America’s National Parks Need Our Help Now More Than Ever

Upper Yosemite Fall at Yosemite National Park, one of the crown jewels of America’s national park system. Photo by Steven T. Callan.

America’s National Parks Need Our Help Now More Than Ever

Upper Yosemite Fall at Yosemite National Park, one of the crown jewels of America’s national park system. Photo by Steven T. Callan.

Upper Yosemite Fall at Yosemite National Park, one of the crown jewels of America’s national park system. Photo by author.

I’ve always believed that our national parks and our national monuments were as secure as Yosemite’s Half Dome: solid as a rock, inviolate, and well-protected from those who would try to diminish or exploit them. Sadly, that’s not the case.

Made of solid granite, Half Dome lies at the eastern end of Yosemite Valley, in Yosemite National Park. Photo by Steven T. Callan.

Made of solid granite, Half Dome lies at the eastern end of Yosemite Valley, in Yosemite National Park. Photo by author.

In May of 2014, I wrote an article titled “America Needs Parks Now More Than Ever.” At the time, there was a concerted effort  afoot in Congress to gut the 1906 Antiquities Act and prevent more wildlands from being declared national monuments, a designation placing them out of the reach of corporate profiteers and often a stepping stone to national park status. Fortunately, the effort to gut the Antiquities Act failed in 2014, but it is now back with a vengeance. A year after we celebrated their centennial, our national parks need our support more than ever.

Manzanita Lake and Mount Lassen in Lassen Volcanic National Park. Photo by Steven T. Callan.

Manzanita Lake and Mount Lassen in Lassen Volcanic National Park. Photo by author.

Forty-nine of the 157 national monuments created by past Republican and Democratic presidents have been elevated to national park status, among them the Grand Canyon, Lassen Peak, Zion, Joshua Tree, and the Channel Islands—all sites Kathy and I have visited and become emotionally, if not spiritually attached to. How could anybody visit one of those special places and not be thankful for the compassion, wisdom, and forethought of presidents Theodore and Franklin Roosevelt? Theodore Roosevelt summed up the need to set aside these natural wonders in this passage which remains relevant today:

There can be nothing in the world more beautiful than the Yosemite, the groves of the giant sequoias and redwoods, the Canyon of the Colorado, the Canyon of the Yellowstone, the Three Tetons; and our people should see to it that they are preserved for their children and their children’s children forever, with their majestic beauty all unmarred.

Joshua Tree National Park offers one scenic rock formation after another. Photo by Steven T. Callan.

Joshua Tree National Park offers one scenic rock formation after another. Photo by author.

Our parks and wild places face threats today like never before. Members of Congress are still engaged in efforts to gut the Antiquities Act and stifle legislation intended to save wilderness and establish new parks. The White House has proposed cutting the Department of Interior’s already limited budget by 12% in its blueprint for fiscal year 2018. On April 26, President Trump signed an executive order that could result in the rescinding or reduction in the size of national monuments, potentially opening them up to drilling, mining, and other development. Recently, the president ordered a review of so-called 9B rules, which govern oil and gas extraction in the national parks. If you thought, as I did, that national park status meant hands off to those who would exploit what lies beneath, think again. To make matters worse, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke has recently signed an order removing a moratorium on coal leases on federal lands.

Author Steven T. Callan at Channel Islands National Park. Photo by Kathy Callan.

Author at Channel Islands National Park. Photo by Kathy Callan.

Statistics show that Americans crave nature, wildlands, and open space. Attendance records at our national parks, which have been shattered every year for the last three years, clearly prove that, with 292.8 million visitors in 2014, 307 million visitors in 2015, and 331 million visitors recorded in 2016. Studies have also linked spending time in nature with better physical and emotional health. Our parks don’t just need us—we need them.

Kathy standing next to one of the tallest trees on Earth, in Redwood National and State Parks. Photo by Steven T. Callan.

Kathy standing next to one of the tallest trees on Earth, in Redwood National and State Parks. Photo by author.

Contrary to the view that we can’t afford any more parks, I would argue that parks are a huge boon to the economy. Nationally, national park visitors spent an estimated $18.4 billion in local gateway regions during 2016. California ranked number one in spending and economic output generated by national park visitors that same year. Lassen Volcanic National Park visitors contributed $32.6 million to Redding and other surrounding communities, supporting 478 jobs. Whiskeytown National Recreation Area visitors spent $37.7 million in the area and supported 546 jobs. Redwood National and State Parks visitors spent $34.3 million over on our beautiful North Coast, supporting 548 jobs in 2016. Down south at Yosemite, one of the crown jewels of our national park system, visitors contributed a whopping $520.6 million to the regional economy, supporting an incredible 7,900 jobs.

Mill Creek at Whiskeytown National Recreation Area. Photo by Kathy Callan.

Mill Creek at Whiskeytown National Recreation Area. Photo by Kathy Callan.

It’s not just people who benefit from our parks and national monuments. Habitat provided by these public lands has proved critical to the survival of many of our high-profile wildlife species, including elk, bighorn sheep, condors, pronghorn, and grizzly bears.

The creation of Prairie Creek State Park, now part of Redwood National and State Parks, was critical to the survival of Roosevelt elk, which numbered only 15 in 1925. Photo by Kathy Callan.

The creation of Prairie Creek State Park, now part of Redwood National and State Parks, was critical to the survival of Roosevelt elk, which numbered only 15 in 1925. Photo by Kathy Callan.

Our elected officials have a moral and ethical obligation to save what’s left of our most precious natural resources in parks, refuges, preserves, and national monuments, for future generations, as Theodore Roosevelt and other farsighted leaders did for those of us living today. It’s up to us to remind them of their duty.

National parks provide recreation as well as inspiration: fly fishers at Manzanita Lake in Lassen Volcanic National Park. Photo by Kathy Callan.

National parks provide recreation as well as inspiration: fly fishers at Manzanita Lake in Lassen Volcanic National Park. Photo by Kathy Callan.

This piece originally appeared as my May 12, 2017 “On Patrol” column in My Outdoor Buddy and Nor Cal Fish Reports.

Steven Callan
2 Comments
  • Matt Callan
    Reply

    Great article, Steve. Thanks for reminding people of the importance of preserving our National Parks.

    May 20, 2017 at 11:43 am

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