Whenever I come across another land-changing human activity, I rethink the question asked of passersby at one National Park Service site in the West.
I pondered quietly to myself upon seeing the sign of white lettering on a brown background posted along one heavily trafficked interpretive trail at Bandelier National Monument. The park is adjacent to Los Alamos National Laboratory and it’s a two-hour drive or so to Santa Fe, the capital city of New Mexico. You can learn about Bandelier at http://www.nps.gov/band/index.htm
A brief National Park Service intro: “Bandelier National Monument protects more than 33,000 acres of rugged but beautiful canyon and mesa country as well as evidence of a human presence here going back over 11,000 years. Petroglyphs, dwellings carved into the soft rock cliffs, and standing masonry walls pay tribute to the early days of a culture that still survives in the surrounding communities.”
Here’s what the sign asks passersby to consider: “Park managers at Bandelier and elsewhere are working to preserve biological diversity in our national parks. But national parks make up only 3 percent of the United States. Even Bandelier’s 33,000 acres are only 3 percent of the surrounding Jemez Mountain Range. Outside national parks, more and more land is being modified by human activities.
“Has enough land been set aside to preserve the wildlife and natural plant communities of our nation?”
The short answer, given the number of plant and animal species listed as threatened or endangered – both at the federal and state level – is no, not enough has been set aside.
The values of our natural heritage, also called biological diversity of “biodiversity,” are “legion,” the Park Service states on its Web site.
Those include: “The value of nature for its own sake, a source of wonder and enjoyment; the value of learning about the workings of nature in places largely free of human influence, for comparison with landscapes dominated by humans; the survival value of multitudes of wild species that flourish as natural systems helping regulate climate, air quality, and cycles of carbon, nitrogen, oxygen, mineral elements, and water—all fundamental to life on Earth.”
Many conservationists also are quick to exclaim the “economic value of plants and animals, and their potential as sources of food, medicine, and industrial products. Parks protect the species and their communities that underlie these values—serving if necessary as reservoirs of seed stock for restoring species lost elsewhere.”
But as that trailside message Bandelier asks of passing hikers points out, our natural heritage is not limited to what’s found and monitored inside the boundaries of national parks or wildlife refuges or in units of the National Wilderness Preservation System or Wild and Scenic Rivers Act.
It’s also found on the land that highway planners seek to level for a new road.
It also lives and breathes on land that will be consumed by a sprawl subdivision, thanks to the access provided by the new road.
It’s also found the forested hill over yonder – habitat that’ll be turned into an island of same when its connector to other nearby natural lands is built on.
“When most people hear the term ‘endangered species,’ they think of manatees, grizzly bears, whales, and other charismatic species. If these animals don’t live in your area, you might think there is nothing you can do to help endangered species,” states a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service fact sheet titled “What you can do to help wildlife and plants.”
(You can read and learn from the fact sheet at http://www.fws.gov/asheville/pdfs/What_You_Can_Do.pdf).
I would add this first step: To ensure the future of your own region’s natural heritage, tell your local, county, state and federal leaders that it’s time – now – to start preserving natural lands, not calling their destruction “progress.”