Since 1991, Wildlands Network has worked to reconnect, restore and rewild North America so that life in all its diversity can thrive. We are building continental-scale Wildways that protect large swaths of land and provide humans and animals room to roam freely. These Wildways depend on large protected areas like national parks and other federal lands across the continent as the building blocks of connectivity. It’s imperative these areas remain protected accessible to all, so that humans and animals alike can enjoy these refuges of biodiversity for generations to come.
The Benefits of a Protected Landscape
The idea of protecting certain lands as national parks began with an act of Congress on March 1, 1872 when they established Yellowstone National Park “as a public park or pleasuring-ground for the benefit and enjoyment of the people.”
The park’s designation came after and benefitted greatly from the thinking around the Yosemite Grant, signed into law by Abraham Lincoln on June 30, 1864. The grant gave California almost 40,000 acres of Yosemite Valley and the Mariposa Grove, and it was the first time in history that a piece of land was set aside for enjoyment by the general public. This grant paved the way for all Americans inspired by their landscapes and the beauty of these special places to set them aside as national parks for the enjoyment of everyone forever.
The national park system of the United States now covers more than 84 million acres in 50 states and 400 different areas. Sixty protected units bear the prestigious title of “National Park.” These lands in particular—frequently called “Americas Best Idea”—have come to serve a greater purpose than mere human enjoyment: They now have become safe havens of protected biodiversity in a landscape increasingly fragmented by roads, development, and more intensive use.
These sweeping landscapes also serve as ambassadors of science and conservation. With a surge in visitation in the last 5 years, totaling nearly 1.5 billion visits, national parks provide prime opportunities for the general public to learn and visibly witness large ecosystem functions and native wild species. They act as reserves for our dwindling biodiversity, and they are key to our vision of a Wildway, providing the building blocks with which we can realize our vision of a connected landscape.
National Parks Belong to All
However, these landscapes are in need of our continued support. To allow national parks to continue serving their original visionary purpose of providing a living example of ecosystems that inspire everyone, they must remain accessible to all of our public, including low income populations.
Recently, we read with interest the Trump Administration’s decision to scale back the original fee proposal for national parks toward a more modest fee increase. The original proposal would have significantly increased entrance fees to as high as $70 during peak seasons at 17 of the most visited national parks, including Yellowstone, Yosemite, Grand Canyon and Acadia national parks.
Although we recognize our national parks need an influx of funding to support the increased visitors and maintenance backlog, doubling (and in some cases, tripling) fees at popular parks may have limited the educational opportunities and outdoor benefits these parks provide to every person, especially if some populations couldn’t even afford to get in the door.
National parks and the concept of protecting these landscapes for the benefit of the general public are an essential part of our American character. Countless prose, paintings and pictures draw inspiration from our majestic American landscapes, and many families continue to take pleasure in and benefit from enjoying these treasured places. Hindering this inspiration and the pleasure derived from these landscapes would be a long-term detriment to our future. After the Trump Administration’s fee proposal, it was clear the American public understood that when they exercised their voices to protect access to these special places.
Sceretary Zinke’s proposal to increase fees at parks was incredibly controversial. According to the National Park Conservation Association, over 98% of the more than 100,000 public comments received were in opposition to the fee increase. In response to the overwhelming public opposition to a large increase in fees to a smaller subset of “popular” parks, the Department of Interior modified the proposal to increase fees at a smaller rate at the 117 national park units that currently charge a fee. The two-thirds of our national park units that are free to visitors will remain so.
The modified proposal seeks to raise fees by a modest amount, which will take effect on June 1, 2018. These modest fees will provide some relief to the maintenance backlog at our parks without excluding low-income populations who may not have been able to afford higher entrance fees.
Your Voice Matters
Zinke’s compromise is a great result indeed, but it’s worth noting something even more important: The public voice matters. The public voice is what guaranteed continued access to our shared heritage for generations.
Secretary Zinke cited the public’s overwhelming opposition to the fee increase as one of the reasons he reconsidered the original fee hike proposal. His decision is evidence that we—the public—must continue to play an active role in managing our own resources. They belong to us, after all.
Our public lands comprise our shared heritage, and we should continue to remain connected to them—not just in cyberspace, but on the ground, too.
Wildlands Network will continue to support sound management of our public lands, and we encourage all of you to use your voices, pens, and computers to join us. Our public lands comprise our shared heritage, and we should continue to remain connected to them—not just in cyberspace, but on the ground, too. Our voice matters now and will shape the future for the next generation. Help us ensure that the lands our children inherit are more connected, more wild, and more free, allowing all species to thrive!
Wildlands Network provides updates and opportunities for our supporters to provide comments on issues impacting areas we work to protect. For more information, please sign up for our newsletters and invitations to take action on important issues. We would love to have you join the thousands of other supporters using their voices to protect our public lands. Your voice matters.
Take a moment to thank Secretary Zinke for listening to the American public. Encourage him to keep listening to the voice of the people. Together, we can make a difference!