have melted between 1966 and 2015.
Take a moment to imagine your days of youth during a family outing that may have resembled a camping trip. You may recall visits to places where man has rarely ventured or you might have come across an undisturbed terrain featuring trailhead signs that listed some nature facts about the area. If such visits were a regular occurrence during your childhood, then take note that the next generation might not be so fortunate to witness and experience the foundational vision of the NPS. In 1916, the year Congress passed the Act that would rightfully cement the protection of national parks; its basic message was as clear then as it is today. Famed California zoologist, Joseph Grinnell echoed the sentiment best when he described the original intent of protecting national parks which was to maintain the “....original balance of plant and animal life.” Today, we are witnessing a disturbing trend within many national parks as the impact of climate change has created a ripple effect among our places of natural preserve and beauty.