What is a National park?

11:31 a.m. on February 12, 2019 (EST)
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An Of Topic forum thread discussed "what is a typical National Park."  Turns out there is a wide variability within the term "Natipnal Park."

To begin, here is a concise article listing and describing the 60 National Parks in the United States

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_national_parks_of_the_United_States

The least visited NP greeted about 11,000 visitors per year, while the most visited hosted more than 11 million - quite a range.  While many parks have extensive acreage, the smallest comprises less than 200 acres

NPs are created by Congressional action, so a NP is whatever congress designates, as opposed to a National Monument, which is created by a Presidential Proclamation.  Both categories are managed by the same basic set of principles.

3:11 p.m. on February 12, 2019 (EST)
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The details most useful to me in terms of whether an area is National Park, a National Wilderness, National Forest, BLM, (etc?) are the usage rules. For example, are there any National Parks where you are not restricted to designated campgrounds? Fires? Dogs? That sort of thing.

9:26 a.m. on February 13, 2019 (EST)
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The regulations and controls or each park vary depending on its situation.  There is no easy answer to your question.  I have camped away from designated campgrounds in Grand Canyon several times, but we were way in the remote back country.   Same within other parks on climbing trips.   At GC, even along the cross canyon corridor, you must camp at the designated campgrounds (there are two). 

Check the individual park's website in order to answer your questions.  In some cases you may need to talk to someone on staff, if you are considering something really unusual.

At Channel Islands, no dogs are allowed on the islands.  This is to prevent the spread of infectious disease to the island fox population.  Likewise, no open fires, even in the designated campgrounds - liquid or gas stoves only.   The islands are extremely windy, and an out of control campfire would be a disaster.

1:42 p.m. on February 13, 2019 (EST)
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I guess my question is what difference it makes if something is called a "park" or not, outside of the practical considerations -- that is, the usage rules.

Are people concerned with funding channels? Specific protections not offered by other designations?

2:29 p.m. on February 13, 2019 (EST)
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In most respects, the specific designation does not matter.  The ides is public access, along with continued preservation - sometimes this can be tricky.

Wikipedia has a good article on the National Park System and the various units:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/National_Park_Service#National_Park_System 

National Monuments are typically smaller, often devoted to one specific item or historic event, but not always  Often local communities will work to get a monument re-designated by Congress as a National Park, hopefully drawing more prestige, attendance, and revenue.

There are several NMs that can hold their own with any NP.  Two of my favorites are Canyon de Chelly and Gila Clif Dwellings.

4:18 p.m. on February 13, 2019 (EST)
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Around the time they re-categorized Joshua Tree from a national monument to a national park they invested a lot in the infrastructure and attendance boomed.  I don't know if any one of these advents caused the other(s) as they all occurred simultaneously.

Ed

4:24 p.m. on February 13, 2019 (EST)
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Interesting Ed, I wonder if are funds specifically earmarked for "National Parks." Of course, it could just be that both were symptoms of the same move to popularize Joshua Tree.

11:17 a.m. on February 14, 2019 (EST)
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Zalman said:

I guess my question is what difference it makes if something is called a "park" or not, outside of the practical considerations -- that is, the usage rules.

Are people concerned with funding channels? Specific protections not offered by other designations?

 

What makes a National Park a National Park is the congressional designation calling it a park! Management rules varry by park - some are quite restrictive, and some are quite permissive. Generally, though, NP's are more regulated with respect to designated campaing, and more visited, than other public lands that are designednated in different ways and managed by different eagencies (like National Forests, BLM Conservation Lands, etc..

If you're a person that supports the idea of national parks then, yes, you're probably concerend about funding. The last several years of federal budgets haven't been kind to parks.

12:25 p.m. on February 14, 2019 (EST)
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Seth said:

If you're a person that supports the idea of national parks ...

This sounds like the idea of National Parks is a polarizing issue, I had no idea. It's easy enough to find articles on "why National Parks are important" (or various paraphrasings thereof). What's the argument against them?

7:12 p.m. on February 14, 2019 (EST)
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Zalman I would presume the amount of people going to a national monument and seeing it needs a new designation....That's just me

9:46 a.m. on February 15, 2019 (EST)
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Like all ederal agencies, the NPS budget is approved by Congress and signed by the President.  In ancient times, this was a fairly routine process. funds are designated or operations,  new construction, etc.in the yearly budget.

9:51 a.m. on February 15, 2019 (EST)
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Usually the opposition is to a specific park designation, for various reasons.   Not everyone thinks that national parks, or eve monuments. etc. are a good idea'

Experience is that inclusion of an area within the NP system, whatever its designation, results in a steady increase in tourism and economic activity and benefits for the surrounding community.

1:16 p.m. on February 15, 2019 (EST)
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Doesn't it boil down to the mission statements for the agencies involved? NPS being preservation for future generations. NFS for agricultural timber management as well as conservation, BLM kinda does whatever the lobbyists want, and National Monuments are managed by the agency nearby with the resources to take on the area. Each has some different use regulations, NPS being the strictest. And wilderness areas being the highest regulated by all agencies listed.

10:34 a.m. on February 16, 2019 (EST)
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madmarmot, 

It is not so easy to characterize the agencies.  US Forest Service manages under the multiple use sustained yield doctrine. BLM is mostly managing for mining and grazing with a few exceptions.  National Monuments are managed similar to National Parks but sometimes allow other uses like mining. 

Wilderness areas often allow grazing, hunting and mining as long as there are no roads.  National Parks don't. 

Yosemite NP should be the case study for why Protectionism does not work.  After 150 years of protection it is in terrible shape mostly due to repeated uncontrolled megafires. 

11:25 a.m. on February 16, 2019 (EST)
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You always seem to mention "protectionism" and a 150 year case study of Yosemite.  Would you be so kind as to provide a reference to the case study.  I would be interested in reading and evaluating it.  Thank you very much.

I am definitely a supporter of the NP system and proper use, but I would never claim that the NPS was, or is, perfect, or that policies have ever worked out for the best.  For one thing, politics are often heavily involved in the actions of NPS and other agencies, not always for the public good.  Also, the real world is a messy place and there isn't always an obvious clear solution for a problem.

Personally, I prefer areas that are less developed than Yosemite valley.  I must say that one of my favorite areas for good backpacking and nice long trips is the Gila wilderness , run by the USFS,of New Mexico.  Tucked right on its edge is Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument, established very early, and now protected within the NPS system.  Together the wilderness and the monument are  very nice combination.

10:34 a.m. on February 17, 2019 (EST)
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The Gila Wilderness Area was the first Primitive Area in the US, designated around 1948.  That was 16 years before the Wilderness Act in 1964.  Aldo Leopold had a lot to do with it.  It is a very interesting place with many different habitat types, but it has been severely impacted by large fires in its recent history. 

6:07 p.m. on February 17, 2019 (EST)
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Not just recently.  I showed up at Gila in 1968 with my trusty crew of Navajo stone masons, ready to go to work on maintenance and repair needed in the Cliff Dwellings.

Boy, were they glad to see us!  They had a bunch of unattended fires and here were eighteen able bodied Gov't workers.  My guys, ever adaptable, were ready to go.  Within two hours of our arrival, we lined up for helo rides to the various fires.  Graciously, my foreman and i took places at the back of the line.  I am sure this was the first helo ride for most,if not all, of the crew.

By the time they got to Cecil and me, all the fires were manned, so no fire overtime for us.  Drat!

At that time, the doctrine was to suppress all fires, irregardless.  The FS District ranger later remarked to me that all these lightning caused fires, ignited after the summer storms had dampened down the vegetation, were simply burning light fuels rather slowly, not touching the mature trees at all.  Today I believe things are handled somewhat differently.  Still lots of fires....

Just one of the many vivid memories I have of that area....

The Gila in not a National Park, but it is wild, beautiful, and mostly natural, becoming more so with time, and not heavily traveled.  Well worth visiting...

10:32 a.m. on February 18, 2019 (EST)
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Before intensive fire suppression, the dryland timber types in the Gila burned almost entirely on the ground.  Fire recurrence intervals typically are around 7-10 years in ppine forests under natural conditions.  The fire suppression you describe above is precisely why recent fires now get into the crowns and consume the whole forest.  Recurrernce intervals under fire suppression are more like 30-50 years. 

Recent megafires have torn up the Gila and a lot of other places.  We are reaping what we have sown. 

12:50 p.m. on February 18, 2019 (EST)
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Didn't the shift in fire fighting strategies favoring prescribed burns and letting some

fires burn occur during the the early 70s?  It was quite a change for an old dog like me!!

6:28 p.m. on February 18, 2019 (EST)
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In the 1970s not even the US Forest Service believed in prescribed burns.  I know that for a fact because two of my professors made a formal presentation about it to Reg 6 HQ in Seattle.  The FS said no.

The National Park Service got into the act later in the second half of the 1980s. The Yellowstone boondogle is the most famous.  The giant fire at Los Alamos was an NPS prescribed burn that got out of control. There was one in the fall in Yosemite a couple of years ago.  Who sets fires on purpose in the fall in the Sierra?

The NPS has a long way to go to catch up with the US Forest Service when it comes to managing fires.  "Let it burn" can be a dangerous mantra or the right thing to do depending on conditions.  The NPS in Yellowstone decided to let it burn in the driest summer in a century.  When the Ystone Lodge almost burnt down they called in the troops, but would still not allow bulldozers in the park. 

The NDF, Nevada Division of Forestry went ahead with their prescribed burn last year when the Forest Service told them to cancel.  The long range wind forecast was for very high winds.  They burned down 33 of the best houses in the State sw of Reno.  The case is still in court. 

The important point to be made here is that it is very dangerous to try to make up for long periods of fire suppression with prescribed fire.  Outside of park, thinning and selection logging are used.  It will no longer surprise me to see some limited logging in National Parks.  I know it sounds like blasphemy but it is the only safe way to rehab many sites. 

7:18 p.m. on February 18, 2019 (EST)
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Discussing ire policy is well outside my area of expertise, but i found this Wikipedia article ( Controlled Burns) interesting: 

The notion of fire as a tool had somewhat evolved by the late 1970's as the National Park Service authorized and administered controlled burns.[24] While the methodology was still relatively emergent the Yellowstone fires of 1988 struck, which significantly politicized fire management. The ensuing media coverage was a spectacle that was vulnerable to misinformation. Reports drastically inflated the scale of the fires which stigmatized politicians in Wyoming, Idaho, and Montana to believe that all fires represented a loss of revenue from tourism.[24]"

Frequently when politics intrudes, rational discourse goes out the window.  Perhaps one can cite some recent examples....

11:48 p.m. on February 18, 2019 (EST)
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I was there during the fires in Yelllowstone in 1988. My friends were working on it.  Over 2/3 of Yellowstone Park burned at one time.  The winter snow finally put it out.  Wikipedia is the media. 

1:52 a.m. on February 19, 2019 (EST)
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I recall the first prescribed burns in So Cal occurring in the early mid 1980s, involving multiple classifications of land, of both government and privately owned tracts.  These were mostly minuscule, of only a few acres, adjacent to roadsides with the intention of reducing the odds of man made fires springing up.

Ed

11:10 a.m. on February 25, 2019 (EST)
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The National Parks used to be places protected from human encroachment.   Now they have learned that there are certain problems associated with that philosophy.  Like megafires, loss of meadows, and others. 

Right at this momemnt the NPS is revising their approach to managing their parks, and it is really hard to say where they will end up. 

3:41 p.m. on February 28, 2019 (EST)
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ppine said:

The National Parks used to be places protected from human encroachment.   Now they have learned that there are certain problems associated with that philosophy.  Like megafires, loss of meadows, and others. 

Right at this momemnt the NPS is revising their approach to managing their parks, and it is really hard to say where they will end up. 

 The NPS has two objectives, stated in the enabling legislation - preserve natural conditions, and facilitate public access.  This is often a delicate balancing act and many are impassioned debates, both within thee NPS and outside, about the proper course to follow.  Oten thfe results of an action are not clear for years, if not decades, after they are put into effect, and there are frequently unanticipated consequences.  And not all NPs are alike. The challenges at Yosemite are quite distinct from those at Acadia or Channel Islands. 

I would hope that management policies would always be scutinized and that there will be enough flexibility to adjust, so yes, it should be that "it is really hard to say where they will end up."  Perhaps there is no ending point...

I am puzzle by ppine's attribution of megafires to a policy o protection from human encroachment.  he also mentions that the Gila Wilderness, under USS management, has been severely altered by large recent fires.  What's the distinction?

Me, i am glad that there are natural ares, whether managed by whatever agency, that are not being subdivided and built over.  Healthy debate over their managment should be encouraged, and it is fine that we don't always agree.

6:05 p.m. on February 28, 2019 (EST)
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"Puzzled by attribution of megafires to a policy of  protection from human encroachment."

We have talked about this a lot.  

Pre-European contact, forests in the West had a low density of trees per acre and frequent ground fires.  There was no fire suppression.  Some Native Americans burned areas for forge production on a routine basis.  Ppine forests average around 50-70 stems per acre. 

Outside of parks, logging has been used to maintain a favorable density of trees trees to make them fire resilient.  This has occured with fire suppression. 

Inside of park boundaries the combination of fire suppression and no harvesting has allowed for very dense stands of trees to build up massive amounts of unburned fuels.  In Yosemite, Jeffrey pine forests average somewhere around 250- 500 stems per acre. Now infrequent megafires nearly always get into the crowns and obliterate everything.  It is direct result of protection.  

As it turns out "preserving natural conditions" is much harder than the NPS thought.  You cannot have natural conditions without unregulated fire.  We are in the very awkward stage of now trying to allow fires to burn in areas with huge accumulations of fuel and it doesn't work very well.  Many people want a scapegoat so they like to talk about global warming. Yeah that must be it. 

6:48 p.m. on March 1, 2019 (EST)
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When the term"encroachment" came up, I thought of it in terms of development - suburbia, roads (and trails), hot dog stands, and the like.  But I see you use the term in reference to fire suppression, fuel buildup, etc.

Native Americans, certainly in southern California, used fire to encourage forage crops and maintain avenues of communication and it looks like they did a pretty good job of it, although there may have been goof ups along the way...

Mega fires are not new.  I remember reading about the Peshtigo fire in Wisconsin (?) in the late 19th century and I don't believe it was unique.

Your point about fuel buildup certainly has merit, but global warming could easily be just an additional factor.

In any event, when the Santa Ana winds kick up, knock down a powerline or two, it all becomes rather academic.

I won't speak about other parks, but here at Channel Islands we have been doing controlled burns or more than twenty years, about as long as the park has been created and lands acquired.  still, someday, I anticipate we will have a real wing dinger of a burn - careless smoker or whatever...

5:00 p.m. on March 2, 2019 (EST)
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The way that various vegetative habitat types behave when it comes to fire has a lot of do with their management.  Lately, fire behavior has been mostly reltated to neglect.  It is not academic at all.  We know how to manage vegetation by fuel reductions, logging and treatments.  We can greatly increase fire resilience.  We have chosen as a society to ignore the problem.  Now we are addressing the problem.  Get out and notice how many loaded logging trucks are on the road now in California and lots of other places. 

November 17, 2019
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