This week, we conclude our series on ecotourism. This time, we are featuring opportunities that are a little closer to home.
Whether they know it or not, many people in the United States engage in ecotourism in their own backyards. The National Park Service, founded in 1916 by President Woodrow Wilson, oversees 417 areas in all 50 states1. Over 300 million people visited these places in 2016 alone1, so let’s take a brief flight over the U.S.A. and see what our homeland has to offer.
The first National Park was established in 18721, and today it remains one of the most popular places to visit. From Old Faithful (an incredibly punctual geyser) to its sulfurous geothermal pools, Yellowstone National Park has quite a few breathtaking landscapes. However, one of the biggest draws of this park is its wildlife. The park is home to 67 species of mammals, 285 species of birds, 16 species of fish, 5 species of amphibians, and 6 species of reptiles1. The biodiversity is amazing!
With its nearly 3,500 acres, Yellowstone National Park also hosts one of the most iconic mammals in American history: the American Bison. This population of bison is the largest herd on public lands in the country2. Bison are considered “near threatened” by the IUCN Red List due to their dramatic population decline in the 19th century. This species has partially recovered since then3, thanks in large part to their protection in National Parks, and Yellowstone is the perfect place to observe these massive animals up close. However, it is recommended that you do so from the car, as these giant animals don’t tend to obey traffic laws. It’s best to wait and see if bison will move out of the way, slowly drive around a stationary bison, and try not to block traffic4. Above all else: please don’t put a baby bison in your car. Bison are hardy animals adapted to handle any weather. No matter how small they are, they aren’t cold!
In some National Parks, visitors are only allowed in on buses. This keeps traffic levels low and helps tourists reduce their impact on wildlife1. Visitors don’t have to worry about driving and are able to simply enjoy wildlife from the safety of buses, and wildlife is kept safe from human disturbance.
Regardless of your mode of transportation, keep in mind safe practices when appreciating the wildlife in these areas. Don’t get too close. While many National Park residents, from squirrels to elk to bison, have become habituated to visitors, they are all still wild animals and will behave as such. Inching closer and closer to animals for that perfect shot (#ecotourism) will likely end up in a bite, swipe, or head-butt. As we’ve seen throughout this series, it is important to respect the space of the animals: you’re in their home.
Though Yellowstone may be one of the oldest and most renowned, there are countless other amazing sights to see in the United States. Everywhere you travel, there is evidence of history. You don’t need to head to the waters of the Bahamas or the rainforests of Costa Rica to get your dose of wildlife. From the walls of Zion, worn down by water, to the precipice of Half Dome in Yosemite, formed from molten rock, this country is full of awe-inspiring sights. No matter what the state you live in, you are likely a day trip away from a wonderful experience. Get out, explore, and (responsibly) enjoy all the beauty nature has to offer.
[By: Allison Lau]
1NPS.gov Homepage (U.S. National Park Service). (n.d.). Retrieved January 23, 2018, from https://www.nps.gov/index.htm
2Yellowstone National Park. (2018, January 21). Retrieved January 23, 2018, from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yellowstone_National_Park
3Bison bison . (n.d.). Retrieved January 23, 2018, from http://www.iucnredlist.org/details/2815/0
4Yellowstone Bison Jam: How to Deal With Buffalo on the Road. (n.d.). Retrieved January 23, 2018, from https://www.maxwaugh.com/2017/05/25/yellowstone-bison-jam-how-to-deal-with-buffalo-on-the-road/
Featured image: Half Dome, Yosemite National Park [Source]