How US led the pro­tec­tion move­ment

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - COVER STORY - By CHEN JIA in San Fran­cisco

The artist Ge­orge Catlin ( 17961872) is usu­ally credited with in­vent­ing the con­cept of na­tional parks. Dur­ing a trip to Dakota in 1832, he be­came con­cerned about the im­pact of west­ward ex­pan­sion on Na­tive Amer­i­cans and their civ­i­liza­tion, wildlife and the wilder­ness.

Yel­low­stone Na­tional Park, the first in the United States, was es­tab­lished in 1872. It was fol­lowed by Yosemite Na­tional Park, the Grand Canyon Na­tional Park, and the Hawaii Vol­ca­noes Na­tional Park. How­ever, it wasn’t un­til 1916 that the Na­tional Park Ser­vice was cre­ated to man­age them.

“The ba­sic mis­sion of the Na­tional Park Ser­vice is to pre­serve and pro­tect the cul­tural and nat­u­ral re­sources within a park for cur­rent and fu­ture gen­er­a­tions and also to pro­vide en­joy­ment for the many visi­tors who come to th­ese parks,” said James E. Miculka, ad­junct pro­fes­sor at the depart­ment of recre­ation, park and tourism sciences at Texas A&M Univer­sity.

The US Na­tional Park Sys­tem com­prises more than 400 ar­eas of wilder­ness. Most are un­fenced and an un­lim­ited num­ber of visi­tors are al­lowed, but, to pre­vent re­sources be­com­ing ex­hausted and to en­sure the qual­ity of the vis­i­tor’s ex­pe­ri­ence, the ser­vices and ac­tiv­i­ties are tai­lored to fit the ca­pac­ity of each spe­cific park and its fea­tures, said Pa­trick Tier­ney, pro­fes­sor and chair­man at the depart­ment of recre­ation, parks, and tourism at San Fran­cisco State Univer­sity.

For ex­am­ple, any­one wish­ing to raft the Colorado River in the Grand Canyon needs to ob­tain a per­mit, but with 110 ap­pli­cants for each per­mit it could take 10 to 15 years be­fore an ap­pli­cant is granted one.

The Na­tional Park Ser­vice is sup­ported through the fed­eral bud­get, al­though it ob­tains ad­di­tional funds through foun­da­tions, sup­port groups and do­na­tions.

About 95 per­cent of the bud­get for Yosemite Na­tional Park comes from the fed­eral gov­ern­ment, ac­cord­ing to Tier­ney. Park en­trance fees must be given to the fed­eral trea­sury and may be re­al­lo­cated by Congress, but be­cause the parks are sub­si­dized, the fees ac­count for a rel­a­tively small per­cent­age of their bud­gets.

De­vel­op­ment bat­tles loom

Miculka’s col­league, Pro­fes­sor Jim Gra­mann, said: “The Na­tional Park Ser­vice prefers to use the term ‘vis­i­tor’ in­stead of ‘tourist.’ Tourists travel from their homes to a desti­na­tion they don’t own. They are ‘guests’ at their desti­na­tion. But all Amer­i­cans are the own­ers of the na­tional parks, even if they don’t visit them.”

Hav­ing vis­ited China sev­eral times, Miculka has seen the chal­lenges fac­ing the coun­try’s parks and pro­tected ar­eas. He said bat­tles over eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment and the need for the preser­va­tion of green spa­ces and his­tory oc­cur all over the world and peo­ple must de­cide what’s im­por­tant, then strike a bal­ance and be pre­pared to com­pro­mise to pre­serve parks and pro­tected ar­eas.

“There are suc­cess­ful at­tempts at preser­va­tion and pro­tec­tion in places such as panda re­serves, the Ter­ra­cotta Army in Xi’an, and the palaces in Bei­jing. I doubt that any of them would be de­stroyed to make room for a shop­ping center. The same at­ti­tude needs to spread to China’s other pro­tected nat­u­ral and cul­tural ar­eas. The con­cept of parks and preser­va­tion needs to be mar­keted to the gen­eral pub­lic so they can see, un­der­stand and re­late to the needs of th­ese spe­cial places,” he said.

For Philip Wang, as­so­ci­ate pro­fes­sor at the recre­ation, park and tourism man­age­ment depart­ment un­der Kent State Univer­sity in Ohio, parks can only suc­ceed if they are left undis­turbed.

“Ur­ban en­croach­ment is a chal­lenge to the na­tional parks (in the US) and I fear that it will be worse in China be­cause of the pop­u­la­tion pres­sure. The preser­va­tion of na­ture through the na­tional parks is the best idea Amer­ica has come up with. By im­pli­ca­tion, this idea is bet­ter than democ­racy or tech­nol­ogy,” he added. Con­tact the writer at chen­jia@chi­nadaily.com.cn

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