What a week. Economic impacts and impacting economics.
If you've spent any time surfing the 'net, you've seen I'm not the only one talking about the National Parks Conservation Association's latest study on how much economic good the national parks generate or the soon-to-debut $80 America the Beautiful pass.
Over at Wild Wilderness and Get Outdoors bloggers are wondering why we need to attach economic impact figures to the parks. At the New West site, Bill Schneider fears the constant increase in fees to visit our public lands will only continue to escalate and that the ATB pass has been ill-conceived. At Park Remark, the reaction to the pass is that it will make public lands access more restrictive. Washington-based Jim MacDonald has waxed philosophical in his comments to my posts about the NPCA report and vented about the same on his own site.
So what are we to make of all this?
I suppose the short answer is that there's great concern for our public lands, the national parks specifically.
But that concern is, as the saying goes, a mile wide and a foot deep.
Why? I suppose it's because we are barraged today with an amazing, constantly changing, kaleidoscope of issues. There are family concerns, relationships to grapple with, personal economics, health care, retirement, wars, and on and on and on.
Is it any surprise that advocacy groups such as the NPCA hope to kindle attention by pointing out the economic benefits of national parks? How much attention would the group garner by trotting out beautiful photos of Yosemite Falls or Clingmans Dome or Mount Rainier and say Congress needs to fully fund these places? They'd be beautiful shots, for sure, but what would the reaction be? What response would they get if they focused on the intrinsic values of the park system, the beautiful landscapes, the waterfalls, the wildlife, the cultural and history?
People can relate to economics, particularly those folks who rely on national parks for their livelihoods. At the same time, many who love national parks are disconcerted when those places are boiled down to dollars and cents.
As for the ATB pass, my guess is that the furor will subside and the agencies will move forward with their chosen path, just as Yellowstone officials seem blindly determined to allow snowmobiles into the park even though science suggests that would be an unwise decision.
I guess what's disturbing about both of these developments (the economic impact study and the ATB pass, not the snowmobile dispute, which is a whole 'nother matter) is that they'd be unnecessary if the millions of national park visitors across the country took a stand on how the park system is being managed and funded.
(Tens of thousands have taken a stand against snowmobiles in Yellowstone, but to no avail. Perhaps that's why there's apathy out there.)
Folks, if you don't show up, you don't get a say when it comes time to make decisions. Sit quietly on the sidelines and you have nothing to complain about if you don't like that decision.
Those millions of park visitors could accomplish a whole lot of good for the national parks if they would voice their concerns over park funding and entrance pass fees to their elected representatives. Without that pressure, Congress isn't likely to respond.
And it can't be just a little pressure. It's got to be a lot, and it's got to be persistent.
Truth be known, Congress itself, even those members on the National Parks Caucus, a group that counts fewer than 40 members, is lukewarm about national park issues.
Earlier this year Congressman Raul Grijalva of Arizona circulated among his colleagues a letter he just sent to the secretaries of Interior and Agriculture urging that energy corridors being proposed across the country avoid national parks and other sensitive lands. He wound up with 19 total signatures. Nineteen. Not even the entire National Parks Caucus would sign on.
Nearly two years ago Congressmen Mark Souder of Indiana and Brian Baird of Washington introduced the National Park Centennial Act, a piece of legislation they thought could help the Park Service dig out of its fiscal black hole by the agency's centennial in 2016. It's gone absolutely nowhere.
Congressman Souder also has spent a good deal of time crisscrossing the country the past year or so collecting testimony on how underfunded the park system is. Yet we have yet to hear the details of his fact-finding.
If we truly love and appreciate the national parks, if we want these magical places to last for future generations, we need to make some noise. For if we, the taxpayers who own and support the parks, don't get more concerned about how our public lands are managed, I fear things will only get uglier on the landscape.