Conservation & Environment

Down with the Glen Canyon Dam?

Posted by on Sep 6, 2017 @ 6:35 am in Conservation | 0 comments

Down with the Glen Canyon Dam?

In 1963, Glen Canyon was pronounced dead. Glen Canyon Dam had submerged its fabled grottoes, Ancestral Puebloan cliff dwellings and slickrock chutes beneath the stagnant water of Lake Powell, and forever altered the ecology of the Grand Canyon just downstream.

For wilderness lovers, the 710-foot-tall concrete wall stuck out of the Colorado River like a middle finger — an insult that helped ignite the modern environmental movement. In 1981, the radical group Earth First! faked a “crack” on the dam by unfurling a 300-foot-long black banner down the structure’s front. The Sierra Club’s first executive director, David Brower, considered the dam’s construction a personal failure and spent the rest of his life advocating for its removal. And in his iconic novel The Monkey Wrench Gang, author Edward Abbey imagined a group of friends secretly plotting to blow up the dam and free the Colorado River.

An unprecedented interest in dam removals and the specter of climate change have created fresh hope for those who want to see the drowned canyon resurrected. From 1990 to 2010, the population of the American Southwest grew by 37 percent, even as the amount of water flowing into the Colorado River system shrank amid a historic drought. More people using fewer resources means that neither Lake Powell nor Lake Mead, the downstream reservoir created by Hoover Dam, have been full since 1999. And climate change promises to squeeze the water supply even further, with future droughts expected to bring even hotter and drier conditions.

Meanwhile, Lake Powell may be squandering the very resource it was designed to protect. Every day, water slowly seeps into the soft, porous sandstone beneath the reservoir and evaporates off its surface into the desert air.

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7 reasons to be alarmed by record-setting levels of CO2

Posted by on Sep 3, 2017 @ 7:13 am in Conservation | 0 comments

7 reasons to be alarmed by record-setting levels of CO2

There was a 2009 analysis in Science that found when CO2 levels were sustained in the 400 to 500 ppm range some 15 to 20 million years ago, it was 5°F to 10°F warmer globally, and seas were also 75 to 120 feet higher.

Despite the best efforts of the Trump administration to ignore or contradict scientific reality, carbon dioxide levels continue to soar far outside the bounds of what humans have ever experienced.

Monthly levels of heat-trapping CO2 peaked at nearly 410 parts per million (ppm) in May, the month that levels peak each year at NOAA’s Mauna Loa Observatory in Hawaii.

This is worrisome for several reasons. First, CO2 is the primary heat-trapping greenhouse gas humans spew into the air, mainly by burning fossil fuels. The higher CO2 levels are, the greater the warming.

Second, CO2 levels or concentrations in the atmosphere will keep rising until the world has reduced global CO2 emissions by more than 80 percent from current levels. CO2 concentrations are like the water levels in a bathtub, and annual emissions are like the flow from the faucet. The water going down the bathtub drain is like CO2 sinks such as the oceans, forests, and soils.

Third, the annual rise in CO2 levels has been speeding up, as long predicted by climate science. Indeed 2015 and 2016 were the two biggest annual jumps in CO2 levels on record.

Learn more here…


Yosemite fires shut Glacier Point Road, road to park entrance and popular hiking trails

Posted by on Sep 2, 2017 @ 9:03 am in Conservation, Hiking News | 0 comments

Yosemite fires shut Glacier Point Road, road to park entrance and popular hiking trails

Should you be traveling to Yosemite National Park for the Labor Day weekend, be prepared for smoky conditions and trail and road closures.

Separate fires have shut Glacier Point Road, California Highway 41 leading from Oakhurst to the southern entrance into the park, a campground and popular hiking trails.

Yosemite’s website warns visitors about smoke conditions in Yosemite Valley and beyond: “Expect poor air quality and limited visibility due to fires in Yosemite. Avoid strenuous exercise outdoors and remain indoors when possible.”

“Dense morning smoke impacts, clearing in the afternoon” was predicted for Yosemite Valley by the U.S. Forest Service’s wildfire air-quality program.

Hotels, restaurants, visitor centers and stores in Yosemite Valley are open.

As of late September 1,2017, reported these fire-related park closures…

Couple this with fires in Glacier National Park, and at least two of America’s favorite national parks are suffering.


Report: Great Smoky Mountains National Park Staff Not Negligent In Battling Deadly Chimney Tops 2 Fire

Posted by on Sep 1, 2017 @ 6:34 am in Conservation | 0 comments

Report: Great Smoky Mountains National Park Staff Not Negligent In Battling Deadly Chimney Tops 2 Fire

The deadly fire fed by kindling-dry forests and whipped out of control by hurricane-force winds at Great Smoky Mountains National Park “overwhelmed” the park staff’s ability to fight it, according to an independent review of the blaze that killed 14 in neighboring communities in November, 2016.

Extreme drought conditions and heavy ground fuels – downed and dead hemlocks among them – initially fed the fire, and then hurricane-force winds on November 28 into November 29 blew the conflagration into a firestorm that swept through Gatlinburg, Tennessee, trapping many in their homes and destroying or damaging approximately 2,500 structures. Power lines downed by the winds and sparking transformers set additional fires in the town. When it was all over, 14 deaths had been reported.

The review board concluded that the “unprecedented Chimney Tops 2 Fire event exposed several wildland fire situational preparedness and planning weaknesses at the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Despite these weaknesses, the review team found no evidence of wanton disregard or negligence by anyone at the park.”

“What was unprecedented was the combination of a severe wind event (a “mountain wave” extreme wind that usually occurs 2-4 times per year from November through March in the western foothills of the southern Appalachian Mountains), coupled with severe drought and a wildland fire on the landscape,” it added. “This scenario had never been witnessed by anyone at the park.”

Two juveniles initially had been charged with arson in connection with the blaze, but Tennessee authorities later dropped the charges, saying they couldn’t directly tie the Chimney Tops 2 fire in the national park with the subsequent fires in and around Gatlinburg.

See report recommendations here…


Park Service group to feds: ‘Pendulum is swinging too far to the side of development’

Posted by on Aug 31, 2017 @ 11:52 am in Conservation | 0 comments

Park Service group to feds: ‘Pendulum is swinging too far to the side of development’

Retired National Park Service employees spoke about the impacts of oil and gas development on some national parks—particularly from adjacent lands overseen by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM).

The Coalition to Protect America’s National Parks sent a letter to U.S. Department of the Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, expressing concern over the “alarming” number of oil and gas proposals near parks and what they see as overall efforts by the department to reduce protections for national parks in order to encourage oil and gas drilling.

“As former land managers, we understand the need to balance competing priorities,” the former NPS employees wrote. “But we fear the pendulum is swinging too far to the side of development.”

The coalition represents 1,400 retired, former and current National Park Service employees. The letter to Zinke cites concerns about six parks in particular, including Chaco Culture National Historical Park in the energy-rich San Juan Basin in northwestern New Mexico. (Zion National Park, Dinosaur National Monument, Capitol Reef National Park, Chaco Culture National Historical Park, Hovenweep National Monument, and Fort Laramie National Historic Site.)

Tom Vaughan, who spent decades working for the National Park Service, served as superintendent of Chaco during the 1980s. He said that while driving on Highway 550 last month, he was “flabbergasted” by the rise in development, particularly on the checkerboard of BLM, state and allotment lands on the eastern Navajo Nation.

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CO2 is changing the jet stream in ways that will create more Harveys

Posted by on Aug 30, 2017 @ 7:15 am in Conservation | 0 comments

CO2 is changing the jet stream in ways that will create more Harveys

Climate science predicted a weaker jet stream, and Harvey stalled because of a weakened jet stream.

A 2012 study led by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) concluded global warming was driving changes in extreme weather in North America. “Our research reveals a change in the summer Arctic wind pattern over the past six years,” lead author James Overland of NOAA explained at the time. “This shift demonstrates a physical connection between reduced Arctic sea ice in the summer, loss of Greenland ice, and potentially, weather in North America and Europe.”

“Enhanced warming of the Arctic affects the jet stream by slowing its west-to-east winds and by promoting larger north-south meanders in the flow,” NOAA said in a press release. “The researchers say that with more solar energy going into the Arctic Ocean because of lost ice, there is reason to expect more extreme weather events, such as heavy snowfall, heat waves, and flooding in North America and Europe but these will vary in location, intensity, and timescales.”

A 2015 study, “Evidence for a wavier jet stream in response to rapid Arctic warming,” concluded that global warming was driving an increase in the most extreme events because of “more frequent high-amplitude (wavy) jet-stream configurations that favor persistent weather patterns.”

Each large meander, or wave, within the jet stream is known as a Rossby wave. A 2014 study from the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK) further explained that we’re seeing “an exceptional number” of extreme North American weather in recent years because  some Rossby waves are stalling out for extended periods of time: “the study shows that in periods with extreme weather, some of these waves become virtually stalled and greatly amplified.”

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As Finland celebrates a century since independence, a new national park is giving the country something to shout about

Posted by on Aug 29, 2017 @ 6:40 am in Conservation | 0 comments

As Finland celebrates a century since independence, a new national park is giving the country something to shout about

The Finnish are not ones to brag about their culture. Reserved and stoical, with an appreciation of dry humor, they prefer to keep things discreet. This year, however, the country will break away from its default shy-and-retiring position as it celebrates 100 years since Finnish independence, marking the occasion when the country claimed sovereignty from Russia, during the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917.

After much fanfare about Denmark’s food and Nordic noirs in recent years, it’s now Finland’s turn to take the spotlight. And, fittingly for a country that created Forest Schools, where outdoor pursuits are championed from an early age, the headline centennial event this year is the opening of a new national park, Hossa.

This 27,000-acre patch of wilderness started as an age-old hunting ground for the indigenous Sámi people, who named it Hossa, meaning “a place far away”. In 1979, it became an official hiking area, but in June its status was cemented when it was inaugurated as Finland’s 40th national park.

Hossa is a birders’ paradise, with greater-spotted woodpeckers and golden eagles both common sightings, as well as capercaillie, whose males use the forests for an elaborate courting display, known as “lekking”. For those interested in larger creatures, there are moose, wolves and brown bears.

Reindeer are also abundant, all of which are owned and rounded up twice a year by herders. Some, such as the Hossa Reindeer Park, have developed a sideline in tourism, inviting visitors to learn about farm life or have dinner. The farm’s traditional Lappish hut, illuminated by candles and lit by open fires, is a very welcome after a day outdoors.

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Your 1 Million Acres: The Future of the Pisgah-Nantahala National Forest Belongs to You

Posted by on Aug 28, 2017 @ 12:26 pm in Conservation, Hiking News | 0 comments

Your 1 Million Acres: The Future of the Pisgah-Nantahala National Forest Belongs to You

Your property includes cascading waterfalls, ancient forests, and the highest mountains in the East. You can go anywhere you like on your property. You can hike hundreds of miles of trails and paddle, fish, and swim in its pristine streams.

You share ownership equally with every other American, and you pay your staff—the U.S. Forest Service—to manage the property. They maintain the trails and enforce the rules that you make.

Every 20 years, you write a plan that describes how your estate should be managed. You get together with the other owners to hash it out, and your staff writes it all down. This plan is the most important document of your property. It spells out the rules for your property and decides how your property taxes are spent.

The Pisgah-Nantahala National Forest is the third-most-visited national forest in the country. Its popularity has skyrocketed by 136 percent in the past two decades. Over 6.8 million people visited the forest last year, and most of them came to hike, camp, and enjoy its scenic wonders.

The Forest Service recently released a preliminary draft of their forest plan, which will guide the next twenty years of forest decisions. It’s already mired in bitter controversy.

Find out why here…


Protecting mountain gold: Balsam uses dye to thwart ginseng poachers

Posted by on Aug 28, 2017 @ 8:20 am in Conservation | 0 comments

Protecting mountain gold: Balsam uses dye to thwart ginseng poachers

Brian McMahan and Johnny Nicholson can both remember boyhood days spent in the mountains, hunting the elusive ginseng plant.

Coveted for its myriad medicinal uses, ginseng root harvest is an Appalachian tradition stretching back through generations. McMahan and Nicholson were both taught to dig it in such a way that its numbers would stay strong for generations more — leaving small plants to grow and planting the seed-containing berries of harvested plants in the earth around the dig.

“Most of the time we would ginseng dig to get money to buy a hunting license or something like that,” Nicholson said. “But the old-timers never dug it before the berries got ripe.”

These days, both men work for the Balsam Mountain Preserve in Jackson County, NC — McMahan as chief security officer and Nicholson as operations manager — and they’ve spent untold hours working to protect the Preserve’s wild ginseng from poachers who aren’t interested in harvesting the plant legally or responsibly.

“Today, these poachers just take everything,” McMahan said. “They take the big stuff, they take the little stuff. They even take it before it has berries that are available to plant.”

McMahan’s hoping that a new effort underway at the Preserve will soon keep the poachers at bay. The Preserve is attempting to apply chemical markers to as many of the ginseng plants growing on the Preserve’s 4,400 acres as possible.

Learn more here…


Interior Secretary Zinke outlines future of National Park Service while visiting BRP

Posted by on Aug 27, 2017 @ 12:00 pm in Conservation | 0 comments

Interior Secretary Zinke outlines future of National Park Service while visiting BRP

Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke came to the mountains of Eastern Tennessee and Western North Carolina on August 25, 2017 to celebrate the 101st birthday of the National Park Service and also lay out the department’s future.

Zinke said the country’s national parks are facing an $11.5 billion maintenance backlog that he wants to close in five years.

This comes on the heels of a proposed budget from President Donald Trump that would cut funds to the department. “Everyone knows you propose a budget, and it’s really Congress that goes to work. But I think we need a discussion on a budget of where we are as a country,” Zinke said. He described the path forward which he said included more money than was initially proposed.

He also said there wouldn’t be any cuts to staffing, instead, restructuring the way the National Parks Service operates. He explained that means moving upper and middle management staffers back to the fields and giving more authority to those at the local level. “You don’t need someone on a simple decision to oversee it seven different layers to get approval,” Zinke said.

In addition to closing the backlog, Zinke said the way people use the park system is changing and it needs to have better infrastructure to keep up with how people use it. He also discussed leveraging public-private partnerships like businesses along the Blue Ridge Parkway.

Zinke also said he has authorized payment of an additional $4 million owed to Swain County to pay for the so-called “Road to Nowhere.”



Here’s a better vision for the US-Mexico border: Make the Rio Grande grand again

Posted by on Aug 26, 2017 @ 11:41 am in Conservation | 0 comments

Here’s a better vision for the US-Mexico border: Make the Rio Grande grand again

The United States and Mexico have shared their current international border for nearly 170 years. Today they cooperate at multiple levels on issues that affect the border region, although you would not know it from the divisive rhetoric that we hear in both countries. President Trump’s focus on building a border wall threatens to undermine many bi-national initiatives, as well as our shared natural environment.

There is an opportunity for Mexico and the United States to work together on a much larger scale. Rather than spending billions of dollars on a border wall, here is an alternative vision: regenerating the Rio Grande, which forms more than half of the border, to form the core of a bi-national park that showcases our spectacular shared landscape.

Today the river’s volume is decreasing, thanks to climate change and water diversions for agriculture and municipal uses. It is polluted with fertilizers and sewage, and has lost at least seven native fish species. Restoring it would produce immense benefits for wildlife, agriculture, recreation and communities on both sides.

Building a wall on a wide, inhabited river corridor with flood risks is a dubious goal. As experts have pointed out, it is more effective to police the border with technology and human power than to build a barrier.

A green vision for the border region could expand this approach into a large-scale urban ecology and planning effort. This initiative could integrate streets, parks, industries, towns, cities, creeks and other tributaries, agriculture and fracking fields throughout the Rio Grande’s entire 182,000-square-mile watershed.

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Exxon Dared Critics to Prove It Misled the Public. These Researchers Just Called the Company’s Bluff.

Posted by on Aug 24, 2017 @ 6:20 am in Conservation | 0 comments

Exxon Dared Critics to Prove It Misled the Public. These Researchers Just Called the Company’s Bluff.

Two years ago, Inside Climate News and Los Angeles Times investigations found that while Exxon Mobil internally acknowledged that climate change is man-made and serious, it publicly manufactured doubt about the science. Exxon has been trying unsuccessfully to smother this slow-burning PR crisis ever since, arguing the findings were “deliberately cherry picked statements.” But the company’s problems have grown to include probes of its business practices by the New York and Massachusetts attorneys general and the Securities and Exchange Commission.

Now, science historian Naomi Oreskes and Harvard researcher Geoffrey Supran have published the first peer-reviewed, comprehensive analysis of Exxon’s climate communications that adds more heft to these charges. Exxon dared the public to “read all of these documents and make up your own mind,” in a company blog post in 2015.

The new paper, “Assessing ExxonMobil’s Climate Change Communications,” in the journal Environmental Research Letters, takes up the challenge. Oreskes and Supran systematically analyze nearly 40 years of Exxon’s scientific research, reports, internal documents, and advertisements, and find a deep disconnect between how the company directly communicated climate change and its internal memos and scientific studies.

Their content analysis examines how 187 company documents treated climate change from 1977 through 2014. Researchers found that of the documents that address the causes of climate change, 83 percent of its peer-reviewed scientific literature and 80 percent of its internal documents said it was real and man-made, while the opposite was true of the ads.

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Court rejects pipeline project on climate concerns

Posted by on Aug 23, 2017 @ 7:14 am in Conservation | 0 comments

Court rejects pipeline project on climate concerns

An appeals court on August 22, 2017 rejected the federal government’s approval of a natural gas pipeline project in the southeastern U.S., citing concerns about its impact on climate change.

In a 2-1 ruling, the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit found that the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) did not properly analyze the climate impact from burning the natural gas that the project would deliver to power plants.

The ruling is significant because it adds to environmentalists’ arguments that analyses under the National Environmental Policy Act — the law governing all environmental reviews of federal decisions — must consider climate change and greenhouse gas emissions.

The case concerns the Southeast Market Pipelines Project, which is meant to bring gas to Florida to fuel existing and planned power plants. The Sierra Club sued FERC following its 2016 approval of the project.

The environmental impact statement for the project “should have either given a quantitative estimate of the downstream greenhouse emissions that will result from burning the natural gas that the pipelines will transport or explained more specifically why it could not have done so,” Judge Thomas Griffith, who was nominated to the court by President George W. Bush, wrote in the opinion.

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Tony Tooke Is New Forest Service Chief

Posted by on Aug 22, 2017 @ 11:57 am in Conservation | 0 comments

Tony Tooke Is New Forest Service Chief

U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue announced Tony Tooke will serve as the new Chief of the U.S. Forest Service. Tooke has worked for the Forest Service since age 18 and currently is the Regional Forester for the Southern Region.

He is responsible for 3,100 employees, an annual budget exceeding $400 million, 14 national forests, and two managed areas, which encompass more than 13.3 million acres in 13 states and Puerto Rico.

His previous position in Washington, DC was Associate Deputy Chief for the National Forest System; with oversight of Lands and Realty, Minerals and Geology, Ecosystem Management Coordination, Wilderness and Wild and Scenic Rivers, the National Partnership Office, and Business Administration and Support Services.

As Associate Deputy Chief, Tooke was the Forest Service Executive Lead for Environmental Justice; Farm Bill implementation; and implementation of the Inventory, Monitoring, and Assessment Improvement Strategy. Another priority included implementation of a new planning rule for the National Forest System.

Also in the WO, Tooke served as Director for Ecosystem Management Coordination, Deputy Director for Economic Recovery, and Assistant Director for Forest Management.

Prior to 2006, Tooke served as Deputy Forest Supervisor for the National Forests in Florida as well as District Ranger assignments at the Talladega NF in Alabama, the Oconee NF in Georgia, and the DeSoto NF in Mississippi. His other field assignments were Timber Management Assistant, Other Resource Assistant, Silviculturist, and Forester on six Ranger Districts in Mississippi and Kentucky.

Tooke grew up on a small 200-acre farm in Detroit, AL. He earned a bachelor’s degree in Forestry from Mississippi State University. He was in the Forest Service’s inaugural class of the Senior Leadership Program, and he has completed the Senior Executive Service Candidate Development Program.


Trump plan could open Giant Sequoia monument to logging

Posted by on Aug 21, 2017 @ 11:55 am in Conservation | 0 comments

Trump plan could open Giant Sequoia monument to logging

For the largest living things standing on the planet, California’s giant sequoias have an unassuming, almost gentle aura to them. The recognizable cinnamon-colored bark is soft and fibrous. Its cones are modest. When cut down, the trees tend to shatter and won’t produce reliably sturdy timber.

These majestic plants have a lineage stretching back to the Jurassic period, but fears over their future have prompted a somewhat counter-intuitive plan presented to the Trump administration – in order to save the giant sequoias, some say, their surrounding area must be stripped of protected status.

As part of the Trump administration’s determination to roll back regulation and open public land to private industry, the interior secretary, Ryan Zinke, is currently undertaking a review of more than two dozen national monuments declared since the 1990s. The stated goal of the review is to reboot extractive industries such as mining and logging. Supporters of the Giant Sequoia monument fear a unique ecosystem is at risk from timber industry advocates who would peel back protections.

“If this were a different administration and there was a push by the timber industry and its allies to shrink the monument, I wouldn’t take it too seriously,” said Chad Hanson, a rangy tree ecologist who has agitated for greater sequoia protections for the past two decades. “But the Trump administration? Oh, yeah. We are taking this threat very seriously.”

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Innovative new campaign wants to offset Trump’s climate policies by planting billions of trees

Posted by on Aug 20, 2017 @ 6:32 am in Conservation | 0 comments

Innovative new campaign wants to offset Trump’s climate policies by planting billions of trees

Resistance to the Trump administration’s rollback of U.S. climate policy is literally taking root across the globe, driven by climate-savvy campaigners in New Zealand and hundreds of thousands of trees.

Dubbed “Trump Forest,” the project aims to plant enough trees — 110 billion, to be exact — to offset the carbon emissions created by the Trump administration’s climate regression, from repealing the Clean Power Plan to pulling the United States out of the Paris climate agreement.

“It doesn’t matter where you are from, climate change doesn’t recognize national boundaries. Carbon dioxide doesn’t have a passport. Our atmosphere is shared by everyone. So climate ignorance in the U.S. unfortunately impacts all of us, every person is put at risk by Trump’s inability to recognize a global threat.”

The project rests on a simple idea: to soak up excess carbon emissions created by the Trump administration’s rollback of climate policies and devotion to fossil fuels, plant something that absorbs carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. To completely offset the climate policies of the Trump administration, Price and his team estimate that they’ll need to plant enough trees to cover an area roughly the size of Kentucky.

Since the project launched in April 2017, more than 130,000 trees around the world have been planted in the name of standing up to Trump.

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National parks are already setting attendance records. Now come the eclipse chasers.

Posted by on Aug 19, 2017 @ 10:27 pm in Conservation | 0 comments

National parks are already setting attendance records. Now come the eclipse chasers.

On August 21, 2017, a total solar eclipse will blaze through 20 national parks and nine national trails in its path of totality across the United States, which begins in Oregon and ends in South Carolina.

And those who were lucky enough to book campsites and hotels in time will be heading into these parks to experience it in gorgeous natural splendor.

While the parks in the path have been making the most of the eclipse — planning special events and festivals, and raising awareness about their offerings — Monday will also be a major test of their ability to handle big crowds at a time when they’re already strained by record numbers of visitors. Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming, for instance, anticipates August 21 will be the busiest day in the history of the park.

John Day Fossil Beds in Kimberly, Oregon, is expecting larger-than-normal crowds around the eclipse too, because Eastern Oregon has been hyped as one of the best eclipse-viewing areas in the country.

In a typical year, the Homestead National Monument of America in Beatrice, Nebraska, welcomes about 100,000 visitors. On August 21, it expects several thousand.

The eclipse is arriving in a year when the number of people visiting national parks is at an all-time high. The entire park system saw a record 330 million visitors in 2016. The crowds are increasing so much that some parks have considered restricting the number of visitors.

On top of concerns about the cumulative impact of the growing crowds, parks are now preparing to grapple with what’s expected to be a historic surge around the total solar eclipse. Let’s wish all the rangers and volunteers well.

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