America's National Parks: Paradise in Peril?
By KRISTEN STERNBERG | NIE Educational Consultant
The United States has a rich legacy in its national parks. From pristine forests and waters, to endangered habitats, to archaeological sites, The National Parks System protects our designated parks for many reasons. They help to preserve diverse sites with unusual geographical features or outstanding scenic beauty and recreation potential (for outdoor sports and other activities). Sites of historical significance (including many lighthouses, museums and historical battlefields) and ecological importance (such as wetlands or other threatened habitats) are also a part of our parks system's rich heritage. Protecting endangered plant and animal species is another important component of the parks system. Wildlife sightings, such as those described in this recent report about a Florida panther - right here in Central Florida-would almost certainly not be possible if people hadn't had the foresight to set aside lands to protect endangered plant and animal species.
Fun was the word most heard at Tomoka State Park's Johns Island Preserve as about 80 middle and high school students scattered in the marshes and pine flatwoods doing hands-on science. (Photo: News-Journal/Nigel Cook)
Threats to our national parks come from many directions. Some are wide ranging, like acid rain and other pollutants. Pollution can harm environmentally sensitive habitats and tamper with the delicate balance of plant and animal life. Altering habitats artificially, as in the systematic draining of water from Everglades National Park that took place during the 20th century, meant loss of habitat and encouraged growth of invasive plants, creating an imbalance whose effects we are struggling to overcome today.
Some threats come from groups whose priorities sometimes seem at odds with nature. From time to time, legislators try to change laws to allow different kinds of activities. One such activity is drilling for oil. Proponents of drilling inside national park boundaries cite our tremendous need for natural resources like oil, gas and minerals. Some experts believe that there is a wealth of natural resources in the ground beneath many parks, and there are constant debates over whether or not to allow drilling. Natural gas pipelines are also an issue. Check out one popular viewpoint by reading this News-Journal article about the hazards of pipelines, many of which traverse areas of our national parks system.
The huge numbers of park visitors are also taking their toll on the landscape. Record numbers of visitors flock to our national parks to camp, fish, swim, hike and more. Follow the link in this paragraph to read a recent News-Journal article about Florida's State Parks System, and use what you learn to try to imagine how many tourists visit our national parks each year! When you read the article, you'll also find out if state parks in your county set attendance records this year. Even people who visit parks only to appreciate their beauty and diversity leave their mark on the landscape. An increase in visitors means corresponding increases in roads, campgrounds, buildings, concessions, car and bus exhaust fumes, litter and more. As the human population increases, we're faced with the challenge of preserving the delicate balance between the needs of our plant and animal life and the needs and wants of people.
The U.S. House of Representatives has recently backed President Bush's plan for authorized drilling in another part of Alaska. What effects do you think this drilling might have on habitat? Here's another scoop: An area of Denali National Park, a huge wilderness park in Alaska, has recently been declared off limits to humans. No one is allowed to visit except the group of scientists who designed and are studying effects of this experiment. What do you think they might learn? What do you think will happen in America's National Parks? Before you make up your mind, check out the activities and links below.
Try these interesting activities using The News-Journal
- Have you heard the slogan "Reduce, Reuse and Recycle? Look through your newspaper's Classified section and locate at least five used items for sale. Brainstorm ways you might "reduce, re-use or recycle" each item. (Sunshine State Standards: SC.D.2.2.1)
Team struggles to carry an old cast iron bathtub out of the woods next to the St. Johns River during the annual St. Johns River cleanup. (Photo: News-Journal/Kelly Jordan)
- Use your newspaper and other resources to make up clues that describe one of our national parks. Invite others to solve the clues that will identify your mysterious place. Provide hints about the destination, such as the wildlife or historical or geographical features found there. (Sunshine State Standards: LA.A.2.2.5, LA.C.1.2.3)
- How are people using technology to help preserve our environment? Go on a newspaper treasure hunt to find pictures, articles and ads that show products designed to protect our natural resources. Make and then display a poster of your clippings. (Sunshine State Standards: SC.B.2.2.2, SC.B.2.2.3, SC.D.2.2.1, SC.G.1.2.1)
- All living things draw support from their surrounding environment. This environment is called their habitat. Use your newspaper to locate a photo of an outdoor scene or habitat. Brainstorm a list of different organisms (plants and animals) that might live in the habitat shown in the photo. (Sunshine State Standards: SC.B.1.2.1, SC.B.2.2.2, SC.B.2.2.3, SC.F.1.2.2, SC.G.1.2.7)
- Recycling newspapers is an excellent way to conserve some of our natural resources. Millions of tons of newspapers are recycled every year, thus helping to conserve forests. For ideas on how to create crafts projects using the newspaper, go to www.nieworld.com. In the "Browse By Topic" box, find "Read and Recycle" and click on "Go." After you and others are finished with the newspaper, be sure to put it in where it will be recycled! (Sunshine State Standards: SC.D.2.2.1)
A copy of Florida's Sunshine State Standards can be found at intech2000.miamisci.org.
Check out these links to learn more
Our National Parks System offers unlimited opportunities to learn about nature, science, people and history, and you can take advantage of these online. Take a look at this National Parks System Web site. You'll find links to America's past with topics such as the Revolutionary War, for example, and maps like this one of Everglades National Park.
Here's a site where you can learn more about Florida's Everglades: its history, plants, animals and more. Be sure to check out the work that's being done to restore the Everglades. Be sure to follow this link for some other national parks programs. Learning about wild animals, playing games and getting tips on how to photograph scenery and wildlife may help appreciate your national parks even more. Then, take a look at these games, read some interesting facts and inspect national parks from A - Z at this Yahooligans site about our national parks.
Take a look at an interesting on-line newspaper article that describes our parks' history in terms kids can appreciate. In the article, the reporter mentions a danger to our national parks not discussed above. Give yourself a gold star if you can identify this additional way in which visitors are threatening our national parks' resources. (A possible answer, according to the reporter is: People are stealing plants, rocks, trees, minerals and more to take home with them, and our parks are suffering because of it.)
The Newspaper Association of America's web site contains links to many newspapers in the U.S. and around the world. Visit the site and check some of them out, to see if they have recently published any articles about America's National Parks System. To access the newspapers at the site, select a state. Click on the "Internationals" button to view choices from other countries.
The Daytona Beach News-Journal NIE Program, published August 20, 2001