National Parks: a Double Edged Sword?

National Parks: A Double Edged Sword? Justin Pearly Environmental History Prof. Mark Bishop Newell Tuesday July 21, 2009 Pearly 1 Few places can match the sheer diversity of wildlife and culture that exists in the country’s national park system. Humans, with the future in mind, have “set aside” these beautiful sites of wonder and awe. But at what cost? Do national parks end up being good and bad at the same time? Our national parks are a supposed to be a natural treasure.

Here the unspoiled grandeur and beauty of nature can be appreciated in its most pristine form. However, the amount of people that are visiting these parks has risen to levels that threaten the very beauty and well-being of these paradises. Its now seems apparent that there is a price to pay for allowing humans into an area that did not have many humans before. To understand the present state of the nation’s parks, and ultimately their entire future, it is crucial to first look back at the past. The first national park was Yellowstone National Park.

This sprawling park contains such amazing geological and biological sites that it had been considered a national park long before it was ever officially named one. Its combination of diverse wildlife, and geologic features such as, waterfalls, canyons, geysers, and hot springs made it obvious to any who had experienced it, that this was a place that should be preserved just the way it was. That was why in 1872, President Ulysses S. Grant made it officially the world’s first national park. The only problem being, it was a completely unique creation, the first of its kind.

This means that all ground that they covered would be new. Due to inconsistencies with the way national parks were being governed, and the fact that there were was no central governing body for national parks Congress created a Pearly 2 National Park Service that would operate within jurisdiction of the Secretary of the interior. Signed by President Woodrow Wilson on August 25, 1916, the National Park Service Organic Act created the National Park Service which put the country’s national parks in its jurisdiction.

Wendy Hart Beckman in her book entitled “National Parks in Crisis: Debating the Issues,” states that, “The Organic Act said the National Park Service’s purpose was to ‘promote and regulate the use of the… national parks… which purpose is to conserve scenery and the natural historic objects and the wild life therein and to provide for the enjoyment of the same in such manner and by such means as will leave them unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations. ” When trying to unravel the ethics and issues concerning the parks one must keep referring back to this original mission statement.

The purpose of national parks is to enjoy the scenery and to leave it unchanged for future generations. However, this statement seems somewhat contradictory, when considering the fact that most national parks are areas that did not have native humans for much of their history. One of the first things to consider about this complex issue is: Why do people want to go there in the first place? Why is it important to them? The first and most obvious reason to let people into our national parks is for their own personal enjoyment.

People derive a great deal of pleasure out of leaving their boring, monotonous urban and suburban lives behind even if it is for just a weekend, or merely an evening. People in cites often lead sedentary lifestyles, and need to get outside in a natural setting even if it is just to walk. Some people might even think the air in these preserves tastes fresher! People get a taste of what the earth was like before humans were there. These Pearly 3 can be places of relaxing or exercising. Have a you ever scaled a thousand foot mountain?

Hiking can be quite exhilarating. Parents can, in effect, introduce the next generation of conservationists to these areas. Children that have grown up with these sites in their hearts will never forget how incredibly important they are. People becoming informed and interested in nature is one of the most important functions of a national park besides the preservation of the actual land itself. Even without any previous interactions with nature, or any history or knowledge of the place that you are going to you may find and enjoyment to be effortless.

When people witness something with their own eyes, it is very different from looking at a picture, or reading about something in a textbook. There is a definitive advantage to experiencing things in person. Subtleties stand out. All five senses can be invoked. People who are not familiar with this kind of beauty are usually particularly awestruck. A memory is formed which is nearly impossible to erase or change (although one’s perspective of the event can change). Every time one person gets hooked on nature, that person will usually try to their share its grandeur with other people.

People who appreciate that wonderful wilderness will then go out of their way to help conserve it. There is also a secondary effect in addition to making the individual feel good. Whether or not a reverence for nature existed before their encounters with these sacred sanctuaries does not matter at the point that people start to care about these wonderlands. All that matters then is that people who have visited and enjoyed themselves now feel like they have a vested interest in the parks. Now that they have traveled through the park, they feel the weight of responsibility for their actions.

They also realize that everything they do, can produce an effect which, were they not there, never would have occurred. The more Pearly 4 aware and informed people are, the better the decisions they tend to make. There is even an organization called “Leave No Trace, Inc. ” which tries to inform visitors of ways they can reduce the amount of impact on the ecosystem during visits. The group has even compiled a list of seven “principles” that can help people lessen their impact on the land. 1. Travel and camp on durable surfaces 2. Leave what you find 3.

Plan ahead and prepare 4. Dispose of waste properly 5. Minimize campfire impacts 6. Respect Wildlife 7. Be considerate of other visitors While all these principles sound nice on paper, the amount that people adhere to them, and how effective they can be in reducing our footprint remains to be seen. When discussing the concept of “leaving not trace” one must begin to wonder about the impact of human travel. Even a foot-trail through a park is altering the natural landscape. The question of how much altering of the landscape is acceptable is not an easy one.

It has led to intense debate for over a century. Roads are one of the most obvious signs of human interference. While providing a route for visitors to come and enjoy the parks, they also obscure the natural landscape. I think most would agree that a road cutting through even the most pristine wilderness takes Pearly 5 something away from it. So, the parks need people, and people need roads. Or do they? A rather extreme solution might be to restrict road building all together. Access to areas could be achieved by a more “green” method such a bicycles, or walking.

There is also a major issue of dam building. Many a heated debate has occurred when discussing dam building. There are few things that alter the natural landscape like a dam. One would think that national parks would be free from man made structures such as dams. However this is not the case. For example in the 1930’s the federal Bureau of Reclamation proposed putting a dam in Dinosaur National Monument’s Echo Canyon. The purpose of this would be create a clean source of electricity using the power of the water flowing over the dam that would be built.

While many of the locals upstream from the dam liked the prospect of water in their dry canyon, they would be flooding one of the greatest fossil sites of the Jurassic. Let’s consider the interaction between people and animals. This has been a long and curious story. With the intention of making the park safer for visitors, park staff have, in the past, killed animals that were deemed a nuisance. This includes predatory animals such as wolf or bear, but also includes herbivores such as the elk. And while it is no longer legal for anyone to kill these animals, we have accepted a very shaky truce with them.

Humans entering parks are told specifically not to feed the animals. It is a warning that is not heeded as much as it needs to be. When wild animals are fed by humans they get conditioned to expect food from them. Therefore, they are more likely to come around humans hoping for food. This can be very dangerous! While wild animals can seem cute Pearly 6 and harmless they rarely are (harmless of course). Even something seemingly docile like a white-tailed deer can become aggressive and do severe damage, especially to an unsuspecting human. People frequently fail to realize that wild animals are just that; wild.

Wild translates into unpredictable. I’m sure I could get more than a few circus performers to agree with me. The irony of this whole situation is the greatest asset to national parks also happens to be their greatest downfall, Humans, while having the potential to create on a monumental level, also have a similar capacity for destruction. Even more confusing is that fact that the opinions of people on both sides of these issue have well founded, and very convincing arguments. National parks are an important part of American history and need to be preserved for the enjoyment of future generations.

Debate is good in the sense that any publicity is good publicity. As long as people feel strongly on both sides we are more likely to reach some sort of compromise. Pearly 7 Bibliography De Voto, Bernard. “Shall we let them ruin our national parks? ” Saturday Evening Post, July 22, 1950. Chittenden, Hiram Martin. The Yellowstone National Park Beckman, Wendy Hart. National Parks in Crisis: Debating the Issues (Berkley Heights: Enslow, 2004) Wendy Hart Beckman, National Parks in Crisis: Debating the Issues (Berkley Heights: Enslow, 2004) Beckman 18, 19 Beckman 65-68 Beckman 19, 20 Beckman 14, 15, 53

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