Our National Parks are in danger. Just like the rest of the natural world, humans are rapidly destroying the public lands we set aside for protection. If a change isn’t made soon, the iconic landscapes that define our country may not be here for future generations to enjoy.
In the year 2015, America’s National Parks attracted over 307 million visitors in total – the highest number on record by approximately 30 million. With this year being the centennial of the foundation of the National Parks Service, it seems likely that this record will be topped again. On the surface, it sounds amazing that so many people have had the opportunity to experience our National Parks, but with this mass pilgrimage to the Great Outdoors has come a multitude of adverse effects on the environment.
There are so many ways in which humans are damaging the fragile ecosystems of our parks: we create air and water pollution that enters from outside park borders, we are the cause of climate change that is rapidly melting glaciers in Montana, and we introduce invasive species that wipe-out native plants and animals, but equally as important is the destruction we cause simply by entering the parks themselves.
Thousands of people enter the National Parks every day, leaving trash and food where they don’t belong while trampling important vegetation instead of staying on designated hiking trails. This, in addition to packing small roads and parking lots with CO2 emitting vehicles, is increasingly overwhelming the parks’ ecology. As park attendance continues to rise these issues will continue to proliferate until the damage done is irreversible. It is not too late to take action, however, and I think that the National Parks Service and the federal government should start making some drastic changes promptly.
I don’t know whether the destruction of the National Parks is derived from a disrespect of the environment, a lack of knowledge about potential negative human impacts, or some combination of the two, but I think that more education about proper park etiquette and simple ecological systems would greatly improve people’s behavior when entering public lands. Although slightly more extreme, I also think that some action may also need to be taken to limit the number of people entering the national parks per year. This may be raising entrance fees, setting a cap on how many people can be in the park at one time, or some other government initiated action. Either way, through greater education and potential government intervention, the continuation of this “Tragedy of the Commons” scenario may hopefully be mitigated.
It is important that each of us does our part to ensure the continued thriving of America’s beautiful and unique landscapes protected as National Parks.