National Parks Must Face Biggest Threat Yet

Our national parks have suffered serious damage in recent years at the hands of Mother Nature.  Her fury may appear in various forms, all of which are devastating. 

In September 2021, lightning-sparked fires burned 16 sequoia groves in and around Sequoia National Park.  In June 2022, unprecedented rainfall led to severe flooding, rockslides, and mudslides in Yellowstone National Park. These are merely two examples of many.

Although concerning, weather-related disasters are not the biggest threat to our national parks. It turns out that the most dangerous enemy is us.  

National Parks Visitors

According to National Park Service (NPS) statistics, 2021 saw an increase of 60 million recreational visitors to our national parks from the year before. The NPS anticipates another rise in recreation visits in 2022.

While it is wonderful that people want to see our beautiful parks, some visitors exhibit a disturbing trend of poor behavior. Parks can typically survive slight overcrowding, but the blatant vandalism is alarming.  

Vandalism

  • Saguaro National Park, Arizona: In October 2020, vandals slashed or chopped down eight saguaros. These giant cacti only grow in the Sonoran Desert.
  • Carlsbad Caverns National Park, New Mexico: In December 2020, the park posted concerns on Facebook about visitors leaving behind COVID face masks. This is a delicate ecosystem where the temperature remains constant. Simply touching a cave formation or littering in the cavern can cause serious harm.  
  • Big Bend National Park, Texas: In December 2021, visitors caused permanent damage when they carved names on top of petroglyphs on a rock panel. The petroglyphs are believed to be anywhere from 3,000 to 8,000 years old.  
  • Zion National Park, Utah: In April 2022, the park was defaced by rock carvings, stickers, permanent markers, and spray paint. Seven park rangers spent over 35 hours carefully removing spray paint, trying not to harm lichens on the rock surfaces.
  • Yosemite National Park, California: In May 2022, the park reported on social media that over 30 areas were found spray-painted with blue and white graffiti. A few of these areas spanned more than 8 feet by 8 feet.

Staffing and Budget

The issue of larger crowds is compounded by a smaller park workforce and a strained operating budget. According to the National Parks Conservation Association, staffing has decreased by 16% over the past decade. Currently, there is a $12 billion backlog of needed infrastructure repairs. Our most precious lands are receiving fewer resources for conservation and protection.

What About the Weather Damage?

Consider this for those who feel weather damage and natural phenomena are the biggest threats to our national parks. Nature finds a way.  

Fire is nature’s means of clearing out dead debris on the forest floor. This process facilitates the return of essential nutrients to the soil, resulting in a renewed, healthy environment for plants and animals.

A recognized natural cycle, park rangers often use a controlled or prescribed burn to clear out an abundance of dead litter, destroy invasive plants or reduce insect populations.

Still not a believer that Mother Nature has a divine plan? Here is another example. Mangrove forests in Everglades National Park suffered heavy damage from Hurricane Irma in 2017. A Florida International University study found a silver lining in those dark storm clouds.  

Hurricane Irma lifted phosphorus-rich mineral sediment from the ocean floor and washed it on top of the mangrove soil. Findings show accelerated regeneration in the mangrove forests due to increased phosphorus concentrations in the soil.

Although Mother Nature’s powers are impressive, she cannot reverse permanent damage by disrespectful guests who want to leave their mark.

large colorful hot spring at Yellowstone

What Is Being Done?

Some parks require reservations for popular activities or access to specific areas to control capacity. The President’s Fiscal Year 2023 Budget Request for the NPS calls for an additional 1,100 employees to strengthen critical functions.

What Can You Do to Help?

We all want to make our mark on history. Carving your name or spray painting graffiti at our national parks is not the way to do it.

If you have any information about an act of vandalism at our national parks, you have several options to help:

  • Please report it to any NPS employee.
  • Call or text the Investigative Services Branch tip line at 888-653-0009.
  • Send an email to nps_isb@nps.gov.
  • Go online to Investigative Branch Services and click “submit a tip.”
  • In emergencies, call 911. 

When you visit a national park, follow these guidelines:

  • Enjoy the park.  
  • Appreciate the park’s beauty. 
  • Be considerate of others by talking at a normal volume.   
  • Respect wildlife by keeping a safe distance.
  • Properly dispose of waste.  
  • Do not take anything.
  • Do not leave anything behind.
  • Do not physically alter anything.

The thought that humanity is the biggest threat to our national parks is a tragedy. Following these simple guidelines will help ensure that our national parks are preserved for future generations to enjoy.  

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About the author

We are Scott and Julie at Miles with McConkey. After nearly 30 years, we took a leap of faith out of the corporate world to enjoy a life of travel and adventure. We hope to inspire you to find ways to travel more and enjoy life now.

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