The National Parks Conservation Association Wants Your Photos!

The National Parks Conservation Association is looking to send a message to the folks in Washington, D.C., and they’d like our help in doing it.

The non-profit organization is dedicated to protecting and preserving America’s national parks for future generations, but with potential budget cuts looming the fear is that members of Congress may have forgotten just how special those places truly are. That’s where we come in. The NPCA is asking us to submit our favorite photos from our visits to the national parks so that they can be used in an upcoming advocacy video. The hope is that that video will help convey just how passionate travelers are about the park system.

So dig out those photos of you hiking in Yellowstone, climbing in Yosemite or rafting in the Grand Canyon. Share your pics from that camping trip to the Great Smokey Mountains that you took with your dad when you were 10. Whatever images convey great memories from your national park excursions, the NCPA wants to see them.

You’ll find complete details on how you can share your pictures at, which has specific details on how to get the images into the hands of NPCA. There are options to email the files directly, share them via Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest or simply to upload them through the organization’s website.

This is our chance to help explain just how important our national parks are to us. Who knows, your photo may just be the one that speaks directly to one of the Congressmen or women who will be deciding their fate in the weeks and months ahead.

[Photo Credit: Kraig Becker]


Congress Seeks To Make Bison America’s ‘National Mammal’

Earlier this week, Wyoming Senator Mike Enzi introduced a bill to congress that seeks to make the bison America’s “national mammal.” The bill, which is officially titled the National Bison Legacy Act, was brought before lawmakers at the request of the Wildlife Conservation Society and seems to have wide support from both sides of aisle.

If the act becomes law, the bison would be granted a similar status as the bald eagle, the oak tree and the rose as official national symbols of the United States. Beyond that there would be very little direct effect, although that doesn’t deter the sponsors of the bill. They see the bison as an important part of American heritage dating back to a time when only Native Americans occupied the region.

The bison is the largest land animal in North America and their vast herds once numbered in the millions. At their peak, those herds covered the Great Plains, ranging from the Rocky Mountains to as far east as the Appalachians. But as settlers moved west the animals were hunted for their meat and fur, bringing them to the brink of extinction. In the early 1900s President Teddy Roosevelt, working with several conservation groups, played an instrumental role in saving them from that fate. Today the bison population is estimated to be in the hundreds of thousands, some of which are domesticated, and healthy herds can be found in places like Yellowstone and Grand Tetons National Parks.

Although this piece of legislation doesn’t carry much weight, supporters say that it will still make American’s more aware of the role the bison has played in the country’s history and will help create support for further protecting the creatures and their natural environments.

Should Hunting Be Allowed In America’s National Parks?

Should hunting be allowed inside America’s national parks? That’s the question that the U.S. Senate will soon be dealing with as they debate the merits of HR 4089, better known as the Sportsman’s Heritage Act. The controversial bill was passed by the House of Representatives in April and could be coming to the floor of the Senate as well. If it does manage to become a law, HR 4089 would open most of the National Park System to hunting, trapping and recreational shooting.

Since their inception, the national parks have been designed to protect America’s heritage and natural landscapes, and those protections have always extended to the wildlife that roamed those regions as well. In the past it has taken – quite literally – an act of Congress to allow hunting within a park’s boundaries, but with this new bill hunting, trapping and sport shooting could become commonplace.

In addition to the traditional national parks that we all know and love, such as Yellowstone and Yosemite, the park system is made up of a number of other entities as well. These include national monuments, memorials, military and historic parks and more. All of them could potentially fall under the jurisdiction of this new law, allowing hunting in such places as Gettysburg or Valley Forge for example.The Sportsman’s Heritage Act does have specific language written into it that provides for exemptions to the law in parks and monuments specifically. But those exemptions need to be decided on an individual basis, which can be a time consuming and costly affair. Furthermore, the wording of the bill fails to mention the other park units such as memorials, historic parks and the other places mentioned above. In other words, it would encompass each of those places unless they are specifically singled out for exemption.

The National Parks Conservation Association has worked in conjunction with the law firm of Arnold & Porter, LLP to examine the legal ramifications of the bill, and they’ve found that it could be quite costly as well. HR 4089’s approach to opening the park system up for hunting, trapping and sport shooting means that each of the units will have to do their own individual study to determine if they should allow those activities or not. Considering there are 397 units within the system, that could mean a lot of money spent on conducting that research.

The NPCA is also quick to point out that the bill would allow for the use of off-road vehicles wherever they are needed by hunters and trappers to engage in those activities. Most of the parks don’t currently allow the use of 4×4’s off of pavement, but this would open it up for their use in many other places. Considering the damage that they can do to the environment, their use seems to run counter to the idea of actually protecting these wild spaces.

As a traveler, i personally enjoy exploring the national parks because they are beautiful, serene environments. I can’t imagine visiting Rocky Mountain National Park for example, spending hours scrambling to the top of the famous Longs Peak, only to be greeted by gunshots from elk hunters. Or as a parent, can you imagine having to explain to a young park visitor why the vehicle sitting next to yours has a deer strapped across its hood? The parks are places of refuge and in my opinion they should stay that way. There are plenty of other places in the U.S. to hunt and trap, but we should keep those activities out of the parks themselves. If you agree, click here to express your concerns to your local congressman.

National Parks Conservation Association rallies public support for park funding

The National Parks Conservation Association wants the U.S. government to stop cutting critical funding to national parks – and apparently many Americans agree. Earlier this week, the NPCA announced that it had garnered more than 105,000 signatures from its supporters asking Congress to put an end to budget cuts to the National Park Service, asserting that those cuts that are endangering the future of parks.

Back in May, the NPCA kicked off its National Parks Protection Project which was designed to educate members of Congress and the American public about the importance of proper funding for the national parks. When that initiative got underway, an online petition was also included, with the goal of attaining 100,000 signatures asking the government to stop slashing funding to the parks. After all, the NPCA points out, the Park Service’s budget is just one-thirteenth of one percent of the total federal budget.

For that relatively small amount of money, the national parks generate quite a return on the investment. Not only does that funding go toward protecting and promoting the most amazing park system in the world, it also has an important impact on the communities that surround those parks. It is estimated that the national parks are responsible for contributing more than $13 billion to local economies each year while also creating nearly 270,000 private-sector jobs.

Now, just over three months after the petition went online, the NPCA has not only met its goal, but exceeded it. In fact, the organization’s president, Tom Kiernan, has said “This is by far the most successful petition drive we’ve ever had – in nearly 100 years of operations – and it’s time for Congress to take notice of how many people have joined this effort.”

I tend to agree with Kiernan. The national parks are a fantastic resource and one that we need to protect for future generations to enjoy as well. Unfortunately, budget cuts have made those efforts incredibly challenging. But considering what the parks give back to us, both tangibly and intangibly, perhaps it is time to stop looking solely at the bottom line.

Are airline fees about to go higher?

What could possibly be next? Absent Ryanair-style fee insanity, there seems to be little the airlines can do to our wallets now. Blankets, bags and beverages are just the tip of the iceberg: it seems anything that can come at a price does. The only thing missing is a seemingly well-intentioned Congress that wants its share of the airlines’ recently found largess.

Make no mistake about it: extra fees translate to real money for airlines. Last year, they amounted to $7.9 billion in the United States, and in the second quarter of 2010, the top six airlines in the country picked up $2.1 billion. Following the effects of the 2008 financial crisis, this is cash these companies desperately needed to collect.

This is where Congress enters the picture. Right now, the government scores a 7.5 percent on fares. By effectively unbundling certain “amenities” – like checked baggage – from the fares, the airlines can charge lower prices, with the ancillary stuff charged on a pay-to-play basis. In the end, the feds are stuck with a smaller revenue base to tax. And, the airlines are able to bypass the excise tax, and boost their profits a bit.To plug the hole, Senator Jim Webb of Virginia has proposed legislation that would subject the additional fees to the same 7.5 percent tax as the fares, restoring at least some of the lost tax revenue. From the perspective of Congress, this makes sense. The feds took it on the chin financially when the airlines unbundled, and they need to make up for it (because cutting spending just doesn’t seem to be an option).

For the airlines, this poses a problem. Either they can swallow the pill and take the 7.5 percent it against their revenues, or they can pass the additional cost along to their customers. Since 2011 is likely to be a tougher year for the sector than 2010, it looks to me like the writing is on the wall. Why absorb it when you can pass it along, right?

The tax is being proposed, so give it some time. But, if it hits, I’d expect we’ll feel it, too.