Tag Archives: national park

National Parks might soon become smarter and more eco-friendly

Real-time information from environmental sensors could enable Britain’s natural parks to double as science stations, while also becoming more eco-friendly and pleasant to visitors.

A view of the northern ascent of Catbells (facing south) in the Lake District near Keswick, Cumbria, England. Photo by David Iliff, CC 3.0.

A walk in the park

Professor Edward Truch, a Director of the Connected Communities Research Lab at Lancaster University Management School, published a report called Parks: Bringing smart technologies to National Park. Within, he describes how parks could improve the overall park experience, while also saving money in the process and helping the natural environment cope with the increased number of visitors. These are situations with which parks all around the world are struggling, not just Britain.

“National Parks are under increasing pressure to deliver more for less and with population booms, visitor numbers are increasing – putting greater strain on the natural environment.”

Truch’s project relies on the so-called Internet of Things — embedding internet communication to a number of everyday objects, including sensors. The idea is that a group of simple real-time communication from simple sensors could make a big difference for both visitors and science.

For instance, they could tell drivers if and where there are available parking places, which could save a lot of hassle, and reduce emissions for needless driving. Similarly, it could tell park officials when bins are full and need picking up — again, ensuring that garbage trucks don’t make unnecessary rounds. It could also tell trekkers when a storm is incoming, or where the nearest rest point is. It could even tell them when they’re getting too tired, and the best part of it is that smart systems could do so with currently existing technology.

“Visitors are already making use of intelligent connected devices through apps like Google, Ordinance Survey and Booking.com for things like navigation and accommodation bookings. Some areas of the world are already drastically cutting traffic pollution by introducing ‘smart’ car parking systems, for example, directing individual motorists to available car parking spaces.”

Technology and nature

There’s a particular irony to using advancing technology to protect these natural landscapes, but this notion of a connected, Smart Park seems quite promising. After all, it doesn’t require a big shift in how the parks are managed, and if it could save money and make the entire process greener, what’s not to like?

Another potential benefit to this approach is that through data both from park sensors and the visitors themselves, researchers would be able to access a trove of valuable data, especially as environmental monitors and sensors are becoming cheaper and cheaper.

Ultimately, people can still enjoy a complete disconnect if that’s what they want. If you don’t want your phone to direct you to the nearest pub or tell you where to park, you can always just ignore it, or shut it down — though some will certainly find that impossible.

Almost all members of US National Park Service Board resign, citing apathy and indifference

The current US administration’s lack of interest in the environment creates another victim: two weeks ago, 10 out of 12 National Park System Advisory Board members have resigned on January 17, effectively leaving the US without a functioning body to designate national historic or natural landmarks. Since then, nothing has been done to address the situation.This highlights once again how marginalized and disregarded scientific agencies and advisory bodies have become in recent times.

The view of Yosemite Valley from Tunnel View in Yosemite National Park, California, United States. Photo by DAVID ILIFF. License: CC-BY-SA 3.0.

It’s no secret that US President Trump and the figures he has surrounded himself with are no friends of the environment, but their ability to disregard those things that aren’t on their agenda never ceases to amaze. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, who is responsible for the National Park System, reportedly refused to meet with National Park System (NPS) advisors even a single time.

The NPS advisors are chartered by Congress to advance the mission and ideals represented by National Parks. The institution has been in this current form since 1935 but now, citing a complete lack of interest from the administration, 10 out of the 12 advisors have resigned. They say that not even a single meeting was granted to them by the new interior secretary, and as things stand now, it’s futile to continue trying.

In a resignation letter, former Alaska Gov. Tony Knowles writes:

“[Our] requests to engage have been ignored and the matters on which we wanted to brief the new Department team are clearly not part of the agenda.” the letter reads.

“We understand the complexity of transition but our requests to engage have been ignored and the matters on which we wanted to brief the new Department team are clearly not part of its agenda,” Knowles wrote. “I wish the National Park System and Service well and will always be dedicated to their success.”

Aside from many other consequences, this also means that no new historical and natural landmarks will be established, as this requires the board’s approval.

In his quest to wipe out Obama’s legacy, President Trump has stopped at nothing — not at healthcare, not at science, and certainly not at the environment. E&E News points out that the current administration has simply scrapped the idea of having science and the public long-term interest at the forefront:

“At the heart of the dispute is the Trump administration’s move in August to scrap a 2016 order by the Obama administration that called for a focus on climate change in managing natural resources in U.S. parks. …

“Among other things, the order called for park managers to make decisions based ‘on science, law and long-term public interest.’ And it said park superintendents and other NPS leaders had to ‘possess scientific literacy appropriate to their positions and resource management decision-making responsibilities.’ “

The Department of Interior welcome the resignations and called their claims “blatantly false,” without providing any evidence of collaboration.

In June 2017, Zinke called for the elimination of 4,000 jobs from the Interior Department and supported the White House proposal to cut the department’s budget by 13.4%. The same month, Zinke ordered 50 Interior Department members of the Senior Executive Service to be reassigned. The scope of the move was unusual and has not yet been explained; scientist Joel Clement interpreted the move as retaliation against him “for speaking out publicly about the dangers that climate change poses to Alaska Native communities.”

In 2017, Zinke, who is a passionate trophy hunter, began reviewing at least 27 national monuments to determine if any of the monuments could be reduced in size. The Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument and Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument, as well as several others, are set to be shrunk as a result of this endeavor.

“Rogue” National Park Twitter Accounts Emerge After Trump Issues Media Ban

It all started when the official Twitter of the Badlands National Park in South Dakota started tweeting climate change facts. Then, they were deleted — and everything just went crazy. Like heads on a hydra, more and more National Park Twitter accounts emerged and/or started sharing climate stuff. Because you know, it’s the 21st century and freedom of information is a thing.

Smoky goes wild

The Badlands is a national park in southwestern South Dakota. It has some beautiful landscapes, some rare wildlife, but all in all, it’s a national park much like all others — except this week, the Badlands started an international discussion. Someone working there (or perhaps a former employee) started sharing factual information about climate change. If we wanted to nitpick we’d say that the data is not exactly accurate but that’s not really the issue here. The issue is that a national park tweeting climate facts is a problem — which let’s face it, just sounds strange.

Normally, it shouldn’t do more than raise some eyebrows. It’s not exactly the thing you’d expect to see on such an account, but in a normal context you’d maybe say they’re doing a climate awareness week or something. But this isn’t a normal context. The newly elected US administration is battling a full-fledged war against climate and has also issued a ban on media communications for several public agencies, including the Environmental Protection Agency. The tweets were deleted which, as anyone who’s been on the internet for more than two months expected, backfired. Everyone started talking about the tweets. They were featured on the BBC worldwide website and in the Washington Post and on CNN and on NPR and pretty much everywhere. So for starters:

Thank you to whoever deleted the Tweets!

You’ve probably managed to make more publicity for climate change than we do in a year — and that’s not all you did. A few more alternative National Park accounts have popped up, powered by current or former National Park staff acting as a self-described “resistance”. Most notably, the AltUSNatParkService (@AltNatParkSer) already has over 1 million fans, tweeting things such as:

Snarky remarks aside (such as the one below), I think they’re doing a great job and they absolutely have the moral highground. Politics shouldn’t dictate science, and one administration shouldn’t be allowed to push the country (and to an extent, the world) back decades in terms of sustainability. Furthermore, banning scientists from communicating with the public should never happen, and the fact that it has, and at such a large scale, with no valid reason, is truly terrifying. But I guess at least we all learned something about how the internet works, didn’t we?

 

10 Vintage National Park Posters that wanted to cure the Great Depression

Today, the United States is home to 59 national parks, designated protected areas for the enjoyment of the general public or the preservation of wildlife. The U.S. Congress is responsible for establishing National Parks, the first being Yellowstone in 1872.

In the mid-1930, at the height of the Great Depression, the Works Progress Administration and its Federal Arts Project was tasked with designing a series of inspirational posters to promote the landscapes and wildlife of America’s parks. Here is just a handful from the collection stored at the Library of Congress to celebrate 100 years since the National Park Service (NPS) was founded. 

When you’re broke, but at least you’ve got nature

Montana, United States Travel Bureau, late 1930s.

Montana, United States Travel Bureau, late 1930s.

Grand Canyon national park poster, National Park Service, circa 1938

Grand Canyon national park poster, National Park Service, circa 1938

Old Faithful erupting at Yellowstone national park, circa 1938

Old Faithful erupting at Yellowstone national park, circa 1938

Two bighorn sheep invite travelers to national parks, 1939.

Two bighorn sheep invite travelers to national parks, 1939.

Zion national park features on a poster circa 1938

Zion national poster, 1938.

The Arches national park in Utah, late 1930s.

The Arches national park in Utah, late 1930s.

Lassen Volcanic national park and the Lassen erupting, 1938.

Lassen Volcanic national park and the Lassen erupting, 1938.

Fort Marion in Florida, 1938.

Fort Marion in Florida, 1938.

Poster promoting tourism in America, late 1930s.

Poster promoting tourism in America, late 1930s.

All life is sacred in the national park, 1940.

All life is sacred in the national park, 1940.

Chinese-funded railway will pass through Kenya’s oldest National Park

A $13.8 bn railway project funded by China linking Nairobi to Mombasa will pass right through the Nairobi National Park. Although the park hosts a huge amount of tourism and boasts a very sensitive wildlife, authorities are adamant in seeing the railway built.

Image via Nairobi Camp.

The Nairobi National Park is very close to civilisation and relatively small for an African park, but it’s one of the more important ones. Migrating herbivores gather in the park during the dry season, and it is one of Kenya’s most successful rhinoceros sanctuaries.

The rail line will not change the boundaries of the park – it will pass straight through the middle instead of going around it; it will use a series of raised bridges about 1 km high and 20 meters tall.

So won’t building a railway straight through it harm or threaten this wildlife? Well, to be honest, I’m not sure. I couldn’t find any public study or risk estimate of the railway – it’s obviously less than ideal though.

Richard Leakey, who is board chairman of the Kenyan Wildlife Service said:

“Ideally, there should be no transportation in a national park.” But in his opinion, this sacrifice had to be made. “We have to find a solution to it,” he said. “We cannot say to the people of Kenya ‘Oh the railway can’t come through Nairobi Park so you won’t have a railway for five years.’”

But it’s not all bad; lots of money will be saved by pushing the line through the park, and some of them (an undisclosed amount) will be set aside in a fund dedicated to the upkeep of the park, officials said. Some say that this outweighs the risks.

“In a perverse way, because that bridge … is an example [of] an African nation that cares for wildlife and has gone out of its way to consider the interests of wildlife, it will actually attract people who want to see it,” said Leakey.

Personally, I’m not convinced – I’d like to read a study about this. But either way, this is how things are, and hopefully, officials will find a way to properly manage the park.

Koch-Backed Group Calls for no More National Parks

Remember the Koch brothers? They’re industrialists and businesspeople who own the second largest privately owned company in the United States (with 2013 revenues of $115 billion); their main business is in manufacturing, refining, and distribution of petroleum. There’s nothing wrong per se with working with fossil fuels, but the Koch brothers are on an entirely whole new level: they bribe scientists to speak against global warming, they’re lobbying to rewrite science textbooks and leave global warming out and they’re trying to make climate scientists look like terrorists – among many others. To sum it up, they invest a lot of money and they do a lot of lobby to make it seem like the oil business is doing nothing wrong. Now, it seems like they want to take National Parks off the table.

Bryce Canyon National Park. Image via What to see in.

 

In a recent op-ed published in Tuesday’s New York Times, Reed Watson, the executive director at the Koch-backed Property and Environment Research Center (PERC), called for no more National Parks.

“True conservation is taking care of the land and water you already have, not insatiably acquiring more and hoping it manages itself,” the op-ed reads. “Let’s maintain what we’ve already got, so we can protect it properly,” it concludes.

There’s something ironic in how the authors speak about “true conservation”, when they have pushed time and time again for the privatization of America’s national parks and other public lands – an idea heavily criticized by scientists. When you also consider that oil drillers have a personal interest in declaring no more National Parks, things start to become a bit more clear – more parks means less area where you can drill. Furthermore, PERC has received significant contributions from Koch-backed organizations, including from Donors Trust, which has been called the “dark-money ATM of the right.” Watson also criticized the protection of wilderness, arguing that “land management agencies [should] turn a profit” by removing restrictions on timber and energy development. All in all, he’s hardly the guy that should talk about “true conservation”.

But the op-ed moves even farther, asking to stop one of the few park programs which have actually been successful on a large scale: the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF). The LWCF is a Federal program that was established by Act of Congress in 1965 using funds from offshore oil and gas development fees to support the acquisition of land and water, and easements on land and water across the country. Members of Congress from both parties have called for full funding of the LWCF before it expires, precisely because it worked so good. But PERC doesn’t agree, and their oil and gas allies in Congress continue to back them up.

They do make one valid point: National Parks are understaffed and underfinanced, but the solution is obviously to fund them more, not to eliminate them or stop creating new parks. Hopefully, it won’t be this kind of lobby that decides environmental legislation in the US.

Ecuador To World: Pay Up To Save The Rainforest. World To Ecuador: Meh.

The government of Ecuador has abandoned a plan that would have kept part of the Amazonian rainforest off limits to oil drilling – as it turns out, one of the world’s biggest and most special natural parks lies on top of one of the world’s biggest (yet) unexplored oil fields; a classic case of nature vs oil, environment vs money. The plan was unusual, although not unreasonable: Ecuador was promising to keep the oil in the ground, but they required money to do so.

The Yasuni National Park covers an area of 9,820 square km, and it is quite possibly the most biologically diverse spot on Earth. The park is at the center of a small zone where amphibian, bird, mammal, and vascular plant diversity all reach maximum levels. Furthermore, the park breaks world records for local-scale (less than 100 square km) tree, amphibian, and bat species richness, and is one of the richest spots in the world for birds and mammals at local scales. But the Yasuni National Park is also home to an estimated 800 million barrels of crude oil – 20% of Ecuador’s reserves. Scientists, environmentalists and politicians urged the Ecuadorian government not to drill, and when the Yasuni-ITT Initiative was launched, it was hailed as a fantastic precedent to protect wildlife environments.

The idea was that Ecuador receives $3.6 billion, an estimated half of what it would get by drilling, and protect the rainforest, stopping all drilling initiatives. During the 6 years of this initiative however, only $336 million had been pledged, president Correa said, and of that only $13.3 million had actually been delivered. So when he announced scraping the initiative, a strong, firm reaction from the rest of the wrld was expected… except the reaction didn’t come. Nobody seems to care – at least not enough to pledge the money.

Ecuador set up a fund through the United Nations. Some countries, companies and even individuals pledged money – but it was nowhere near good enough. So now the question is… can you even blame Ecuador?

“The world has failed us”, president Correa said, calling the world’s richest countries hypocrites who emit most of the world’s greenhouse gases while expecting nations like his to sacrifice economic progress for the environment.

yasuni 2

As much as it pains me to say it… he’s right. The world has passed up on this possibly historical opportunity. Ecuador tried putting a price tag on the environment… but the world said it was too high. Where do we go from here?