November 19, 1995
Re: Closing the National Parks: Long Overdue!
We have finally done the right thing with our national parks, even if for the wrong reason. Recently, the parks have deteriorated into human playgrounds. Nothing except lack of funds is preventing them from being turned onto amusement parks barely distinguishable from Great America, Marine World, and Disneyland. In the "Preserve, Protect, and Enjoy" formula, the first two terms have quietly been dropped (as a ranger at the Grand Canyon told me).
Human beings think they own every square inch of the Earth, and that they therefore have the right to do what they want with it. This absurdity is what underlies the "Private Property" myth, but it is also gradually swallowing our parks as well. Sadly, everyone has forgotten that the only thing that makes parks worth visiting is the wildlife that live there: it is precisely the wildlife (and paucity of humans) that make a park a park. Without wildlife (i.e., all nonhuman, nondomesticated species -- plants as well as animals), the parks would be boring piles of bare rock.
This is precisely the reason that we are losing species at an unforgivable rate: we have crowded wildlife out of its habitat. Even in our parks, where we have vowed to protect them, they are not protected from hikers, equestrians, park "managers", firefighters, mountain bikers, airplanes, helicopters, cars, roads, concessionaires, or biologists. We call hiking and camping "compatible" activities, but I doubt that the wildlife would agree.
Yes, managing a human playground, which tries to provide nearly every amenity that can be found in the city, is expensive. But managing parks as they should be managed -- as wildlife habitat, with an absolute minimum of human access (e.g. a road to the edge of the park, with no parking lot) -- would be a lot cheaper, and would give the parks their only chance of surviving intact into the next century.
Michael J. Vandeman, Ph.D.