Wildlife

How Do We Love Our Public Lands & Scientists? Let Us Count the Ways

February 14, 2017

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A heart-shaped rock at Joshua Tree National Park. Photo © Michael Dorausch / Flickr through a Creative Commons license
A heart-shaped rock at Joshua Tree National Park. Photo © Michael Dorausch / Flickr through a Creative Commons license

 Nature unites us. The truth of this statement is clear when visiting public lands in the United States.

People of all backgrounds are brought together by a love of nature and adventure as they journey to see the incredible places that have been held in trust for all Americans.

Public lands are managed by a variety of agencies (largely depending upon the original reason that the land was declared public). The Bureau of Land Management administers land used for multiple purposes from recreation to mineral extraction and everything in between; the National Park Service protects lands for historic or cultural importance, wilderness preservation and more; the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service oversees habitat for wildlife and native plant conservation; and the Forest Service manages forests and grasslands for water and restoration.

Many of these protected areas, regardless of the governing organization, are open for public recreation all or part of the year.

Conserving these lands along with the iconic wildlife, and historic and cultural artifacts they safeguard is not as easy as putting up a fence or a sign and leaving the land alone. Wildlife and the habitat that it depends upon continues to face threats – invasive species, poachers, and encroaching development are just a few of the hazards that scientists and land managers confront.

Here are ten stories that highlight the incredible work being done on our public lands – and some opportunities to get out and see for yourself!

  • Petrified Forest National Park. Photo: © Andrew V Kearns VIP/NPS
    Petrified Forest National Park. Photo: © Andrew V Kearns VIP/NPS

    You’ve heard of, or maybe even traveled to, our nation’s most popular national parks, from Acadia’s rock beaches to Rocky Mountain’s snow-capped peaks. But the United States is home to 59 national parks, many of which are off the beaten path.

    If you’re looking for a new place to explore, get your dose of the great outdoors at one of these lesser-known national park destinations.

  • A recently tagged male Texas ocelot. Photo: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
    A recently tagged male Texas ocelot. Photo: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

    In South Texas, every ocelot counts. The small cat faces a precarious existence in the US with numbers in the dozens. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and The Nature Conservancy are working on public and private lands.

    And their work is paying off. Camera traps recently captured images of ocelot kittens!

  • Trio of tule elk. Photo © Tim Bernot, National Park Service
    Trio of tule elk. Photo © Tim Bernot, National Park Service

    The century-old Organic Act requires the National Park Service to “conserve” native wildlife, leaving it “unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations.”

    This is the story of how, in the face of intense opposition, the service ensured recovery of the 100-square-mile Point Reyes National Seashore in northern California — a profile in courage.

  • Ash Meadows Amargosa pupfish. Photo © Scott Hein
    Ash Meadows Amargosa pupfish. Photo © Scott Hein

    Pupfish are small, knuckle-sized fish known for surviving harsh environments. Salt Creek pupfish, for instance, live in water three times as salty as the ocean. They can be easily viewed along a boardwalk in Death Valley National Park.

    Another species, the Ash Meadows Amargosa pupfish, lives in waters up to 92 degrees and can survive in water only a half-inch deep. The waters they inhabit nearly disappeared under a planned development. However, a purchase negotiated by the Nature Conservancy helped to ensure that they thrive today at the Ash Meadows National Wildlife Refuge.

  • A harvester at work. Photo © Liz McNair
    A harvester at work. Photo © Liz McNair

    Consider the current plight of the whitebarks: invasive blister rust, native pine beetles, and climate change have had a dramatic impact — in many parts of the Rockies, over 80% of them are dead and with them goes an entire ecosystem.

    The U.S. Forest service is conducting a rescue. A no-nonsense geneticist named Mary Frances Mahalovich has been traveling the high Rockies seeking out the genetic supertrees that are thriving. Cones harvested from these trees form the foundation of whitebark forest recovery.

  • Greater Sage-Grouse (Centrocercus urophasianus) in Wyoming. Photo credit: © Joe Kiesecker
    Greater Sage-Grouse (Centrocercus urophasianus) in Wyoming. Photo credit: © Joe Kiesecker

    The potential listing of sage-grouse under the Endangered Species Act generated unprecedented levels of science, planning, and collaboration.

    Sagebrush scientists and managers all agree the single best tool we can use right now is to protect remaining intact and healthy sagebrush wherever it exists from human encroachment. The Bureau of Land Management, the federal agency managing most federal lands in the West, is implementing plans for sage grouse protection.

  • Pygmy rabbit. Photo: H. Ulmschneider (BLM) and R. Dixon (IDFG)
    Pygmy rabbit. Photo: H. Ulmschneider (BLM) and R. Dixon (IDFG)

    Meet one of the hardest-to-spot critters in North America — the smallest rabbit in the world. 

    Fossil Butte National Monument was established to protect fossil beds that reveal the ecological history of the region, but it’s also a great place to see living creatures. The sagebrush on the national monument has not been grazed or disturbed since the 1970s. And where’s there’s great habitat, wildlife thrives: pronghorn, white-tailed prairie dog, Wyoming ground squirrel, greater sage grouse and sage thrasher, and yes, even the elusive pygmy rabbit.

  • Gillnetting lake trout on Lake Yellowstone. Photo © The Nature Conservancy (Matt Miller)
    Gillnetting lake trout on Lake Yellowstone. Photo © The Nature Conservancy (Matt Miller)

    A visit to our first national park, on a commercial gillnetting boat.

    Those gillnets are part of one of the most ambitious native fish restoration efforts ever undertaken, attempting to control invasive lake trout so that native Yellowstone cutthroat trout can return.

  • Carnegiea gigantea. Photo © Craig Hilton Taylor
    Carnegiea gigantea. Photo © Craig Hilton Taylor

    More than 30 percent of the world’s cacti are threatened or endangered, and many of those because of illegal collecting. Many of North America’s rare cacti are found on public lands.

    U.S. Fish and Wildlife law enforcement agents, like Nicholas Chavez, do what they can to prevent, or catch, the smugglers, but it’s a struggle in the vast expanse of the uninhabited southwest.

  • A greater yellowlegs at Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge. Photo: © Dave Spier
    A greater yellowlegs at Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge. Photo: © Dave Spier

    Wildlife refuges offer some world-class nature experiences. The system has now grown to include more than 560 refuges protecting more than 150 million acres. With such an embarrassment of riches, where to begin?

    Here are ten places for the traveling naturalist to explore this summer.

Lisa Feldkamp

Lisa Feldkamp is the senior coordinator for new science audiences. She loves all things citizen science and enjoys learning about everything that goes on four legs, two wings or fins. She has a PhD in Classical Literature and Languages from the University of Wisconsin - Madison and enjoys reading Greek and Roman literature or talking about mythology in her spare time. More from Lisa

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Why Do You Love Public Lands?

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3 comments

  1. there a place for the wild a place to learn about wild things a place for peace of mind relaxation or hiking and camping. a place to go with friends and family for camping and getting to know each other. there a place to go to escape from city and town living to unwind and release the tension a place for walks with your loved one!

  2. Because they are a haven for wildlife enabling them to live in their natural habitat.
    We need to make sure wildlife is protected from poachers.
    A world without wildlife would be sad.