Vermont Public is independent, community-supported media, serving Vermont with trusted, relevant and essential information. We share stories that bring people together, from every corner of our region. New to Vermont Public? Start here.

© 2024 Vermont Public | 365 Troy Ave. Colchester, VT 05446

Public Files:

For assistance accessing our public files, please contact or call 802-655-9451.
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Explore our latest coverage of environmental issues, climate change and more.

Our National Parks: A Call To Stewardship

As sea levels rise, we may have to begin deciding which monuments and parks to save, and which to document and let go.

Birthdays are a time to celebrate, but an opportunity to look forward as well.

There are many challenges the national parks must face in the 21st century, but two that stand out are a changing environment and an evolving society.

When it comes to environment, climate change tops the list. As climate change deepens, we face a cascade of environmental consequences – melting glaciers and ice packs, rising sea levels, warming oceans, loss of wildlife habitat and species extinction. For example, glaciers may soon disappear in Glacier National Park and Joshua trees may no longer be sustainable in their namesake national park.

As we move through the Anthropocene, an epoch that acknowledges the ways in which humans may affect the environment as much as nature, it’s hard to know what “natural” will even mean. The National Park Service may have to take a more interventionist approach – like transplanting endangered species to new home ranges, but this is fraught with potential complications.

Cultural resources are likely to be threatened as well. For example, historic structures near coasts, like the Statue of Liberty, may be inundated by rising sea levels. It might be possible to move some monuments to higher ground, but this would be shockingly expensive on a large scale. We may have to choose which ones to save and which to document and let go.

Society is also changing and the national park system must evolve with it, offering new parks that focus on the heritage and culture of more diverse communities. Existing parks can also be reinterpreted to tell more inclusive stories.

New programs are needed to reach younger generations – some of whom may have become disaffected from nature. To do this, the national parks must become centerpieces of engaging school curricula and well-represented on social media.

The national parks will live up to their foundational democratic character only to the extent that they’re relevant to all people. Meeting the demands of a national park system of the future will rely on a broad call to stewardship that must be answered by a coalition of government, the private sector, non-profit organizations, and citizens.

Explaining why she wrote Silent Spring, a book that helped launch the Environmental Movement, Rachel Carson wrote that “no carefree love of the planet is now possible." We who value our national parks for the natural and cultural heritage they represent must be willing to answer this call to stewardship.

Robert Manning is the Steven Rubenstein Professor of Environment and Natural Resources at the University of Vermont.
Latest Stories