The 3 Best National Parks in the USA for Understanding Today’s Ecological Crisis
As a Goodfairian, you probably love the outdoors. But the outdoors doesn’t exist in a vacuum. The pristine wilderness of our National Parks might soon become a distant memory as our contemporary environmental issues play out. Learn more about conservation in the parks to protect their beauty.
Our National Parks are more than just playgrounds for outdoorsy people to frolic. They are becoming symbols of the crises of our time, whether it’s a lack of funding, climate change, or biodiversity loss.
Though they’re conservation areas, National Parks are unfortunately not immune to the pollution, invasive species and overwhelming crowds of first time visitors during the pandemic.
National Parks also remind us of our fraught history of settler colonization. When many national parks were established, native American tribes were forced to leave. Now, scientists are realizing what natives have known all along: their traditions and land stewardship actually helped to protect the beauty of the wilderness for centuries.
In spite of these challenges, our National Parks still play a hugely important role in the lives of nearly all Americans. They give us hope for improving our relationship with nature in the future. Here are three parks which demand our attention now.
Everglades National Park
The Everglades in southern Florida are teeming with life. Birds, amphibians, fish, both crocodiles and alligators, and unique species of water-going mammals like manatees all share the swampy heaven for biodiversity. It’s the largest sub-tropical wilderness in the United States and it contains nine different habitats.
Now the freshwater river that runs through it is sapped because of encroaching coastal development, farmland, and storm surges. The lack of freshwater is its primary risk.
Salt water is destroying the rich peat soil of the marsh, causing it to emit methane. This heat-trapping greenhouse gas is 30 times more damaging to the atmosphere than carbon dioxide.
The region is also overrun with invasive species, which can cause huge imbalances and die-offs for the populations of native species.
What’s being done: Actually the Everglades has received significant conservation funding: $10 billion over the course of 30 years. But as climate change continues to alter the coast lines from sea level rise, the Everglades will likely remain vulnerable.
Big Basin Redwoods National Park
Big Basin is the oldest park in California, known for its old growth towering giants. Some of the redwoods in the park are up to 1,800 years old. But last summer’s wildfires left the park with burn scars spanning 63,000 acres. The damage, according to the California Department of Parks and Recreation, was extensive.
Big Basin has survived extensive wildfires in the past, but with the persistence of fires we’ve seen each summer, it’s hard to know how long the trees can withstand the heat. On top of that, California only recovered from a historic drought a few years ago, and it continues to face water shortages, which adds to the likelihood of more raging fires.
Mesa Verde National Park
Some parks like Mesa Verde in southern Colorado are threatened due to highly polluting oil and gas exploration. This National Park exhibits the fascinating culture of the Pueblo cliff dwellers, with archaeological sites dating back to the 12th century. Opened in 1906, it was the first National Park to protect both natural and cultural heritage.
Now, the lands surrounding the park have become a hotspot for oil drilling speculation. A 2015 plan which is still in place maps out development sites for 1,000 new oil and gas wells, which could bring destructive roads, tanks, and pipelines to the neighboring area, as well as heighten the risk for wastewater spills.
A related incident at the nearby Canyon of the Ancients National Monument has left park water contaminated not just for people but all the species the park was designed to protect.
Want to help the parks? Support the National Park Conservation Association.