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Searching for "National_Parks"

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Pot Parks

Mexican cartel grow operations polluting forests, endangering visitors

Some of our national parks and forests are becoming a bit less Into the Wild and more No Country For Old Men, thanks to Mexican marijuana cartels who squat on federal land to start massive grow operations. Perhaps worst of all, they often severely trash and pollute the land with toxic chemicals used to procure larger crops. From AP:
"What's going on on public lands is a crisis at every level," said Forest Service agent Ron Pugh. "These are America's most precious resources, and they are being devastated by an unprecedented commercial enterprise conducted by armed foreign nationals. It is a huge mess."
The drug cartels dump plant growth hormones into streams, divert water from intended sources with PVC pipes, and cover the ground in rat poison to keep animals away from their cash crops. The growers also poach deer, bears, and other animals, and they cause incalculable damage by creating an illegal network of unofficial trails.

They're also extremely dangerous: BLM biologists surveying public land in a remote area of northern Nevada last week were held at gunpoint for hours by alleged Mexican marijuana growers after accidentally running into their grow spot. After a few tense hours, the gunmen let the scientists go.

Officials first caught Mexican drug cartels on federal land in 1998 in Sequoia National Park, and popular spots for illegal grow sites include the Cascades of California, Oregon, and Washington, and fertile forest land of Kentucky, Tennessee, and West Virginia.


"People light up a joint, and they have no idea the amount of environmental damage associated with it," said Cicely Muldoon, deputy regional director of the Pacific West Region of the National Park Service.


All in all, bad news for the environmentally-conscious who occasionally spark a doob. This is bound to harsh a lot of mellows.

—Ted Alvarez

Mexican marijuana cartels sully US forests, parks (AP)
Monday, October 13, 2008 in: News & Events, National Parks
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270 National Parks, 12 Years Old

Georgia girl hopes to visit all 391 National Parks before age 14

There's nothing more I'd like to do than spend all my days visiting every national park in the park system. Working at BACKPACKER certainly helps, but this thing called the Internet keeps dragging me back to society.

Maybe I'd have better luck if I was a 12-year-old girl. Chandler Johnson of Rome, Georgia hopes to visit every unit in the NPS system by the time she turns 14. So far, she's got a great head start: With the help of some pretty awesome parents, she's driven more than 100,000 miles in two cars to 48 states and racked up 270 national park visits in the process.
“I enjoy going to the parks because I learn about the historical, cultural and environmental relevance they each have,” said Chandler.
With only 121 parks to go, she's well over halfway there, but she'll have to amp up her frequency to meet her goal (though if she doesn't make it until, say, age 16, I certainly wouldn't hold it against her). Chandler's favorite park so far is Yellowstone, and not surprisingly, she'd like to work for the NPS someday.
“I want to be a National Parks interpreter when I grow up,” Chandler said. “Someone who informs visitors and talks about the parks.”
I'd say she's already overqualified, and perhaps aiming a little low. Is there a National Parks Overlord position open?

—Ted Alvarez

12-year-old seeks to accomplish lofty parks goal by the age of 14 (Rome News-Journal)
Monday, October 13, 2008 in: News & Events, National Parks
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Arches Will Fall

Popular feature in Arches National Park succumbs to erosion

Pour a forty, sandstone formation fans: Wall Arch, one of the most popular and most photographed arches of Arches National Park near Moab, Utah, has collapsed. We knew this day would come, geologically speaking, but that doesn't make it any easier to take when it happens [sniff, sniff].

Park officials think the arch bit the dust sometime last Monday or Tuesday, though no one actually saw it crash into a thousand chunks of sandstone. Wall Arch lies along the Devils Garden trail, a well-known and popular spot in the park, and was the 12th-largest arch in the park.

So who caused this earthen tragedy? Don't blame climber Dean Potter (he raised hackles when he climbed the Delicate Arch two years ago): Gravity and erosion claimed the Wall Arch, and over time, those two inexorable bastards will eventually destroy all the arches in the park.

The trail remains closed while park workers clear debris and wait for remaining bits of dangerous, overhanging rock to fall. Regarding the tragic events, Paul Henderson, the park's chief of interpretation, shared these words of comfort:
"They all let go after a while," he said Friday.
You said it, brother. Like dust in the wind...all we are is dust in the wind.

Gravity, erosion rob Utah park of popular arch (CNN)
Monday, August 11, 2008 in: News & Events, Arches National Park, Utah, Accidents, Tragedy, Weather, Nature, National Parks
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Happy National Park Week!

You may not have heard, but Saturday kicked off the first National Park Week, a Presidentially-endorsed celebration of our many natural and historic national parks. National Park Week runs through Sunday, April 27. From the mouth of President Bush himself: 
"Our National Parks belong to each of us, and they are natural places to learn, exercise, volunteer, spend time with family and friends, and enjoy the magnificent beauty of our great land. During National Park Week and throughout the year, Americans of all ages can pledge to help maintain and enhance America's national treasures for future generations. 

NOW, THEREFORE, I, GEORGE W. BUSH, President of the United States of America, by virtue of the authority vested in me by the Constitution and laws of the United States, do hereby proclaim April 19 through April 27, 2008, as National Park Week. I invite all my fellow citizens to join me in celebrating America's national parks by visiting these wonderful spaces, discovering all they have to offer, and becoming active participants in park conservation."

That sounds serious — we better get out there. Several national parks have scheduled official events for National Park Week, including outdoor skills schools, nature walks, and Junior Ranger days. And, in another bit of auspicious timing, the first roads have opened up in both Yellowstone and Glacier. The holiday seems a bit early, considering that summer remains the busiest season for most national parks, but maybe even the Fed prefers to avoid bear jams on Going-to-the-Sun road.

Considering Bush's wildlife/conservation record, this isn't much more than a nice gesture, but if he can take out some time this week to bail out the park service with some much-needed cash for acquisitions, then we'll be talkin' 'bout some serious steps toward redemption.

(Note to self: Ask the Boss if we can make National Park Week a company holiday...)
— Ted Alvarez

National Park Week (White House)

National Park Week Events (NPS)

Some Yellowstone Park Roads Reopen (Salt Lake Tribune)

Some Glacier National Park Roads Reopening (CBS Montana)
Monday, April 21, 2008 in: Bush, National Parks, Glacier, Yellowstone
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Petrified Forest Expansion...Petrified

Back in 2004, Congress passed a measure to more than double the size of Petrified Forest National Park in Arizona, but it never happened because the government couldn't come up with the scratch to pay for the surrounding land. Now the ranchers who own those valuable tracts have grown tired of waiting, and they've put their land up for sale to the highest bidder, giving buyers the chance to build subdivisions and other developments on unique natural habitat.

One of the most critical parcels for sale, Twin Buttes Ranch, is home to a trove of dinosaur skeletons and Pueblo ruins, protected thus far by the area's lack of human intrusion and rugged topography. It'd be easy to just blame the ranchers, but that's not entirely fair: Twin Buttes owner Mike Fitzgerald supported selling his property to the federal government, but he gave up after waiting for years for an offer.


"I have a lot more petroglyphs (ancient rock art) on my place than the park has," Fitzgerald noted. "We had a ranger come through here and he says, 'Gosh, you've got enough for two national parks.' "


Fitzgerald said he thought his lands would be purchased within a few years, but nothing happened. Last month, he quit waiting and put up a "For Sale" sign, with an asking price of $10.5 million.


The 125,000-acre expansion is valued at $20 million, and Congress has appropriated $44.4 million for National Parks expansion purchases in 2008. Still, the Petrified Forest expansion is just one site on the National Park Service's 1.8 billion-acre wish list. But it's in the top five, so keep your fingers crossed.

If Congress can't pay for the Petrified Forest expansion before someone else snatches it up, some lucky kid will get to go digging for dinosaurs in his backyard like we all used to...except he'll actually find something worth seeing in a museum. — Ted Alvarez

Petrified Forest park expansion stalled (USA Today)
Tuesday, April 01, 2008 in: Petrified Forest, National Parks
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D'oh! Hawaii Volcano Explodes After All

Just yesterday, we posted an item concerning the heavy influx of toxic sulfur dioxide gas at the Kilauea Volcano in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. The poisonous gas forced park officials to close sections of the park, but they mentioned at the time that chances for an explosive eruption were minimal.


Last night at 3 a.m., an explosion in Kilauea's main Halemaumau Crater shot debris over about 75 acres, damaging a wooden fence surrounding the crater and blocking paths and roads with rock hazards. It was the first explosion for the 4,190-f00t volcano since 1924. There wasn't any lava present, so park scientists think pressure built up from gases and hydrothermal activity caused the blast.

National Park officials expanded the closed-off areas in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park and refined plans for evacuation, should more eruptions threaten the surrounding community with poison gas or debris danger. Despite this being the highpoint in a three-month escalation of activity on Kilauea, scientists caution that there's still only a remote possibility of a massive eruption inside the half-mile wide Halemaumau Crater.

They're the experts; I'm sure their prognostications are pretty on-point. But if I lived close by I'd be just a hair  nervous, since that's what they said last time. — Ted Alvarez

Rare Explosion Jolts Hawaii Volcano (AP)
Thursday, March 20, 2008 in: Hawaii Volcanoes, National Parks News
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Zion shuttle resumes service March 21

Hankering for a little canyon action? Ready to turn in your snow skivvies for desert duds? Well, mark your calendars: Zion National Park resumes shuttle service March 21, signaling the official start of the 2008 season.

Shuttles depart from designated spots in Springdale, UT and within the park, beginning at 6:45 a.m. and ending 10 p.m. Service will expand as the summer season gets busier, so be safe, bring water and get out there this spring before the RV crowds do.
— Ted Alvarez

Shuttle system resumes operation in Zion National Park (St. George Spectrum)
Wednesday, March 12, 2008 in: National Parks, News
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Wildfires Burning Through Park Fees

Trees aren’t the only green things that wildfires are burning through these days. They’re also toasting your money.

An article in Friday’s New York Times links the surge in new user fees at national forests and wilderness areas to the mounting cost of fighting wildfires.

Anybody who hiked last summer in Montana, Idaho, and even parts of Georgia and Minnesota knows that 2007 was an especially charred year. In fact, the last two wildfire seasons rank as the most severe—in terms of acreage burned—in the Lower 48 since 1960. And all of those flames are putting the squeeze on U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management budgets, according to the article.

 “Firefighting costs went from 20 percent of the overall agency (U.S. Forest Service) budget to 47 percent,” said Dave Bull, superintendent of the Bitterroot National Forest in Hamilton, Montana.

As a result, land managers are raising fees, and adding new ones, to pump up their revenues. Hikers around the nation are already paying more to access trailhead parking lots, scenic overlooks, and public facilities. One example cited in the article is the Mt. Evans Scenic Byway, a state road west of Denver that switchbacks to near the summit of 14,258-foot Mt. Evans. Starting last summer, drivers who stopped anywhere along the 14-mile road were required by rangers to pay $10 fee or face a $50 fine. Records quoted in the article show that the Forest Service raised $60 million in fees in 2007, nearly twice as much as it gathered in 2000. Similarly, the BLM, the nation’s largest landowner, collected $14 million last year, up from $7 million seven years ago.

What do these new and expanded fees mean for backpackers? Formerly free day-hikes at your local national forest might set you back a fiver. And you’re pre-hike routine will likely involve stuffing crumpled up dollar bills into tiny pay slots, just like you do when paying for parking at the airport or train station.

Still, the increased fees are not escaping the attention of recreation groups, or even members of Congress. Sen. Max Baucus (D-MT) has introduced a bill to repeal the authority of the Forest Service and BLM to institute many of the new fees, calling the additional charges “double taxation.”

If this debate over fees and fines makes you want to escape to a trail, be sure to check out the May 2008 issue of Backpacker for tips on how to hike safely in recently burned zones.
-Jason Stevenson
Monday, March 10, 2008 in: News, National Parks
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California to Feds: Hands Off Our Forests

Once again, the Golden State finds itself in a face-off with the federal government, this time over a U.S. Forest Service management plan that would open four southern California national forests up to road construction and oil drilling. The state filed suit Thursday to protect the Los Padres, Cleveland, Angeles, and San Bernardino national forests—public lands stretching from Big Sur to the Mexican border and providing habitat for at least 60 threatened or endangered animal and plant species—alleging the Forest Service is violating several federal management laws by not coordinating with state and local officials.

"California wants to keep these forests without roads, and the Bush administration is just operating with reckless disregard for the public trust," State Atty. Gen. Jerry Brown told the Los Angeles Times. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger added (in a statement reported in the San Jose Mercury News), "Today in the face of threats, we are forced to once again stand up for California's forests.” A Forest Service spokeswoman told the paper that roads were needed to help fight fires. —Elisabeth Kwak-Hefferan
Friday, February 29, 2008 in: National Parks, Nature, Environment, News
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Guns in Our National Parks?

This week, Interior Secretary Dick Kempthorne announced plans to review laws banning guns in national parks and on land administered by the Fish and Wildlife Service. After the review, the department will draft new gun rules by April 30 for public comment. Several conservation groups and ranger associations have already spoken out against the review. Not surprisingly, the NRA supports the review and the accompanying senate bill, which sprung from a letter written to Kempthorne by Idaho Republican Senator Mike Crapo. Both Crapo and the NRA claim that the need for guns in national parks stems not from a desire to hunt, but from the necessity to protect oneself and family from both violent crime and vicious animals.

"Law-abiding citizens should not be prohibited from protecting themselves and their families while enjoying America's national parks and wildlife refuges," said Chris Cox, the National Rifle Association's chief lobbyist.

Your chances of encountering violent crime in our national parks is very small — about 1 in 708,333, according to park officials. But maybe the stats don't tell the whole story: The last time I was in Yellowstone, this ground squirrel was totally throwin' gang signs at me. My tentmates didn't catch it, but I've been down those mean streets before. Interior Department reviewing gun restrictions at national parks (Dallas Observer)—Ted Alvarez
Friday, February 29, 2008 in: National Parks, Nature, Environment, News
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