I asked my boyfriend what I should write on this week, and while looking at a picture of a tree he said, “how about the problems facing our national parks?” That sounded like a good topic to me, since I’m always interested in environmental topics. Then I learned that August 25 of this year is actually the centennial of the National Park Service. So thank you Aaron for the idea, and Happy Birthday, NPS!
Now, here are 10 problems that our national parks are facing, in no particular order. I gathered much of my information from National Geographic, as well as a few other sources included in hyperlinks throughout the article.
1. Waste Management
According to the National Parks Conservation Association, a study conducted by Subaru and the NPCA found that many Americans are unaware of the waste issues facing our National Parks. However, 4 in 5 Americans are willing to do something about it. Perhaps not surprisingly, a small range of everyday items are the main culprit for the waste issues, because they are the main waste items sent to landfills. Plastic waste mainly, including items such as “water bottles, plastic bags, non-recyclable or compostable food packaging, and paper hot cups.”
2. Air Pollution
Smog from nearby cities can cause issues for the parks. They can disrupt views, harm plants and wildlife, and negatively affect the water supplies. It can also deter human visitors and cause problems for them as well.
The Great Smoky Mountains are suffering from smog from nearby power plants and industrial centers. The smog then gets trapped between the mountains and lingers around the park.
3. Things Are Getting Old
Many of the national parks are designed to preserve landmarks from early in our history such as Independence Hall. Many of these locations are aging and need repair, but as I will discuss later in this list, the park service has a tight budget and has trouble keeping up.
4. Wildlife Trouble
Because most national parks are not secluded and sectioned off in a definite way, the surrounding areas are often developed into residential areas, or used for logging, farming, mining, and many other things. This endangers wildlife, because the protected animals can’t understand the parks boundaries and venture in and out of the protected area to find what they need. The land around national parks need to be protected too.
5. Invasive Species*
Invasive species may also be a problem. Other species grow their way into the areas of protected species in the park and cause problems, such as the fish-killing parasite in the Yellowstone River.
*There is a book that comes to mind on why invasive species may actually be a good thing (“nature’s salvation,” in fact). I have not read this book, so I don’t feel comfortable saying that they are definitely bad without reading the book’s argument first.
6. Climate Change
This isn’t a difficult conclusion, since climate change affects the whole planet it affects the national parks too. For example, glaciers may melt and fire seasons may extend.
7. Water Shortages
Human demand mixed with drought and climate change cause water shortages in many parks. For example, the Colorado River runs through ten national parks (including the Grand Canyon) and is being drawn from for farmlands and cities.
8. Tourist Attraction: Too Much and Not Enough
Overcrowding is a problem in some parks; however, in other lesser known parks, there aren’t enough tourists coming through to support the park. So, look up lots of little parks to visit, not only the famous ones. The little ones are fun too! In the more famous parks, such as Yellowstone, many people snowmobile, ski, mountain bike, and enjoy other hobbies. This adds to the experience of the park in some ways, but hurts it in some ways too.
9. Budget Problems
As alluded too before, the National Park Service doesn’t receive the amount of funds that it needs to support and maintain all of the parks in the way they need to be maintained. According to National Geographic, there is a $9.5 billion maintenance backlog that the NPS is waiting on to upkeep the parks.
Mining and drilling for energy can hurt the ecosystems of the parks, and can also contribute to the smog problems that hurt the organisms and the water supply.
If this piqued your interest, and you’d like to learn more, here is a link to the National Parks Conservation Association. This website has a lot to offer in terms of information, as well as things you can do to help. I’ve briefly summarized some of the topics here, but there’s always more to learn!
In case you’re curious about the origin of our national parks and would like to know more of the history, here is a link to the National Park Service’s page about the history of the parks.