It’s day twelve of the government shutdown, and the country has settled into a tired routine. Much of the shutdown discussion seems to have taken on a tone of resignation or half-hearted complaint, as the public watches while efforts at bipartisan talks collapse. Despite this trend towards passivity from sidelined Americans, there has been a lot of venom out there—some of it terribly misdirected.
I have been appalled at the extent of the vitriol and misinformation that’s floating around, especially regarding the role of the National Park Service in the closure of its 401 units around the country. Sites ranging from the Liberty Bell to Yosemite have been barricaded to visitors. Understandably, people are upset about being shut out of America’s most special places. For many travelers, a big national parks vacation is the trip of a lifetime: a pilgrimage to places of tremendous natural beauty and historic significance, planned for months or even years in advance. Being turned away at the gate is hurtful and costly. Read more
One good thing about the shutdown: it’s given me the time and mental space to do some writing, for the first time in a long time.
I started this blog in June of 2012. I updated it regularly until February, when a number of life events coincided to make writing well-nigh impossible. When I went on furlough (my scheduled furlough, that is) in August, I had lots of quality time in the backcountry. I did lots of journaling and vowed to take up writing again. I then came back to work at the beginning of September, and did a whole lot of … not writing. Read more
Less than one month ago, I posted a story about white-nose syndrome killing bats in Mammoth Cave National Park. Today, more bad news came from another national park site, Cumberland Gap National Historical Park, where white-nose has just been documented for the first time.
I contacted Katie Gillies, the imperiled species coordinator at Bat Conservation International, to ask what can be done to combat the spread of white-nose.
"There is an extensive amount of research being conducted on several fronts right now," she told me. "A few years ago, the fungus didn’t even have a name, and today the full genome has been mapped, sensitive molecular tools to detect it have been developed, and we understand the histology of the fungal invasion and believe we understand the proximate and ultimate causes of death."
Sad news today from Kentucky’s Mammoth Cave National Park, where Superintendent Sarah Craighead confirmed the death of a northern long-eared bat from white-nose syndrome, a deadly infection that affects bats that hibernate in colonies. It is named for the frosty white fungal growths that appear on the muzzles of sick bats.
Bat with white-nose syndrome. USFWS.
The 112th Congress will not go down in history as having accomplished much for conservation, but one of its last acts on Sunday night was to pass legislation promoting Pinnacles National Monument in California to full national park status.
The national park system currently includes 398 different units, with all kinds of different designations. The system includes not just national parks, but also national battlefields, national historic sites, national historical parks, wild and scenic rivers, and national memorials, among others. As a national monument, Pinnacles is already part of the park system, but its redesignation will make it the 59th national park. Read more
Should the Manhattan Project become the newest site in the national park system?
The Secretary of the Interior has submitted a letter to Congress recommending the creation of a Manhattan Project National Historical Park. If approved, the three sites that hosted most of the research and production facilities associated with the making of the world’s first atomic bomb could become the 399th unit managed by the National Park Service. Read more
I didn't give much thought to America's prairies until I moved to South Dakota. I grew up loving the hardwood forests of the Mid-Atlantic and New England states, then discovered the great western mountains as a college student. The grasslands of North America were something I skipped over, believing them flat, unvarying, and dull. What little I knew of prairie came mainly from childhood. Fourth-grade geography lessons, Little House on the Prairie, and the favorite Apple IIe game of eighties educators, Oregon Trail—these were the sources of the vague impressions I had about an ecosystem that historically occupied more than 1.4 million square miles of North America.
When I first came to work at Badlands National Park in 2008, the prairie took me by surprise. Far from being a pancake-flat plain with a boring lack of biodiversity, the grassland teems with life.
On July 30, 1994, an angler caught a white-spotted fish, just shy of 17 inches long, in Yellowstone Lake. The accompanying guide identified it as a lake trout, a species previously undocumented in Yellowstone Lake, and notified park rangers. Less than a week later, a second lake trout of similar size was caught and reported. As news of the find hit the media, more people came forward to report lake trout.
Yellowstone National Park recently announced that it had removed over 300,000 lake trout from Yellowstone Lake during its summer 2012 gill-netting operations. Yes, that’s three hundred thousand of the non-native, predatory fish pulled out of the lake, all in a single season. And many of them are real whoppers, like the one held by Park Service fisheries biologist Phil Doepke in the NPS photo at left.
Where did all these lake trout come from? Why does the park want them gone? How has the lake trout’s presence in Yellowstone Lake affected other organisms, such as the iconic cutthroat trout? Read more
On October 1, the National Park Service announced that it had approved a controversial proposal by power companies to upgrade the electrical lines running through Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area, a 70,000-acre park in New Jersey and Pennsylvania that straddles the Delaware River. Two weeks later, on October 15, a coalition of nine conservation groups including Earthjustice, the National Parks Conservation Association, the Delaware Riverkeeper Network, and the New Jersey Highlands Coalition filed suit in federal court to stop the powerline upgrade. Read more