National Parks

In Kind Photography Contest - National Parks

We're glad to announce that we will now be holding periodic photography contests centered around themes that will be coupled with nonprofit fundraisers! Our first contest will be themed around the National Parks system and will be raising funds for the National Park Foundation.

To apply, send us a message through our Facebook page or at contact@inkind.life with your photograph that was taken by you in a National Park, along with some information about you and your entry!

Prizes:

  • 1st place: $50 Amazon Gift Card

  • 2nd place: $25 Amazon Gift Card

  • 3rd place: $15 Amazon Gift Card

Deadline for entry is July 7, 2018. Finalists will be announced Sunday July 8th in a photo album posted on our Facebook page, with winners being announced July 15th.

Winners and finalists will be featured in a photo essay on our website, and will have the option to have their work link to their online presence. Gift cards will be sent through email.

 

 

Yaguas National Park and Conservation in the Peruvian Amazon

Earlier this year, on January 12th, the Peruvian government announced the designation of South America's newest national park. It is tucked away in the furthest north west corner of the country known as the Loreto region, just along the Columbian border where the mighty Amazon river meanders its way from Brazil. The Putumayo river, a large tributary of the Amazon serves as the main water source, creating a large, interconnected river basin where the water moves so slowly it can be difficult to discern what is truly a river. The closest town of any size is Iquitos, sometimes known as the capitol of Peruvian Amazon, that serves as the main port of trade between the area and the rest of the country. However, even from there, the park is still days journey away by any traditional mode of transportation. It is here, on a patch of land measured at over 860,000 hectares, that now sits Yaguas National Park, so named both after one of the rivers and one of the indigenous communities it protects. 

Although the Amazon rain forest stretches over around 60% of the country, Yaguas National Park is unique in its unrivaled biological diversity and relatively unspoiled nature. Its designation as a national park is the culmination of decades of effort from local indigenous communities, as well as national and international conservation groups including the Servicio Nacional de Áreas Naturales Protegidas (SERNANP), Peru's national agency for the protection of natural areas.

This new national park is not only home to multiple endangered and rarely seen species, like the giant river otter, but its dense biodiversity is such that is rarely seen in the natural world. In fish alone there are thought to be over 500 distinct species within the borders of the park, one of the richest sites in the world with regards to diversity in fish and representing over 60% of species present in Peru. This is in addition to the projected numbers of 160 distinct species of mammals, 500 species of birds, 110 species of amphibians, and 100 species of reptiles thought to be present. Not to mention around 3,500 species of plants in this one park alone. For ecologists and conservationists, Yaguas National Park is a treasure trove. In the river one might see freshwater pink river dolphins and manatees. In the air it may be harpy eagles or hoatzins. Everywhere, the fast growing nature of the rain forest is such that one might forget about the influence of man. That, it until running into evidence of illegal mining or logging operations.

Source:  Flickr

Source: Flickr

Multiple environmental watch groups, SERNANP included, have in recent years used the area now known as Yaguas National Park as site for biological and geological research in the hopes to prove the immeasurable value of the park and the need for its continued and increased protection. Not only have they documented no small amount of the varied species in the area but also identified its other point of great importance, its essential role as a carbon sink. As global concerns about carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere by the burning of fossil fuels grow, untouched forests such as this which store atmospheric carbon become increasingly valuable and in need of preservation.

Additionally, the site of the new park is home to upwards of 1,000 indigenous people who rely upon the land to maintain their way of life. Leaders of local indigenous communities, from the Bora, Mürui, Tikuna, Kichwa, Ocaina, and Yagua peoples, were instrumental in the successful designation of the park and are often the fiercest proponents of conservation. These communities, due to their remote location, rely upon subsistence hunting. It is also to be considered that the communities now present in the area are the remnants of much larger populations of indigenous peoples whose numbers were decimated as part of the rubber boom. Entire communities have already been indelibly shaped by the exploitation of their natural resources. 

Source:  Flickr

Source: Flickr

Furthermore, additional damage to the ecosystem in which they live has the potential to dangerously affect population levels of animals considered essential to their diet. In this way, environmental conservation meets economic benefits for the national government. By maintaining the ability of local communities to be self sufficient, it is estimated that the Peruvian government will benefit to the tune of over US$7,000,000.

Unfortunately the Amazonian rain forest, particularly that of Peru, has been under increased threat by illegal logging and mining efforts. Those areas of the Amazon, like this one, that were spared from the rubber boom now must worry about deforestation and illegal mining efforts, some searching for gold and others searching for the plentiful oil deposits present in the region. In fact, expeditions facilitating the formation of the park were at times met by violence from mining groups  aware that they were operating in the area illegally.

Source:  Flickr

Source: Flickr

Logging and mining efforts not only scar the land with their heavy machinery and clear cutting but also leave poisonous chemicals in their wake. Mercury, in particular, is used heavily in the gold refining process, regardless of the significant health risk to the miners themselves. In high enough quantities it can cause irreversible brain and damage to internal organs. This mercury inevitably makes its way into the river, therefore the water supply, and from there has the potential to poison the entire forest. As it flows downstream the problem continues and has the potential to produce irreversible symptoms of the neurological toxin in animals and people miles away. The placement of Yaguas National Park in a river basin means that any change to the water supply will be felt throughout.

The fact that this stretch of jungle is still relatively untouched presented a rare opportunity for conservationists to protect it from further damage, an opportunity that will only become less common and more essential as the world continues to see the effects of climate change. By preserving the park as a protected area, this stretch of jungle at least is made safe. The benefits of designating the area specifically as a national park are two fold. It places stronger legal protections on the land and it diverts funding for increased physical protection. 

Source:  Flickr

Source: Flickr

The area protected by Yaguas National Park is densely wooded and free of roads. The only viable ways in and out of the park are through the river. A key aspect to the Yaguas National park preservation effort is in the placement of a ranger station at the main point of entry, the Yaguas river. Although indigenous communities will be able to travel freely both by land and by waterways, individuals and groups interested in bringing large scale operations and equipment into the protected area have little choice but to travel by water. In addition to placing strengthened legal protections on the area, the transition of the Yaguas Reserved Zone to Yaguas National Park increases priority and funding for SERNANP to physically provide protection. Just by placing this increased protection at these key locations in the park, the amount of illegal logging and mining is expected to be significantly reduced.

Source:  Flickr

Source: Flickr

Beyond the victory the designation of a new national park presents for conservationists Yaguas National Park presents a victory for cultural preservationists as well. Peru has been coming under fire recently for failures to protect sites of cultural significance. Just this February, the famous UNESCO registered Nazca lines were dealt irreparable damage by a commercial truck driver who diverged from the nearby highway, scarring the land in the name of a shortcut. With plans now moving forward to allow highways to further penetrate the Peruvian Amazon, preservation concerns regarding current indigenous tribes and their sacred sites have only risen higher.  Because of the extreme biodiversity present in the region of Loreto surrounding the Yaguas and Putamayo tributaries of the Amazon river, the land protected by the newly formed Yaguas National park, it has long been considered a sacred space by local tribes, known to many as “sachamama”. By setting aside the park for preservation the Peruvian government protects these sacred sites from further legal and illegal exploitation of their natural resources.

Source:  Flickr

Source: Flickr

Elsewhere in the Peruvian Amazon, Canadian oil and gas company Pacific Exploration and Production has also recently decided to abandon legal prospecting efforts in Sierra del Divisor National Park. As with Yaguas National Park, the area is faced with concerns regarding the effect of large scale oil drilling efforts on local indigenous populations “uncontacted” and separated from modern society due to their extreme remote location. 

Sierra del Divisor National Park, itself, was only established in November of 2015 on a staggeringly large (approximately 1.3  million hectares) swath of land along the Peruvian-Brazilian border which places it within multiple Peruvian provinces, including Loreto. The land that was to be affected by these oil drilling efforts stretches over nearly half of the national park and over areas protected specifically to shield indigenous inhabitants residing in isolation. 

This move, to abandon this plot of land that is known as Lot 135, is in the wake of efforts by the Organización Regional de los Pueblos Indigenas del Oriente (ORPIO) in 2017 to sue the government agencies responsible for granting the concession to the Canadian company. This is on the grounds that the indigenous peoples residing within the park have a constitutionally protected right to continued isolation, as well as conservation of the land in its natural state, in order to preserve their way of life. It has been argued that even newly proposed plans to expand the peruvian highway system puts this right to isolation at risk. In recent years there have been multiple large scale efforts by indigenous communities in the region of Loreto to impress upon the national government the need for further natural preservation, including a promise to block future efforts of oil extraction. Upon the revelation that prospecting groups operating within the land in question have observed, on multiple occasions, evidence of indigenous peoples, such as missing food, and brief glimpses of “naked” individuals there have been multiple campaigns in the last few years urging the Canadian company to leave Lot 135. 

Although the company has plans to officially leave the lot as of March 13th, purportedly due to financial concerns, ORPIO retains its lawsuit in the hope to get the land reevaluated and placed under more comprehensive legal protection. This would prevent the land being used in the future from being used for the exploitation of its natural resources.

Source:  Flickr

Source: Flickr

These increased environmental protection efforts in South America comes in sharp contrast to efforts to roll back protections on national parks and monuments in the United States under the administration of President Trump. Specifically, those intended to shrink national monuments in order to remove restrictions on mineral and oil companies leasing protected land. Promises made early on in his presidency prompted famous resistance movements on the part of park rangers and environmental activists, as well as the resignation of multiple National Park System advisers. In hand with the United States' decision to withdraw from the Paris climate accord these these actions show the priorities of what is arguably the strongest power in the western hemisphere. It has been made clear that the United States is choosing the rather short sighted value of the business opportunities associated with the exploitation of natural resources over the long term value of environmental preservation.

Yaguas National Park is a reminder that elsewhere in the world there are governments, independent organizations, and diverse communities dedicated to the preservation of our natural resources and dedicated to fighting the very real effects of global climate change.

 

Image source: Flickr

A Brief History of Yellowstone National Park

Yellowstone National Park became the first National Park in the United States on March 1st, 1872. It was established as a public park to serve as a spot for excitement and adventure for the people. The establishment of the park sparked a worldwide national park movement and today many nations now have national parks or preserves. The park has become famous all over the world for its naturally breathtaking scenery and geothermal wonders.

America's first national park is named after the river that runs through it. Within the park's massive boundaries, visitors can find mountains, rivers, lakes, waterfalls, and some of the most concentrated geothermal activity in the world. The park has 60% of the world’s geysers, as well as hot springs and mud pots. At 3,472 square miles, the national park is larger than Delaware and Rhode Island combined. The park offers several recreational opportunities including camping, boating, hiking, fishing, and sightseeing. 

The land area of the park spreads into parts of the three states of Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho, with 80 percent of the park comprising of forest and the rest, grassland, which is home to unique species of plants. The park is well known for its many lakes, wildlife, and geothermal features. One of its most popular thermal features is the Old Faithful geyser. The Old Faithful, capable of spewing water about 180 feet into the air, earned its name as a geyser when early explorers noted that it erupts once every 60 minutes. However, after decades of earthquakes which have altered its network of underground fissures, the eruptions have slowed down. Nowadays, the geyser often takes about 90-minute breaks in between eruptions.  Yellowstone has the nation’s oldest herd of bison and largest free-range herd. It is also an iconic spot for the Lower Falls and Yellowstone Lake, which is one of the largest high elevation lakes in North America.

Source:  Flickr

Source: Flickr

Source:  Flickr

Source: Flickr

Yellowstone National Park is a host to millions of visitors every year. It covers a wide expanse of land, about 2, 219, 789 acres. The park is home to one of the largest calderas in the world, having over 10, 000 thermal features. It is also the world’s largest concentration of geysers. Over 7 species of hoofed mammals (moose, elk, bison, pronghorn), grizzly bears, several types of other mammals, birds, fish, and gray wolf, resides in the park. The park has one of the largest petrified forests in the world, with trees that have long been buried by soil and ash and transformed into mineral matter.

Lurking beneath Yellowstone National Park is a reservoir of hot magma five miles deep, fed by a gigantic plume of molten rock welling up from hundreds of miles below. The heat is responsible for many of the park's famous geysers and hot springs. As magma rises into the chamber and cools, the ground above the park periodically rises and falls. 

Source:  Flickr

Source: Flickr

Yellowstone caldera is the largest super volcano on the continent and is considered an active volcano. The caldera was formed after a massive explosion of magma which occurred nearly 600,000 years ago and has erupted with great force a number of times in the last 2 million years. This resulted from an immense heat formed below the earth’s mantle, pushing a large plume of magma towards the earth’s surface. The caldera was formed as a result of the volcanic depression that occurred when a magma reserve emptied and caved in. This was what led to the birth of what is known as the nearly 3,500-sq.-mile wilderness of Yellowstone today, a recreation area atop a volcanic hot spot. 

Yellowstone is located almost entirely within the state of Wyoming, with northern boundaries into the state of Montana and eastern boundaries spilling into Montana and neighboring Idaho. It therefore has five (5) entrances paving way to the national park. The North Entrance is open all year round to wheeled vehicles, and is also the busiest route due to its easy access and plowed road. The West Entrance is open from April 20 - November 4 to wheeled vehicles and to tracked over-snow vehicles from December 17 – March 12. The Northeast Entrance leading to Cooke City, is open all year round to wheeled vehicles while the South & East Entrances are open from May 11 – November 4, to wheeled vehicles and to tracked over-snow vehicles from December 17 – March 12.

The best time to visit Yellowstone National Park depends on your interests, as the park is open all year round to visitors. Many visitors are attracted to the park’s dramatic canyons, alpine rivers, lush forests, hot springs, and gushing geysers, including its most famous attraction, Old Faithful. Each season offers visitors a distinct experience ranging from hiking to watching wildlife adventures and guided tours to fall-foliage tours. Springtime at the park is known for abundant wildlife, boisterous waterfalls, and feral weather. The spring season has the most crowds at the park, while winter time is for solitude. The park also offers lots of different and exciting ways to enjoy the winter season. 

Source: Flickr

Source: Flickr

At Yellowstone, wintertime is synonymous with fewer crowds, freezing temperatures, and hot geyser basins. Every year in early November, most roads leading to the park close to regular traffic as the winter season approaches. Snowmobiles, snowshoes, skis, and snowcoaches, become the primary means of transportation as roads are closed, lakes and rivers freeze, and snowstorms transform the park into a winter wonderland. Limited services and restrictions to vehicle access makes a winter visit a challenging one. Most stores, restaurants, campgrounds, and lodges are closed during the winter season, which also contributes to this challenge.

The only exception to restricted vehicular movement is the road between Mammoth Hot Springs and the northeast entrance, which is open to regular traffic all year. Once enough snow accumulates (usually by mid-December), roads open to “over-snow” travel only. This means the only way to visit Old Faithful, the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, and other popular destinations during winter is by guided snowmobile or snowcoach, or through the non-commercially guided snowmobile access program. Over-snow travel usually ends in mid-March, when the plowing crews begin clearing a winter’s worth of snow. Roads start re-opening to normal cars in mid-April. Visitors can also indulge in the ranger-led programs offered at Old Faithful and Mammoth Hot Springs. The park has a tour bus system, nine visitor centers, and over 2,000 campsites. Park partners and other businesses are also known to offer a variety of guided activities and trips during winter.

Yellowstone is also home to more than 199 species of exotic plants, 1,150 species of native plants and a countless number of fires including the biggest fires in America. Much of the Yellowstone's landscape has been shaped by the fires. In the large forest fires of 1988, nearly one third of the national park was burnt. After the fires of 1988, scientists learned that even though much was burned down, due to the minerals in the ashes and the sunlight that was able to reach the forest floors after decades, the soil was enriched, therefore allowing new plants to be born, which allowed more food for animals. Although the fires were reported as horrifying and life threatening to the park, the fires rejuvenated Yellowstone's wildlife and ecosystem. 

Source:  Flickr

Source: Flickr

Why Land Conservation Matters

Land conservation is aimed at protecting sensitive natural areas such as the Yellowstone National Park or areas rich in cultural or historic value to be enjoyed by people and biodiversity in the future. There is a growing need to protect areas of land from destruction. This is due to the increasing activity of development, urbanization, and industry, resulting in the loss of natural areas and wildlife habitats.

Land conservation helps to preserve ecological function through the maintenance of natural diversity. Yellowstone National Park helps to reduce the accelerated population decline of animals and endangered species. This is especially needed in the park where scientists have presumed that the volcano present therein was capable of burying states like Wyoming, Montana, Idaho, and Colorado in three feet of harmful volcanic ash — a mix of splintered rock and glass — and blanket the Midwest. The resulting ash could endanger the lives plants and animals, crush roofs, and destroy the beautiful landscape of Yellowstone. This therefore goes to show that land conversation cannot be overemphasized in the restoration of our ecosystem.

While Yellowstone started out as a single park, it quickly grew to become a part of a much larger National Parks System- and from there a symbol of land conservation. In a time where protected lands that are crucial to the health of our environment seem more in more danger, it is important to remember the importance of our parks. Happy Birthday Yellowstone, and here's to hundreds more!

 

Image source: Yellowstone National Park