When President Obama visited Yosemite and Carlsbad Caverns this month, he faced a lot of criticism. Some of the complaints were that the timing wasn’t right following the tragedy in Orlando, that his weekend visit interrupted the Father’s Day weekend of too many people in the crowded Yosemite, that he should be focused on more important things than the national parks, and finally that his transportation had a negative environmental impact on these places. Even if every single one of these complaints were absolutely legitimate, Obama’s visit to the parks was still important and still necessary.
While 2016 marks the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service, not all is going well for these public lands. There has been a recent uprising against the parks, as people becoming more interested in exploiting the resources they protect. Three recent examples illustrate these dangers facing the parks. In Big Cypress Preserve in Florida, a plan to allow seismic testing for oil was recently approved. Should oil be discovered, this fragile ecosystem could be vulnerable to all kinds of new roads and machinery. Florida Senators proposed a bill just last Friday, to undo the preserve at Biscayne National Park so that people could have access to sport fishing in the delicate reef. Finally, the Koch Brother’s are working to overturn the Antiquities Act so that they can mine Uranium in the Grand Canyon. As unbelievable as it seems, these anti-park movements are gaining traction and the parks are in very real danger of being destroyed. These are just a few of many examples, in fact over the past three years there have been over 44 bills introduced by congress attempting to remove or undercut protections for national parks.
Which is why Obama’s visit to Yosemite and Carlsbad matters. Obama has done more for the national parks than any other president in history. He has established 22 national monuments and expanded others preserving over 265 million acres of land and water. His presence in the parks and the speech he made, reestablished and reaffirmed his commitment to our public lands -a commitment that a bipartisan 83 percent of voters support. America’s public lands contribute billions of dollars in economic benefits to local communities and provide thousands of jobs. These parks are not only essential to the American spirit, but to the American economy and it is important that they continue on forever. His visits also drew both domestic and international focus to the parks and put a spotlight on the dangers facing them, increasing their public support.
With the anti-parks movement facing the places we love and desire to work, I will leave you with Obama’s words to reflect on, “The beauty of the national park system is it belongs to everybody. It is a true expression of our democracy… There’s this part of us that is part of everybody, something we have in common, something we share—a place where we connect with each other, and to connect to something bigger than ourselves. What an incredible idea. What a worthy investment. What a precious thing we have to pass on to the next generation. Let’s make that happen.”