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Friday, March 27, 2015

Getting Burned

PBS' American Experience is re-airing a documentary entitled the "Big Burn." The show tells the
NPS
story of the 1910 fire season when more than 3 million acres of the American West went up in flames. Even more troubling, 78 fire fighters lost their lives fighting what is America's biggest fire.

2015 is shaping up to be a horrific fire season. Droughts in states like California and Washington have already been declared. Record low snow levels could result in a historic fire season. Federal and state government land management agencies also face tight fire fighting budgets.  These two trends (droughts, limited funds) are likely to continue to years.

Given this, how should land management agencies manage wildland fire? Should agencies continue to fight fires? Should they triage their approach? If so, what criteria should be used? Should agencies shift to a prevention approach that includes buying out land owners in high risk fire areas? Or is it time for land managers to tell these land owners they are likely to be on their own?

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Park Madness: Sweet Sixteen

The National Park Madness sweet sixteen are set. Many of the favorites continued their march toward the final four. However, we saw our first of the big four go down.
 
In the East, the Washington Monument's height proved too much for Acadia and the GW monolith moved on to the next round.  Arches continued its deep run into the tournament with outstanding shooting beyond the three point arch, upsetting its Utah brethren for its spot among the 16 best. Glacier found itself in a big hole early in its battle with the Grand Canyon, but in the second half was able to dig its way out.  In the South, a monster match up of two gulf coast parks will go at it. While in the West, Death Valley was hot early, but Olympic's shooting rained down in the second half, moving the triple threat park (beaches, mountains, and forests) onto the next round. Yosemite continues its climb toward the finals, but Denali, Olympic, and Lassen hope to knock the Granite gamers off their perch.
 
 



 
Sean Smith is a former Yellowstone Ranger, and an award winning conservationist, TEDx speaker, and author. He writes national park thrillers from his home in the shadow of Mount Rainier National Park. To learn more about his conservation work and novels, follow him on twitter: @parkthrillers

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Park Madness: Round 1

The results are in from the first round of Park Madness!  A lot of action took place in the first 32 contests. Many of the favorites including all of the big four (Yellowstone, Yosemite, Great Smoky Mountains, and Acadia) moved into the second round.  Some early and shocking upset were scored by Wind Caves, Antietam, Congaree, and Arches!

Did you favorite park make it to the second round?






Friday, March 13, 2015

Only You Can Protect the North Cascades' Grizzly Bears

The National Park Service (NPS) and Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) are taking comments on a plan that would restore the North Cascades Grizzly bear to a health population.  Currently there it is estimated there are roughly a couple dozen bears that transit the park, crossing the border from Canada.  Studies show that this number is not viable.  Inbreeding is likely rampant which can lead to birth defects and the extinction of the ecosystem's bears.

The NPS and FWS are proposing to supplement the current North Cascades Grizzly bear population with individuals relocated from healthy Canadian populations.  Restoring the grizzly bear to the North Cascades would produce numerous legal, economic, ecological, and recreation benefits.

Please join me in urging the federal government to draft a plan that restores the North Cascades Grizzly bear to health numbers.

Click here to send your letter today.

Thanks,

Sean Smith


Below is the letter I sent to the federal government.  Feel free to use it for yours!

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To whom it may concern:

I write today in support of the Fish and Wildlife Service's (FWS) and National Park Services (NPS) effort to restore a viable population of Grizzly bears to the North Cascades ecosystem.
Grizzly bears have been a integral component of the North American continent. In the recent past, it was estimated that in America the Grizzly bear population reached 100,000 and ranged from the American plains to the Western coast. Today the remaining few hundred Grizzly bears are limited to a few remote mountainous regions of the country like Yellowstone, Glacier, the Selkirks and the North Cascades.

The FWS and NPS are by law required to preserve and restore endangered and native species. Countless scientific studies and research have shown that viable Grizzly bear habitat exists in the North Cascades and that the few grizzly bears that transit the area do not constitute a viable population.

Besides legal reasons for restoring the bears, there are ecological, economic, recreational benefits to restoring a healthy population. For example, grizzly bears are an indicator species.  Wildlife biologist tell us that if a region has a healthy bear population, its more likely the ecosystem's remaining plants and animals are also robust.  Grizzly bears also have significant economic impacts on areas.  Many visitors from around the globe travel to places like Glacier and Yellowstone with the single purpose of seeing a Grizzly bear in the wild.

Finally, as a former Glacier and Yellowstone park ranger I know recreation and grizzly bears can coexist. People are rightly concerned about traveling in bear country, but simple practices like making noise, traveling in groups, and hanging ones food can significantly improve ones safety.  Moreover, concerns about area closures or exclusions are overblown. These measures are rarely if ever used, and when they are its often for short term reasons such as to protect den sites.
I encourage the FWS and NPS in its draft recovery plan to research the following areas of Grizzly bear recovery:

1. the legal requirements,
2. the ecological benefits,
3. the economic benefits,
4. the recreation impacts,
5. the safety concerns.

Along with the above, and probably most important, I'd ask the FWS and NPS to document the intrinsic benefits of restoring bears.  Grizzly bears if nothing else represent the "wild" part of America that is fast disappearing.  Can we as Americans sustain a few select places where we glimpse the possibility of connecting to something higher.

When I was a park ranger, I often heard from visitors that they appreciated what people like John Muir, Teddy Roosevelt, Aldo Leopold, and Rachel Carson had done to protect our wildlife heritage.  But immediately right after many added, they wished these leaders had done more.  Fair enough, I share that sentiment. But there is nothing we can do about the decisions of are ancestors.  However, we are the ancestors of the future, are they going to look back and say "I wish they had done more to protect the Grizzly bear."  If the North Cascades Grizzly bear recovery plan is done correctly, I don't think so.

Thank you for your consideration.

Sincerely,
Sean Smith

Saturday, February 28, 2015

National Park Madness!

The NCAA Basketball tournament is almost upon us. The annual playoffs to determine the best team in college basketball is referred to by fans as March Madness! Fans fill out brackets every year, trying to predict who will come home with the trophy.

In the spirit of March Madness, Park thrillers has created its own tournament called PARK MADNESS.  Sixty four of America's best national parks go head to head to determine the country's over all best!

The Park Madness brackets are below.  Did your favorite park make the tournament?  Who got slighted? Who got in who shouldn't? Which park will be crowned number 1? 

Check back in the coming days to see who advances to the finals!