Wednesday, May 18, 2016

The World's Worst in America's Best

I'd like to preface this rant by noting that I'm a typical American millennial. In general, I prefer to eat avocado toast and meds for breakfast, and the term #expat2016 pretty much floats through my mind at least twenty times per day. In reality, though, I know that we've got loads of things to be proud of here in the USofA; plenty of opportunities for a gal like me, and plenty more privilege than many parts of the globe. I am thankful for that.

But with that privilege has evolved an unrealistic sense of entitlement. And I don't know if that entitlement is actually getting worse, or if we're just more aware of it due to the social media boom of the past decade. Probably a little bit of both.

One result of this ridiculously self-righteous entitlement really has my blood boiling (okay, more than one, but let's focus) and it's evident in the (mis)treatment of our public lands. It seems that over the past couple years alone, humankind has displayed its incompetency particularly well while visiting our national parks and federal lands, including but not limited to:
  • approaching bison for a selfie, getting gored
  • attempting to embark on hikes without proper hydration, dying
  • leaving bear vaults unlocked, losing food and endangering everybody including the bear
  • speeding, hitting and killing wildlife
  • referring to our first nations peoples as "Indians," asking where they can "see the Indians"
  • stopping in the middle of the road, the middle of an active roadway, to view wildlife
  • watching Wild and thinking that they're all set for a trek down the PCT, they're not
  • leaving trash everywhere (???) because, whatever
  • thinking that Mt. Rushmore is awesome (okay, I'm a little biased. There's no inherent evil in appreciating Mt. Rushmore or its phenomenal interpretive ranger programs, but Gutzon Borglum was a real piece of work; we can probably all agree on that)
  • assuming that there will be shade, wildlife in plain sight, clear skies, favorable temperatures, amenities that cater to their comfort; because the wilderness is basically the same thing as a five-star hotel
  • begging for more signage, not reading signs that already exist
  • displaying a surprisingly terrible sense of direction and no navigational competency whatsoever, depending on park rangers to help them figure out "where did we come from" as if they had blacked out at the wheel and somehow magically ended up at the park
And, most recently:
  • attempting to "save" a "cold" baby bison by trapping it in their personal vehicle, effectively writing the calf's death certificate
  • wandering off of the boardwalks onto sensitive geothermal habitats, damaging extremophile ecosystems and severely endangering themselves
This is why. This is why we cannot have nice things, America.

Now, I realize that the culprits of these misdemeanors and felonies are not always US citizens; the NPS entertains and appreciates millions of visitors from around the world. But no matter who you are or where you come from, there is such a thing as a basic threshold of common sense, and some of you don't have it. You're dumb. You're just so dumb and I can't put it any more eloquently than that. In fact, before my evening programs I'd be blunt enough to say so: "Wearing Teva sandals on Notch Trail? Guys. Don't do that. You'll break your ankle. That's dumb. That is so dumb." I'd always get a chuckle from the crowd, and I was pleased because generally if people think something is funny, they'll have a better chance of remembering it. So hopefully, the next day while they're getting ready to hit the trails, they'd lace up their hiking boots instead of slipping into their Tevas. They'd bring a 3-liter bladder full of water instead of a plastic bottle of Dasani that they end up throwing into the prairie somewhere. They'd wear hats and sunglasses and sunscreen to protect them from the Sun that creates an oven in those buttes. They'd promptly GTFO if they see lightning. They'd keep their pups on paved areas so that they aren't exposed to the plague-carrying fleas that have decimated the prairie dog populations. They'd use the proper pull-offs on the roadway that were strategically placed for their viewing enjoyment. They'd use their damn brains.

I don't understand the mindset that is so blasé about following simple protocol in federal lands, that attitude that screams, "this rule doesn't apply to me." The DOI is not the most heavily funded department of the US government and parks depend on visitation to ensure funding for the next fiscal year, so we need visitors; but if the visitors are actively unraveling the conservation work we are attempting to do, then what's the point of having protected lands in the first place? 

Having access to protected lands is a privilege, not a right. And some people are seriously taking that privilege for granted.

The NPS turns 100 this August, and I am thrilled. I've been so honored to be a small part of this saga; America's Best Idea, preserving our beautiful lands such that a balance of wilderness and development can be possible in our nation. Industry and conservation and science and education working hand in hand; it's a beautiful collaboration. 

So stop treating our public lands like a testing ground for your own personal idiocy. 


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