GRAND CANYON NATIONAL PARK
Grand Canyon National Park’s popularity remains its greatest conservational threat. More than 4 million people find their way to the park each year, and each visitor has the potential to impact the environment in a variety of ways.
In an effort to counter these conservation threats, the National Park Service (NPS) implements sustainable tourism practices and funds projects that work to decrease greenhouse gas emissions, use alternative fuel and energy, conserve water, and promote recycling. In fact, Grand Canyon National Park was designated a Climate Friendly Park (CFP) committed to reducing the park’s greenhouse gas emissions. Even the Visitor Center has gone solar.
YELLOWSTONE NATIONAL PARK
As the first national park, Yellowstone has pioneered national park conservation efforts and served as a testing ground for the sometimes difficult balance between preserving the unique wildlife and ecosystem and accommodating guests.
In part, Yellowstone employed the tried and true method of trial and error. During the park’s earliest days, visitors could throw things into geysers, see restrained wildlife up close, or even do their laundry next to a hot pool. Elk were caged, bears were chained, and wolves were hunted before steps were taken to conserve the park in all of its natural glory.
Eventually, the National Park Service (NPS) committed to a policy of non-interference with the park’s natural, and incredibly fragile, ecosystem. Programs were implemented to protect the park along with its resources and wildlife.
Today, Yellowstone is dedicated to sustainable tourism, green building concepts, and mass recycle programs as part of their attempts to lessen the park’s footprint. Further, the park has made great efforts to recognize that Yellowstone is not a self-contained ecosystem; as such, efforts are made to protect migration corridors, reduce wildlife conflict, work with rather than impede natural fires, and protect the ecosystem from non-native species.
BRYCE CANYON NATIONAL PARK
The top conservation challenges facing Bryce Canyon National Park include man-made dams, increased visitation, resource extraction and mining, land management, invasive species, drought, and climate change. In comparison to many other national parks, however, Bryce Canyon National Park has remained relatively removed from some of the most serious conservation challenges such as water and air pollution and mining.
To conserve Bryce Canyon’s ecosystem and geological integrity, the park promotes low-impact visitation practices. In particular, the National Park Service has begun to implement limitations on private motor vehicles in an effort to reduce overcrowding (and its resultant noise and air pollution from so many vehicles).
The park’s ecosystem remains carefully monitored. The Northern Colorado Plateau Network (NCPN) assesses habitat sustainability, natural resources, and the presence and further encroachment of invasive plant species.
Furthermore, Bryce serves as a habitat refuge for three endangered species: California Condors, Southwestern Willow Flycatchers, and Utah Prairie dogs. Efforts to reintroduce prairie dogs into the park have been somewhat successful, though numbers remain low.
ZION NATIONAL PARK
Much like America’s other national parks, Zion National Park faces the conservation challenges brought on by surrounding property developments, light and air pollution, and overcrowding. Indeed, increased visitation has led to concerns for infrastructure limitations, resource protection, and reduced recreational opportunities for all the park’s many visitors.
As an increasingly year-round destination, Zion faces accelerated wear on facilities along with the environmental impact of increased human waste, illegal campfires, braided trail systems, campsite sprawl, and canyoneering anchors. Furthermore, wildlife has become further acclimatized to humans and the possibility of being fed—habits that can result in aggressive wildlife behaviors.
Despite these challenges, Zion’s 144 miles of Wild and Scenic River stretches remain in good condition, native wildlife populations remain stable, and invasive species are not currently a concern. Furthermore, recent reports show that Zion’s carbon footprint is shrinking due to its propane-powered shuttles, photovoltaic panels, park composting and recycling programs, and water bottle filling stations.
Historically, one of Zion’s greatest conservation efforts revolves around the Bighorn sheep populations which seek refuge there. In the 19th century, Zion National Park was heavily populated by Bighorn sheep. By the 20th century, Bighorn populations were in decline due to increased settlement and highway construction. By the 1950s, Bighorn sheep were eradicated from the park, though reintroduction efforts began shortly after in the 1960s. Currently, Zion National Park is home to about 65 Bighorns.