Paying for National Parks

Recently I saw a comment on a friend’s Facebook page from one of his British friends saying the idea of paying to get into a large parcel of land was something he couldn’t wrap his head around.  Being married to a European immigrant and having spent a fair amount of time in Central Europe, I can understand why someone unfamiliar with the system would feel that way.  National parks in Europe do not get the tourism that national parks in America do, nor do they have the amenities many of our parks do.  

This led me to think back to earlier this year when the National Parks Department toyed with the idea of raising entrance fees to many parks. There was outrage from a certain segment of the population and I just couldn’t understand why.  For one, the annual pass was going to remain at $80 per year (which is an absolute steal).  Two, if the park entrance goes from $35 to $45, is that really an outrage?  If you planned your whole family vacation around visiting this park, are you really going to change your plans over $10? Keep in mind for you unfamiliar, this entrance fee is good for seven days for your entire car.  So, to do the math, if you drive a minivan into the park with six people in it, that’s $1.07 per person, per day.  Are you telling me it’s not worth it now?  Where are you going to go instead?  Disneyland?

Our national parks and public lands are a bargain vacation.  Sure, you can rack up hotel bills, meals out, etc. but you can do that on any vacation.  If you’re willing to do a little work and hit the grocery store, you can save money and have enjoyable meals in the park.   

National Forests and Bureau of Land Management (BLM) land have few amenities, get less visitors and are usually free (some high trafficked areas might have small day use or campground fees).  However, our national parks get millions of visitors per year which means maintenance on roads, campgrounds, picnic areas, and educational services in addition to a larger number of rangers to serve and protect the visitors in a multitude of capacities.  Although rangers are famous for the hats that they wear, they wear many figurative hats from biologist to police officer.  

Personally, I enjoy getting away from the crowds in national parks and I like to frequent wilderness areas, BLM land and national forests.  These visits rarely cost me a dime.  My daughter, at six, has camped in dozens of these places already on family camping trips.  However, especially for a child, trips to our national parks are a cherished American tradition.  Where else can she see bison from the car or geysers shoot out of the ground?  These are magical places only ruined by the sheer number of other visitors who often have less than desirable manners.  

In 2019 Colorado is raising the price of certain hunting licenses and tags. It’s a few bucks.  While some people are getting upset about it, I’m more than happy to pay the extra money.  It’s still an absolute bargain for everything Colorado Parks and Wildlife does throughout the year.  Our national parks are the same, if you can’t see the value in what you’re paying for, maybe you just don’t value it enough.   

When Those Disconnected from Nature Attempt to Interact with the Wild

Yesterday, it was reportedthat the Oregon man who harassed bison in Yellowstone was convicted of the crime.  Earlier in the week, it was reported that the Governor of New Jersey, through executive order and not legislative action, ended bear hunting on public land in spite of New Jersey having the highest bear population density in the United States.  These are just the two latest examples of people ignorant of the wild making stupid decisions in or about the wild.

Forgive me if I sound like I’m preaching, but I’d be lying if I said this wasn’t endlessly irritating to me.  

In the case of the man from Oregon, most of us have seen this play out in person, especially if you’ve been to Yellowstone.  I’ve been to Yellowstone three times in the last year and if I’m being honest, I don’t need to go back no matter how beautiful it is.  I’ve had multiple bad experiences with people; everything from interfering with wildlife on the roads to incredible rudeness at Old Faithful.  However, this happens at every park and most recently I saw people lose their minds at the sight of a black bear in the Great Smoky Mountains, completely shutting down a road and wandering of within a few feet of a sow and her cubs just so they could get a closer picture.  

I’m mindful of the fact that for a lot of these people, it may be the first time they’ve seen a bear or a bison in the wild.  I understand and share their excitement.  It’s still incredibly cool to me after all these years and numerous bison and black bears I’ve seen – it never gets old.  However, people need to be aware that this is not the city, nor the suburbs.  These are very large and very powerful wild animals, they are not pets or domesticated farm animals.  More so than that, we’re on their turf, not the other way around.  

While this problem is multi-cultural, as a few scenes from the first season of Yellowstone shows, I expect more of Americans than I do our foreign visitors.  Most folks around the world have little to no wild places or animals and no way to know how to respect such places and things. Americans, on the other hand, should be taught about the North American Wildlife Model in either history or science class.  I know that this is probably never done, but it should be.  While it is impossible for one to know everything about every place and everything in a country as large as ours, if you’re touring national parks for the summer, shouldn’t you know at least a little something about what you’re getting yourself into?  Shouldn’t you research how to be safe and show respect wherever you go?

Furthermore, these are the same people susceptible to slick public relations campaigns funded by organizations like the Humane Society of the United States and PETA that cherry pick data and play on people’s emotions rather than presenting a scientific argument.  Then these people vote, either directly in some states, or at least for candidates who support radical anti-wildlife regulations.  This is how the people of New Jersey got Governor Phil Murphy.  

New Jersey and California are great examples of what is to come, especially here in Colorado as the liberal Front Range continues to grow with California refugees (most of whom are not like the Climers).  These states have incredibly wild areas but are politically controlled by densely populated urban areas.  Many of these urban people hike, climb, etc., they should understand how our wild places and wild animals are managed, but they don’t for the most part.  Most of us, myself often included, only care about and learn about things that directly affect ourselves.  All these people know is they want to go for a hike during the rut and not see hunters, they don’t understand the consequences of letting things “return to the wild” without human management.

Predator-Human interactions are increasing all the time.  This is both a good thing and a bad thing.  Obviously, these areas have healthy populations, but once that population grows to a certain size it will pass its carrying capacity, or the ability for the land to support the population of animals.  This is when bears, mountain lions and other predators will start migrating to new areas to look for food and once an animal, like a bear or mountain lion, learns that houses and cars are a great place to find food, they’ll keep coming back to those places.  This costs a lot of money to citizens, government agencies and insurance companies, not to mention the risk of direct human interaction with these creatures, especially small children.  Once an animal learns this, the only option is for the local government is to catch it, and in most cases, put it down.  

As I always say, these are nuanced issues with many causes, correlations and factors, but it is important that for the safety of citizens and visitors that we understand these issues and contribute to the management of our wonderful resources.  For those that wish us to leave things be and let “nature take care of its own”, beware of becoming a victim to the Law of Unintended Consequences.