Do Tourists Degrade National Parks?

The Sierra Club believes that national parks and areas like my own cannot be effectively defended if they do not build up a constituency of political support by allowing more and more visitors to enjoy them. In other words, we need to degrade our treasures in order to promote their preservation. This is a pernicious argument.Ā  Read more here.

16 Responses to Do Tourists Degrade National Parks?

  1. Ann Novek May 11, 2009 at 4:54 pm #

    I detected a very rare red-footed falcon in my near neighbourhood and reported this to the Ornithologist Society. Some people were very keen on where did I detect this bird. However , I’m not keen on that many people visit my special bird eldorado, I want to keep it out from mass tourism.

  2. Larry May 11, 2009 at 9:44 pm #

    Jennifer, you wrote:
    “The Sierra Club believes that national parks and areas like my own cannot be effectively defended if they do not build up a constituency of political support by allowing more and more visitors to enjoy them. In other words, we need to degrade our treasures in order to promote their preservation.”

    You’re our resident expert on Australian national parks. But in terms of Merkin national parks, you may be overstating the case a bit. I’m not sure that our two countries’ concepts of national parks are identical.

    Background. There are three federal agencies that administer vast tracts of public land in the U.S. The National Park Service focuses on preservation, conservation, and recreation in what are considered to be our gems of scenic beauty. The Forest Service manages a larger area, and it operates under a multiple use philosophy that includes these elements plus sustainable forestry, watershed management, etc. The Bureau of Land Management oversees a lot of desert and grazing land in the West. To complicate matters, roadless zones, called Wilderness Areas can be found in National Parks AND in some National Forests.

    Now back to the Loving-Nature-To-Death issue. Let’s consider Yosemite NP, in California’s Sierra Nevada Mountains. Before it was’ locked up’ in a national park, there was some logging in the area. I’m glad that it’s more protected now. Problem is: There are a zillion tourists from all over the world who descend on photogenic Yosemite Valley every year. Everyone in California knows that it’s a zoo during the prime Summer season. Serious Nature buffs tend to visit Yosemite Valley in mid-Spring, when there’s just enough snow on the ground to scare away the screaming hordes, and when the gorgeous all-red snow plants poke through the thin snow cover.

    Are we loving Yosemite to death? Yosemite Valley maybe. But the roadless high country–from Tuolumne Meadows to Mts. Lyle and McClure, for example–is every bit as charming as the valley itself. And most tourists never give it a second thought. One cynical perspective is that the valley is a buffer zone to protect the high country from the blight of logging and rich peoples’ Summer houses.

    One of the best-kept secrets in California is that there are many places in the Sierra that are almost as beautiful as Yosemite, but on a smaller scale. I know some of the ones in the Tahoe Sierra, to the North of Yosemite. This is all on Forest Service land. From Sacramento, in the Central Valley, I can drive there in 2 hours or so.

    Yosemite doesn’t spoil anything for me. And I don’t see swarms of people grabbing up houses in Merced, so that they can live close to Yosemite. The crowds do detract from the experience of visiting Yosemite Valley. But you can still experience some solitude in Yosemite’s high country. Or better still, visit the lesser known Kings Canyon NP, just South of Yosemite.

    But the national park situation in Oz is probably different in some ways.

  3. jennifer May 12, 2009 at 9:14 am #

    Thanks for the information – and I should have made it clearer the post was a direct quote. Yes, the situation in the states versus Australia is probably different – and I know nothing about the Sierra Club.
    I would love to visit the Sierra Nevada sometime – I have read a bit about the frogs and the problem with the fungus disease.
    My interpretation of what you have written about Yosemite Valley is that there are a lot of tourists who might interfer with one’s enjoyment if one was after a bit of solitude but that they aren’t seriously impacting on the area as say logging might?
    What about sending me a photograph or two of one of these regions and some history – to post?
    We get a lot of tourists in the Blue Mountains – but they mostly stick to the established tracks and signposted lookouts. They don’t wander much.

  4. Larry May 12, 2009 at 4:46 pm #

    Jennifer, you wrote:
    “What about sending me a photograph or two of one of these regions and some history – to post?”

    Sure, I’d be happy to. But I have some big gaps in my computer skills. I tried to send you a couple of emails. I clicked on the email link, and there was a problem. I suspect that it’s because I’m a cheapskate, and use web-based mail. So I tried sending the emails to you directly, by copying your email link, but apparently they did not get through. If worst comes to worst, I could simply put up a couple of links to photos in a posting here. Does phpBB code for hot-linking work here?

    One nice thing about California mountain hiking is that once you get above 1300 m or so, it’s reasonably safe to go off-trail, if you have good navigation skills. (At the lower elevations, there’s poison oak and paranoid cannabis farmers.) If I tried off-trail hiking in Australia, I’d probably get bitten by a King Brown!

    I love the Sierras. But I think that a biologist would also appreciate the Klamath Mountain System in the the extreme Northern part of the state, which continues on into Southern Oregon. It’s an island of botanical diversity. For example, the Weeping Spruce–now popular as an ornamental tree–grows in the wild only up there. If you go hiking in the Trinity Alps (part of the Klamath Mountains) you may even have a friendly encounter with a Bigfoot! *just kidding*

  5. jennifer May 13, 2009 at 4:43 pm #

    Hey, Sorry about the emailing glitches. Yes, post some links in this thread with some information and maybe I can pick it up here and repost? And a picture of Bigfoot šŸ™‚

  6. Larry May 13, 2009 at 10:39 pm #

    Here’s a link to a photo of two all-red Snow Plants taken last June on our hike along the Silver Fork Trail, by a Thai-American woman, named Aom.

    Zillions of years ago, Snow Plants were green, but they became increasingly adept at extracting nutrients from the soils in the mid-elevation Sierra forests where they live. Then one fine day, they came to a group epiphany: Hey, we don’t need photosynthesis anymore! These days, the above-ground part of a Snow Plant is essentially one big flower.

    Some Snow Plants have a few vestigial leaves at the base, but they’re red too. Snow Plants are ‘living proof’ (to use the Fundie expression) of Evolution.

  7. Larry May 14, 2009 at 7:59 am #

    In his day, Ansel Adams was the one of the most famous Nature photographers in the U.S. He even had a Wilderness Area in his beloved Sierras named after him. Here’s a link to one of Adams’ Yosemite pics.

    I don’t know of any endangered species that are found in Yosemite NP, and nowhere else. Yosemite Valley is essentially a celebration of granite. And nothing is lost in Adams’ choice of the B&W format.

    Many years ago, I was talking with a woman who met Adams at a party. Apparently, he had a reputation as a lech.

  8. Larry May 14, 2009 at 10:25 am #

    Here’s a link to a photo plus short description of Mt. Whitney, in the Southern Sierras.

    If I remember correctly, Mt. Whitney is on the boundary between Kings Canyon NP and Inyo National Forest. To me, Mt. Whitney is every bit as beautiful as Yosemite. But Mt. Whitney is definitely in the Alpine genre. Since Yosemite Valley is equally granitic, but at a lower altitude, it’s in a category of its own. Scarcer = more tourist-worthy?

    Despite the difficulty of the hike, I’m told that the Whitney Trail is quite crowded these days. A long time ago, I hiked to the top from both the back and front sides. The second time was by accident. But that’s another story.

  9. Larry May 14, 2009 at 1:57 pm #

    Here’s a link to a photo of Lower Enchanted Pool, in the N. Sierras, W. of Lake Tahoe.
    The photographers Internet handle is tiocampo.

    This is from one of our outings in 2007. Part of this relatively short hike is off-trail. Hikers in the Placerville area know the way, as do some of the Sierra Club leaders in the Sacramento area. But it’s not on the official maps. And the Forest Service rangers like to pretend that it doesn’t exist.

    This is natural beauty on a smaller scale than Yosemite or Mt. Whitney, to the South.

  10. Larry May 14, 2009 at 4:31 pm #

    Jennifer wrote:
    “And a picture of Bigfoot :-)”

    Your wish is my command. Here’s a link to a picture of ‘Patty’ in Frame 352 of the Patterson-Gimlin film, shot near Bluff Creek.

    It’s predictable that True Believers, half-baked ‘skeptics’, tabloid journalists, and fake hoax confessors would come out of the woodwork, in order to compete for the finite supply of notoriety. However I don’t have a strong opinion about the authenticity of the photo. If it’s a hoax, it’s a pretty good one.

    Some people who have seen–and probably purchased–the very short film (transferred to DVD format) say that the arms are disproportionately long for a human. Moreover the ratio of the upper to the lower arm length is supposed to be reasonable. If so, this may rule out the possibility that a tall actor in a modified gorilla suit had prosthetic forearm and hand extensions built into the sleeves, in order to give the illusion of unusually long arms.

    Was the special-effects technology of 1967 sophisticated enough to pull off a clever Bigfoot hoax? If so, did someone bankroll Patterson and Gimlin? And why?

    BTW, I didn’t know that your biological interests included cryptozoology. šŸ˜›

  11. Geoff Sherrington May 14, 2009 at 9:59 pm #

    Sorry, old hat. The main points made above are in the Senate Hansard, in submissions (some mine) about the Plan of management for Kakadu national park, Stage I.

    We also commented on the need for fire , weed and pest management. No futher comment needed.

    We also commented that the areas of high natural and cultural heritage were further east than Kakadu, in Arnhem land. Still the case.

    We also now make the point that a drive to increased tourism is a drive to increased carbon footprints. The Feds say “We have to combat Global Warming to preserve places like Kakadu for the enjoyment of future generations”. These generations are going to get there by flying half way across the country in needless aircaft trips spewing GHG – is this how to combat Global Warmng? So as greens might say, “green is good as long as I benefit and others suffer”.

    BTW, in response to the fire management of Kakadu, a large area West of the border of Stage 3 was proclaimed an Army firing range, where tanks and APCs belt around throwing bombs. Now if I was an endangered species sitting on the boundary, I’d have to decide whether to migrate East or West, to Nirvana or Fragmentation, on the basis of imperfect information.

    What a world of stupidity we inhabit.

  12. jennifer May 14, 2009 at 10:19 pm #

    Thanks for all the info and links!
    I am especially taken by the Mt Whitney cloud pic here:
    But it appears, like most of the above links, to be covered by copyright – so I can’t use it on the blog.
    But I shall post the all red snow plants – and you can perhaps email the Thai-American woman, named Aom, and let her know I have republished her picture. Let me get it up first.
    Thanks again! Jen

  13. Larry May 18, 2009 at 4:55 pm #

    I forgot to mention that hunting is usually allowed on national forest land–even in designated wilderness areas within national forests. However most deer and elk hunters aren’t willing to walk very far from their vehicles, and then carry their large quarry back to their pickup truck if they’re successful. In practice, the roadless aspect of wilderness areas does discourage some hunters. It’s much more convenient to take advantage of the network of logging roads in other parts of the national forest.

    Interestingly, each individual state has its own hunting regulations and enforcement thereof. And they apply to national forests within that state. Hunting is not allowed in national parks.

    If you’re hiking on national forest land in the Fall, be sure to wear an orange vest, rather than a wildlife T-shirt!

  14. Glenn May 27, 2009 at 5:55 am #

    Hi Jennifer,
    I happen to work at a hotel in the Grant Grove Section of Kings Canyon National Park. This Section of the Park was, between 1890 and 1940, called General Grant National Park for the General Grant Tree. I, personally, am more conservation oriented rather than preservation oriented. This notwithstanding U.S. National Parks (and most National Park Services in other countries) own supposed romantic “preservation” orientation. National Parks are also , per their own mission statements, to be for public enjoyment as well as preservation. Preservation is unfortunately a urban romantic notion that things can stay the same, or similar if they are left untouched by human hands. Quite unrealistic. Here in Grant Grove preservation actually lead to a lack of Giant Sequoia perpetuation (Sequoia’s are shade intolerant). The Park Service had few young Giant Sequoias, called “Spire-tops”, on its lands. Logged Groves like Converse and Big Stump had “Spire-tops” in abundance. This is one possible reason Big Stump Grove was added to Kings Canyon National Park in the 1940’s (for one section) and late 1950’s (for the rest).
    Each U.S. National Park is its own feifdom, if you will, interpreting “preservation” differently . In Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks , Preservation looks alot like standard Gifford Pinchot Conservation. Preservation oreinted groups like the Sierra Club just give the NPS a pass, though management is only slightly different from the nearby National Forests with there Multi-Use Management. Something for which I’m glad. Someday visit here. Thanks


  1. Jennifer Marohasy » All-Red Snow Plants ā€“ Nourished by Fungi - May 14, 2009

    […] Do Tourists Degrade National Parks? The Sierra Club believes that national parks and areas like my own cannot be effectively defended if they do not build up a constituency of political support by allowing more and more visitors to enjoy them. In other words, we need to degrade our treasures in order to promote their preservation. This is a pernicious argument.Ā  Read more here. (12) […]

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