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Friday, January 12, 2018

Top Stories of the National Parks for 2017

Twenty seventeen came to an end last week.  Many history making and world changing events from Donald Trump's taking of the oval office to the mass killings in Las Vegas took place. America's national parks were caught up in many of these history making events as well, here are the top national park stories from 2017.

National Park Service told to stop Tweeting
The day after Trump's inauguration, the National Park Service tweeter account put out a tweet seeming to contradict the President's claim that his inauguration enjoyed the largest crowds ever.  The National Park Service (NPS) twitter site sent a message that compared images of Obama's crowd vs. those for Trump's.  The obvious conclusion from the images was that the president was over exaggerating at best and lying at worst. The NPS site was shut down for several days.  As a result several alternative tweeter sites including one for the NPS, as well as the EPA, NASA, and Forest Service popped up to counter the new gag orders.

Trump proposes to raise Park entrance fees
The National Park Service proposes at nearly two dozen sites to more than double the entrance fees.  The agency claims the additional revenue will help with park improvements. Others fear, the higher costs will make traveling to national parks unaffordable for many.

Trump orders the reduction of several National Monuments
Following a review of less than a year, President Trump ordered the largest reduction of national monuments in American history. Specifically, Bears Ears and Grand Staircase National Monuments were both cut by 1 million acres.  These cuts were made despite overwhelming public support for maintaining them as were.  The final decision will likely be rendered by the courts.

Park Visitation continues to Break Records
It wasn't all bad new in 2017.  The National Park Service reported early last year that 2016 saw record breaking numbers.  In fact, nearly 331 million people visited the national park system during its centennial year.  Golden Gate National Recreation Area, Blue Ridge Parkway, Smoky Mountains National Park, George Washington Memorial Parkway, and Gateway National Recreation Area rounding out the top five visited park sites.  Twenty seventeen saw similar visitation numbers and experts expect this past year to be a record breaker as well.

Solar Eclipse Casts Shadow Across Several National Parks
On August 21, a total solar eclipse passed across the entirety of the continental United States. This was the first total eclipse visible from the US in 38 years.  The 2017 eclipse passed over 21 national park units from Oregon to South Carolina.  Millions of people traveled to be in the path of totality.  Another total eclipse won't be visible again in the United States until April of 2024.

Huge Fires Scorched the West
Twenty Seventeen made history for other reasons besides astronomical phenomenon.  Huge wildfires ripped across the west this past year as well.  Infernos torched thousands of acres in Yosemite and Great Smokey's National Parks. Meanwhile, at Montana's Glacier National Park, wildfire destroyed the historic backcountry Sperry Chalet.

That's it.  Did we miss anything?  Let us know in the comments.

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Sean Smith is an award winning conservationist and author. He is a former National Park Ranger at Yellowstone, Glacier, and the North Cascades. He is a TEDx speaker, and private pilot. He graduated from the University of Washington in 1989 with a degree in Political Science. He got his master's in Natural Resources Management from Central Washington University in 1996. He currently runs Washington State's efforts to reduce and eliminate toxic chemicals from consumer products and serves as the Mayor Pro Tem of Covington.

He has been writing stories and books since he was a child and currently writes national park thrillers from the shadow of Mount Rainier.

All his novels can be found here: Mr. Sean D Smith








Sunday, December 10, 2017

What Being Remote Truly Means

A pair of scientists out of Florida are creating a map and visiting the most remote places in America. They used criteria like distance from roads and areas that is accessible by foot. Not surprising the most remote place in the continental United States is inside Yellowstone.

This project got me thinking about the most remote places I’ve visited. Here’s my list of remote places.

Mission Mountains 2.93 miles Lucifer Lake















Grand Canyon 4.3 miles Phantom Ranch












Everglades 4.9 miles Whitewater Bay













Yellowstone 6.3 miles Heart Lake















Glacier 6.7 miles Dawson/Pitamakan Pass












Lake Clark 53 miles Tuxedni Bay














While compiling my list, a couple things struck me.

First, even though I’ve hiked thousands of miles, and consciously tried to get into the wilderness, I’ve never really been than far from civilization. Outside of Alaska, I’ve only been on average 5 miles or less from a road. That’s never more than a two hour hike back to civilization.

Second, even deep into wilderness parks like Glacier or Yellowstone, indications of civilization were always present. At Yellowstone for example the contrails of transcontinental flights seemed always overhead. Meanwhile, at the Mission Mountains the lights of St. Ignatius could be seen in the distance. At the bottom of the Grand Canyon, park tourists who didn't feel safe venturing more than a few feet from their cars were ever present peering over the gorge's edge.  Even in Lake Clark, more than 50 miles from the nearest road, we were never more than a stones throw from the airplane, the hikers camp, and the bear viewing platform.

For me being truly remote means being vulnerable, being separated from easy rescue.  I felt most vulnerable and probably most remote in the Everglades backcountry.  My brother and I took a small boat deep into the Everglades wilderness. If a storm had come up or the boat failed, we would have been stranded with no easy way to walk out.  This trip was back in early 90's, long before the cell phones, meaning their was no easy way to call for help.  This vulnerability made me realize how interconnected and reliant we are on each other for our survival.

Finally, pulling together my list made me realize that despite the fact that wilderness and backcountry acreage has grown, the opportunity to be truly remote has shrunk. This loss of remoteness means feeling truly vulnerable or exposed is diminished, lost. And in the end, the irony is a loss of remoteness means our ability to understand our true dependence on our fellow humans is also lost.

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Sean Smith is an award winning conservationist and author. He is a former National Park Ranger at Yellowstone, Glacier, and the North Cascades. He is a TEDx speaker, and private pilot. He graduated from the University of Washington in 1989 with a degree in Political Science. He got his master's in Natural Resources Management from Central Washington University in 1996. He currently runs Washington State's efforts to reduce and eliminate toxic chemicals from consumer products and serves as the Mayor Pro Tem of Covington.

He has been writing stories and books since he was a child and currently writes national park thrillers from the shadow of Mount Rainier.

All his novels can be found here: Mr. Sean D Smith

Saturday, November 18, 2017

It's My Birthday. Let's help the National Parks!

My birthday is fast approaching and for this one I'd like to take the opportunity to raise money for the
. The Coalition's mission is to advocate for the protection of our national parks.
Coalition to Protect America's National Parks

I've created a facebook fundraiser with a goal of  raising $500 dollars.  I'll match that money to double the gift to a $1000.  Can you help me reach my goal? The fundraiser ends in two weeks, so if you can, make a donation today!  To kick in, click here.

Thanks,

Sean

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Sean Smith is an award winning conservationist and author. He is a former National Park Ranger at Yellowstone, Glacier, and the North Cascades. He is a TEDx speaker, and private pilot. He graduated from the University of Washington in 1989 with a degree in Political Science. He got his master's in Natural Resources Management from Central Washington University in 1996. He currently runs Washington State's efforts to reduce and eliminate toxic chemicals from consumer products and serves as the Mayor Pro Tem of Covington.

He has been writing stories and books since he was a child and currently writes national park thrillers from the shadow of Mount Rainier.

All his novels can be found here: Mr. Sean D Smith

Sunday, November 5, 2017

What does National Bison Day say about us?

It's national bison day, an annual celebration of the historic, cultural, biological, and economic value American bison contribute to the United States.

For tens of thousands of years, long before European migrants settled on the American continent, Bison were played a pivotal role in the central plains ecosystem.  Once numbering in the tens of millions, bison herds stretched from the Appalachians in the east to the Rocky mountains in the west and from the Gulf of Mexico to Alberta Canada.  Bison were a prey species for wolves and grizzly bears. They also served as one of the central sources of survival for the plains Indians.

Through a combination of activities such as sport and market hunting, as well as, the US Army's policy of killing bison to deprive plains Indians of their main food source, bison were nearly removed from the American continent.

In 1902 the US Army was in charge of big western parks like Yellowstone.  In an ironic twist, the Army at Yellowstone recognized the Bison's dire condition and began active measures to restore the herd. Roughly 2 dozen bison were purchase from private farms and brought to Yellowstone.  Today the park's herd has upwards of 5 thousands animals. It's an encouraging recovery story.

The Department of Interior and the National Park Service both recognize the symbolic significance bison play in our nation's history and have prominently display the animal on the department's seal and the agency's badges.  The animal is there to remind these government entities that wildlife such as bison are a key park of wild places.  If we can make room for animals like bison, we just might be able to protect the other things like clean air and water, natural quiet, and night skies.  All these things are important to creating a country and world that can sustain life.

I had a number of opportunities to work with wild bison most notably in Yellowstone.  As a ranger I had to keep visitors and bison separated in order to protect both.  While working with Bluewater Network, I helped draft rules that protect bison from snowmobile harassment. 

It's a priority of my wife and me to introduce my kids to some of the world's most wild places. Having them say cool while being surround by a snorting bison  is one of our highlight experiences.

Protecting and passing along a sustainable Bison herd says more than just humans can protect a species. Rather it says that we can correct past mistakes and pass onto future generations a better planet.

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Sean Smith is an award winning conservationist and author. He is a former National Park Ranger at Yellowstone, Glacier, and the North Cascades. He is a TEDx speaker, and private pilot. He graduated from the University of Washington in 1989 with a degree in Political Science. He got his master's in Natural Resources Management from Central Washington University in 1996. He currently runs Washington State's efforts to reduce and eliminate toxic chemicals from consumer products and serves as the Mayor Pro Tem of Covington.

He has been writing stories and books since he was a child and currently writes national park thrillers from the shadow of Mount Rainier.

All his novels can be found here: Mr. Sean D Smith





Thursday, October 19, 2017

More than 350 Current and Former Rangers Express Support for National Monuments

Bears Ears National Monument ~ US Forest Service
I am proud to add my name to more than 350 national park service professionals who sent a letter to Department of Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke supporting America's national monuments.  These current and former park rangers also expressed their disappointment over the Secretaries call to review recent monument designations.

Under the Antiquities Act, the president has the authority to designate national monuments out of lands and resources owned by the federal government.  Many of America's national parks like the Grand Canyon were first set aside for protection by the presidents under the Antiquities Act.

One of the Trump administration's first action was to order a review of 22 national monuments established since 1996, despite apparently no public demand for a review, nor any evidence to support it.

The park professionals are asking the Department of Interior to support our national monuments and reconsider the review.

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Sean Smith is an award winning conservationist and author. He is a former National Park Ranger at Yellowstone, Glacier, and the North Cascades. He is a TEDx speaker, and private pilot. He graduated from the University of Washington in 1989 with a degree in Political Science. He got his master's in Natural Resources Management from Central Washington University in 1996. He currently runs Washington State's efforts to reduce and eliminate toxic chemicals from consumer products and serves as the Mayor Pro Tem of Covington.

He has been writing stories and books since he was a child and currently writes national park thrillers from the shadow of Mount Rainier.

All his novels can be found here: Mr. Sean D Smith