Spiral Notebook
Closing National Parks Harms More Than Tourists
by Mary Kay Carson
October 10, 2013
Closing National Parks Harms More Than Tourists

Because of the federal government shutdown, all national parks, monuments, and recreational area across the United States are currently closed. Shuttering the national parks has ruined vacations, delayed weddings, and hurt businesses that depend on visitors. But tourism isn’t the only victim of the national park closings. Science is suffering, too. The National Park Service (NPS) is entrusted with protecting America’s most treasured landscapes and life forms for future generations. They need science to do that. NPS scientists continually track wildlife, monitor volcanoes, measure glaciers, collect weather information, and restore habitats to properly manage and preserve the natural resources of the parks. But right now they can’t do their jobs. Furloughed park rangers and scientists can’t collect data. NPS scientists aren’t the only ones with interrupted research projects. All kinds of scientific research goes on in national parks. The parks are like natural laboratories and living museums. Animals and plants that live nowhere else exist in national parks. Where else can an ecologist study a herd of bison for decades? Science is important for managing the natural resources of parks, but parks are also important places for doing science itself. Photographer Tom Uhlman and I learned this first hand while working on our upcoming Scientist in the Field book, Park Scientists: Gila Monsters, Geysers, and Grizzly Bears in America’s Own Backyard. Let’s hope the scientists working in our most treasured places are able to get back to work soon—very soon.

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