What We're Doing

Policy Solution

Protect Natural Treasures

From Canada's Spirit Bear Coast to California's Baja gray whale nursery to Alaska's Tongass rainforest, we work to secure long-term protection for exceptional wild places.

Policy Solution

We push the government to end all new leasing of fossil fuels on public lands and waters.

Policy Solution

We fight dirty energy projects on all fronts—from offshore oil rigs in the Arctic to fracking rigs in people’s backyards.

Policy Solution

We ensure wind and solar projects won't harm ecosystems by identifying potential conflicts from the beginning.

Related Priorities

What You Can Do

Tell Interior Secretary Zinke to defend our national monuments

Experts & Resources

Polling Results: Americans’ Views on US Fossil Fuel Policy and Clean Energy

A September 2016 poll finds that most Americans—especially millennials—would support a move by President Obama to permanently protect the Arctic and Atlantic oceans by barring future offshore leasing for oil and gas drilling. The public generally opposes expanding oil, gas, and coal development on public waters and lands, and supports protecting the Arctic and Atlantic coasts.  A solid majority would support preventing the expansion of new leases on all public lands and oceans.

What It Took to Create the Atlantic’s First Marine National Monument
After years of work by NRDC and its partners, about 5,000 square miles of ocean—with massive canyons, majestic underwater mountains, and more than 1,000 species—have received permanent protection.

A colony of bamboo coral found during the Northeast U.S. Canyons Expedition 2013

NOAA Okeanos Explorer Program

In the summer of 2013, a remotely operated vehicle (ROV) named Deep Discoverer made its maiden voyage, diving 6,000 meters into cold ocean waters off New England to explore a section of the Atlantic, some parts of which previously hadn’t been visited by humans. The photos, videos, and real-time footage that the ROV captured—viewable by anyone with an Internet connection—depicted a wild landscape of rugged canyons and soaring mountains (called seamounts) teeming with centuries-old coral, giant fish, and never-before-seen species. These images, shared by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, demonstrated to the world that this bit of the Atlantic was an ecological hot spot, a veritable underwater Serengeti. Three years later, in September 2016, President Obama designated three of these canyons and the area’s four seamounts—a 4,913-square-mile area about 150 miles off the coast of Cape Cod—as the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument.

NRDC’s interest in this now-protected seascape dates back a decade and a half, to when a group of scientists gathered at NRDC’s New York office to identify priority areas for protection in the region. The canyons, rivaling the Grand Canyon in depth, and the underwater mountains, towering higher than anything east of the Rockies, “lit up as areas for protection,” says Brad Sewell, who oversees NRDC’s work on fisheries and Atlantic Coast ocean issues. “These spectacular ocean features and the unique wildlife they sustain were identified by scientists as biodiversity gems.” Moreover, the seamounts are the only ones in U.S. Atlantic waters.

A deep-sea coral provides habitat for an orange anemone.

NOAA Okeanos Explorer Program

Ecological gems or not, it isn’t easy to advocate for the protection of a place that’s entirely out of the general public’s view. “It can be difficult to protect the ocean because you can’t see what’s beneath the surface,” Sewell says. “It’s easy to dismiss it. It’s easy to ignore.” Deep Discoverer’s dramatic footage, however, was visual proof of the area’s magnificence and went a long way toward creating buzz about it. “That experience and that exploration helped catalyze a number of groups and broader interest,” Sewell says.

A year after Deep Discoverer’s dive, NRDC began an effort to permanently protect the area. The Conservation Law Foundation, Pew Charitable Trusts, the Mystic and New England aquariums, Earthjustice, and a handful of other organizations were partners in the effort and started to build a diverse coalition aimed at turning the canyons and seamounts into a national monument. Supporters eventually included elected officials, business leaders, scientists, faith-based groups, fishermen, marine mammal research groups, whale watch operators, dive groups, and more than 300,000 members of the public. Connecticut Senator Richard Blumenthal and the Connecticut congressional delegation, recognizing the special and deserving nature of the area, sent a letter to the president asking that the canyons and seamounts be permanently protected as a marine national monument.

The timing was ideal. The ecosystem of the region―“one of the least fished areas in the North Atlantic because it’s deep, rugged, and far from shore,” Sewell says―was still largely intact. Only permanent protections, however, could preserve its ecological integrity, safeguarding against potential threats like oil and gas drilling, deep-sea mining, and expanded commercial fishing and helping the region withstand looming dangers like ocean acidification and climate change. “We need whole systems healthy and intact so they can rebound as they face these new challenges,” says Alexandra Adams, an NRDC senior ocean advocate.

A deep-sea purple octocoral

NOAA Okeanos Explorer Program

With NRDC as one of the leaders, a major effort was undertaken to collect data about the scientific value of the region and potential threats, translate the information into relatable terms, and put it in front of influential decision makers as well as the public. “We made the complex science clear and allowed citizens to engage and really understand what we were hoping would be protected,” Adams says. Over two years, NRDC played a major role in that outreach. 

These efforts paid off on September 15, when President Obama, speaking at the Our Ocean conference in Washington, D.C., designated the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument—the first such monument off the continental United States. Addressing the importance of ocean conservation, the president said, “Dangerous changes in our climate, caused mainly by human activity; dead zones in our ocean, caused mainly by pollution that we create here on land; unsustainable fishing practices; unprotected marine areas, in which rare species and entire ecosystems are at risk—all those things are happening now. They’ve been happening for a long time. So if we’re going to leave our children with oceans like the ones that were left to us, then we’re going to have to act. And we’re going to have to act boldly.” 

Adams will never forget that moment. “It was an overwhelming and humbling experience,” she says. “I was overtaken with pride in our country’s commitment to protect its most precious ocean areas. And realizing that a rare and special piece of the Atlantic would thrive forever ‎was incredible.”

Stop Trump and Pruitt’s escalated anti-environment assault

Melissa Denchak
onEarth Story

Why are there so many names for legally protected waterways? And what do they all mean?


How NRDC helped form an unlikely alliance to help protect 38,000 square miles of unique habitat in the Atlantic.


From undersea coral canyons to deep northern woods, these seven places deserve to be part of the president’s legacy.


Now deemed national monuments, these natural beauties will be protected for generations.

Personal Action

These iconic American vacation spots will soon become unrecognizable—or worse, vanish. Pack your bags, quick!


How we got the U.S. Navy to finally agree to stop conducting harmful sonar testing in sensitive whale migration and breeding areas.

NRDC in Action

Brad Sewell is determined to protect our most endangered marine creatures. Even the ugly ones.


Find out how NRDC helped the Golden State protect its oceanfront and all the plants and animals that call it home.


As America’s national monuments come under attack by President Trump, Los Angeleno Robert Garcia shares the story of his personal connection to San Gabriel.


For archaeologist Angel Peña, this national monument is more than just home to cultural and geological artifacts—it’s where memories and history are made.

Southeast Dispatch

Southern communities prefer their coastlines sandy, beautiful, and bountiful—not filled with rigs and air guns blasting ships or covered in oil.


Former BLM employee Hillerie Patton describes this Nevada landscape as the essence of “This Land is Our Land”—and how preserving wildlife, archaeological sites, and recreation is about quality of life.

NGO Letter Opposing CA Water in Year-End Legislation (House)

This letter is opposing any legislation that undermines existing environmental protections for native fish species in California and threatens the thousands of fishing jobs across the West Coast that depend on these safeguards. The letter urges House members to prevent damaging California drought bill language from being included in any final energy bill conference report, FY 2017 spending bill, or any other year-end legislation. 

Southeast Dispatch
Why Build a Seawall When You Can Plant Some Grass?
As the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers considers including “living shorelines” among its preferred erosion controls, Alabama is already leading the way to healthier coasts.
One of three experimentally restored marshes in Alabama's Safe Harbor canals about one and a half years after completion

Eric Sparks

Looking at the foot of Alabama on a map, you wouldn’t think its shoreline extended more than 600 miles. But the nooks and crannies of the state’s jagged coast are filled with all kinds of inlets, tidal bays, and bayous. And like elsewhere on the Gulf of Mexico, erosion is a serious problem.

With pressures like climate change, population growth, and coastal development butting up against the wetlands of the Gulf and the Atlantic, there’s a lot at stake. (Louisiana alone loses a football field’s worth of land to the sea every hour.) Bulkheads, seawalls, and riprap revetments―barricades made from materials like sandbags, rocks, wood, or cement―are common strategies to keep land from washing away. But in Safe Harbor—an abandoned campground near Fairhope, Alabama, that is now part of the Weeks Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve—they’ve taken a softer approach: a “living shoreline.”

Safe Harbor’s system of deep canals—dredged more than 60 years ago to give campers direct access to Fish River and Weeks Bay—would better serve the area as marshes, but the steep banks prevent marsh plants from thriving. Marsh vegetation could help filter pollution, reduce erosion, and create a boggy nursery for shrimp, crabs, and other intertidal creatures.

Researchers installing weirs to simulate sea-level rise in the restored marsh to measure how successful the marshes will be in the future

Julia Cherry

So in 2012, scientists began an experiment. In hopes of kick-starting a fringing marsh along the canals, they trudged into the brackish water to plant black needlerush, a hardy plant with long, sturdy stems and an extensive root system. They also tied coconut coir logs, made from shredded coconut husk, into long, haylike rolls and dug them into the banks to hold sediment in place. Then time, water, and sunlight went to work. Today, a thicket of grasses growing along a gentle incline rims the canals.

“Living shorelines are important and essential for restoring and maintaining healthy coastal areas,” says Eric Sparks, a coastal ecologist with the Mississippi State University Extension Servicemarine biologist and the Mississippi–Alabama Sea Grant Consortium, a program managed by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. “If a living shoreline is put in an area that’s suitable, there’s barely any upkeep involved,” says Sparks, who helped plant and monitor the Safe Harbor project.

About 14 percent of the U.S. coastline is “armored” with bulkheads, seawalls, and the like, and while those can be effective shields against strong waves, their applications don’t hold water in areas with lower wave energy, such as marshes and bays. In fact, bulkheads often increase erosion at the base of their walls and cause attrition elsewhere as they reflect oncoming waves and direct them down the beach. They also happen to be expensive, prone to cracking, and detrimental to nearshore habitats, diminishing their ability to support plant and animal life.

Living shorelines, which can include wetland plants, oyster reefs, sand, and stone, have started popping up along the coasts of North Carolina, Chesapeake Bay, Mobile Bay, and Puget Sound, but their popularity may get a big boost soon. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is in the process of updating its permits for certain wetland activities that fall under the federal Clean Water Act and the Harbors and Rivers Act. Creating a living shoreline is on the list. The new permit would serve as an alternative to the current option for shoreline stabilization called Nationwide Permit 13, which prioritizes bulkheads.

“Until now the Corps has been incentivizing structures to be put in that are harmful to wetlands,” says Rachel Gittman, a postdoctoral research associate at Northeastern University’s Marine Science Center. Now the Corps is trying “to make it an even playing field so someone who wants to make the environmental choice can.”

For the past few years, Gittman has been comparing natural buffers with “traditional shoreline-hardening” approaches in North Carolina. So far, she’s found that living shorelines provide better erosion protection during category 1 hurricanes than bulkheads and create healthier environments for juvenile fish and crustaceans than seawalls, which, on average, have 23 percent less biodiversity and 45 percent fewer organisms.

Still, getting the OK to build bulkheads and walls is much easier in most places around the country. The exceptions are Alabama and Mississippi. Thanks to progressive administrative changes within the Army Corps’s Mobile District earlier this decade, qualifying property owners have been able to construct living shorelines without having to obtain special permits through the Army Corps, typically a very lengthy process.

Of course, having an environmentally superior option doesn’t necessarily mean people will choose it. That’s why groups like the Southern Environmental Law Center (SELC) are petitioning the Army Corps to retire Permit 13 for bulkheads. “What they need to do is structure the regulatory process so living shorelines are viewed as the preferred technique for addressing erosion,” says Bill Sapp, an attorney for the SELC who specializes in wetland and coastal issues. Permits for bulkheads would be available only when appropriate―for instance, when shielding beach areas from powerful waves.

But first the living shorelines permit needs to get on the books nationwide. If approved by the Army Corps next March, the permit would help create some regulatory unity, says Niki Pace of the Louisiana Sea Grant Law & Policy Program at Louisiana State University. It also would give some overdue cred to more natural methods of erosion control. And that could help move things along in states that have yet to take a softer, but often more effective, approach to coastline management. With quite a few restoration projects under its belt already, Alabama can show them how it’s done.

Stop Trump and Pruitt’s escalated anti-environment assault

Robynne Boyd
onEarth Story

The oil and gas industry says, “not it.”


Ditch-diggers and cement trucks? Try trees and rainwater cisterns. City planners across the country are realizing that green infrastructure is the key to climate resilience.

Personal Action

What is your city doing about climate change? Ask your local leaders these five questions.


By embracing green infrastructure, these urban areas have a solid defense against increased drought or flood.

NRDC in Action

For years, states could ignore global warming when creating their disaster-preparedness plans. Not anymore.

Personal Action

As floods become more frequent and severe with climate change, protecting your home becomes even more crucial. Here’s how to assess your risk—and make sure you’re prepared for the worst.


Manicured turf grass lawns cover up to 50 million acres of land in America. But a new, no-mow movement is challenging this conformity—and helping the environment.

Southeast Dispatch

A city must decide whether to retreat or stand and fight when rising seas come crashing in.

Southeast Dispatch

For drinking water, flood control, climate defense, habitat protection, fishing, swimming, and, of course, craft beer.

Policy Primer

Climate change is causing more floods and more damage along our coasts and our inland waterways. It’s not only sinking people’s homes, but sinking our country’s disaster response budget.

Southeast Dispatch

Southern communities prefer their coastlines sandy, beautiful, and bountiful—not filled with rigs and air guns blasting ships or covered in oil.

What's At Stake

Tens of thousands of American families live in repeatedly flooded properties—and many feel like there’s no way out.

World Unites Against Pebble Mine
Taryn Kiekow Heimer

The World Conservation Congress, hosted every four years by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), has brought together more than 8,000 delegates—including government officials, scientists, and policy experts from more than 170 countries—to discuss solutions to the world’s most pressing environmental and development challenges.

Nowhere is that challenge more evident than in Bristol Bay, Alaska, as the Congress recognized today by formally adopting a resolution to protect the region from large-scale mining.

Robert Glenn Ketchum

Bristol Bay’s watershed is home to record wild salmon runs exceeding 50 million fish annually. Bristol Bay’s $1.5 billion annual sustainable commercial fishery provides 14,000 jobs and supplies half of the world’s sockeye salmon. Salmon are not only the linchpin of the region’s economy, but also its lifeblood providing food, a subsistence-based livelihood, and the sustainable foundation for the language, spirituality and social structure of its tribal communities.

President Barack Obama barred offshore oil and gas exploration and development activities in Bristol Bay in 2014, describing it as “Alaska's most powerful economic engines and one of America’s greatest national treasures” that is “too special and too valuable to auction off to the highest bidder.”

Yet this unparalleled ecological and economic treasure remains under threat.

Robert Glenn Ketchum

Canadian mining company Northern Dynasty Minerals plans to extract the low-grade gold and copper deposits from the headwaters of Bristol Bay’s most productive salmon-bearing rivers. Its proposed Pebble Mine would excavate the largest open pit ever constructed in North America—nearly as deep as the Grand Canyon—and would generate an estimated 10 billion tons of toxic mining waste, covering an area larger than Manhattan and filling a major football stadium up to 3,900 times. Giant earthen dams—some larger than 700 feet tall—would be constructed to hold back the leach-prone mine tailings forever: all in an active earthquake zone. Pebble Mine would destroy numerous miles of salmon streams and thousands of acres of wetlands.

The IUCN weighed in against the Pebble Mine today by adopting a motion entitled “Protecting the world’s greatest wild salmon fishery in Bristol Bay, Alaska from large-scale mining.”

The motion was approved almost unanimously earlier via an electronic vote—of those voting, 100 percent of government members and 99 percent of NGO members supported the motion. Indeed, only four members in total voted against it.

With that, the IUCN joins a long list of Pebble Mine opponents, including Alaska Natives, commercial fishermen, sportsmen, jewelers, faith-based groups, environmental groups, conservationists, and the people of Bristol Bay.  

The Pebble Mine is an international pariah. And it just became an environmental challenge the world is united to overcome.

Blog Post
Blog Post
Blog Post
Policy Primer
Why We Can’t Fight Climate Change without an Intact Boreal Forest
The answer lies not just in the carbon-capturing trees but also in the undisturbed boreal soils.

Gord McKenna/Flickr

The future health of the planet depends heavily on one vast ring of trees: the boreal forest, which spans nearly the entire globe just below the Arctic Circle. In addition to being one of the world’s greatest remaining stretches of wilderness, home to many vulnerable species, the forest stores an enormous amount of carbon. Some experts calculate that the boreal holds at least 22 percent of earth’s land-based carbon. Upsetting that ecosystem and casting that carbon back into the atmosphere would undermine efforts to limit global warming. Bottom line: Keeping the boreal intact is crucial to the fight against climate change.

The Crucial Role of Trees

You might assume that 10,000 trees hold the same amount of carbon whether they’re grouped together or fragmented. They’re all made up of wood and bark and leaves. But trees also protect soil—and in the average forest, microbes and other elements of the soil hold more than twice as much carbon as the trees themselves. In the boreal forest, the ratio is even higher, thanks in part to the region’s extensive peat bogs.

Forest degradation unlocks the carbon stored in the soil in a variety of ways that scientists are still exploring. Bacteria and other small organisms rely on leaf litter and other detritus that fall from trees for food, and logging starves the microscopic organisms of that sustenance. Tree harvesting destroys the forest’s root system, which is intimately involved in the process of carbon capture and storage that occurs in the soil. Growing conditions for the soil-based microbes also change dramatically when the tree canopy gets wiped out: The sunlight hitting the ground increases. The temperature rises. The animals that scratch, peck, and leave their droppings in the soil disappear. The microbes that evolved to live in a dark, nutrient-rich, root-ringed environment are suddenly not suited to the new conditions. As those microbial populations contract and change, carbon flows out of the soil—and into the air.

Carbon loss from disturbed forest soils is extremely difficult to quantify because, after an immediate spike, it takes decades for all the carbon deep beneath the ground to make its way to the surface and into the atmosphere. At this point, scientists can say that the losses associated with deforestation and degradation are significant and long-term, but few are willing to hazard a guess at how significant, especially since tropical, temperate, and boreal forests have different microbial populations, respiration rates, and success in regenerating.

The boreal’s impact on atmospheric carbon is so significant that we actually experience it, live, every year. Scientists measure declines in atmospheric carbon dioxide levels in the summer because the boreal forest system is more active and therefore sucks more carbon dioxide from the air. In the winter, as respiration slows, the forest releases carbon back into the atmosphere.

The Current Threat

A fight is brewing over the future of Canada’s portion of the boreal, which alone holds approximately 200 billion tons of carbon, an amount that exceeds five years of global carbon emissions at the current rate. For years, the Forestry Stewardship Council (FSC) has been the gold standard for sustainable management of forests around the world. The council’s detailed, region-specific standards—the standard for logging operations in the Canadian boreal exceeds 180 pages—signal to consumers via a product seal that the wood has not contributed unjustifiably to the denuding of primary forest, the destruction of important wildlife habitat, or the problem of climate change.

The council considers whether and how a logging operation seeking FSC certification would affect the carbon-storage capacity of the soil. Old-growth forests, which are extremely efficient and evolved carbon-storage systems, get special protection. In forests that are candidates for logging, the council asks questions about the crushing effects heavy machinery has on the dirt and the likelihood that changes in water patterns will erode the carbon-rich soil. In particular, applicants must minimize rutting, which is exactly what is sounds like—tracks in the soil. They also consider the loss of nutrients important to microbial communities.

All these measures promote intactness of the soil and the forest environment, and they help minimize the loss of carbon into the atmosphere. But shortly after representative government, industry, and the conservation movement created the multi-stakeholder FSC in 1992, disenchanted logging companies created an alternative standard called the Sustainable Forestry Initiative. SFI looks and sounds like the FSC, but many conservationists consider it a sham. “The forestry industry created what is essentially a greenwashing system,” says Anthony Swift, director of NRDC’s Canada program. “FSC is the only credible system. The logging companies are their own police under SFI, and that’s simply unacceptable with what’s at stake in the boreal.” According to Swift, SFI doesn’t provide sufficient protection for carbon-heavy old-growth forests, nor does it adequately consider how logging practices will affect the carbon storage in the soil. Indeed, the standards barely go beyond the legal minimum that binds logging companies in most countries, and the verification system is far more lax than that of FSC.

In the last two to three years, a coalition of Canadian logging companies, along with allies in provincial Canadian governments, has slowly edged the Forestry Stewardship Council toward the sidelines. Montreal-based Resolute Forest Products, in particular, has clashed with FSC in recent years, especially after losing certification for several of its logging sites.

The outcome of the dispute will have far-reaching implications for the fight to minimize climate change. Every year, humans cut down 15 billion of the approximately 3 trillion trees on earth—both unfathomably large numbers. The fight moving forward will focus on which trees should be cut down, when, and how. While trees are a renewable resource, intact forests aren’t—once they’re gone, they’re gone. Will these decisions be based on sound science and expert judgment, or by the commercial and lobbying power of a few major companies?

Personal Action

Your guide to purchasing sustainably sourced lumber and furniture.

onEarth Story

Forest conservation is crucial to climate change mitigation. But do we have any idea how to do it?


How NRDC helped protect the Tahuamanú Rainforest from illegal logging.


The U.S. Forest Service recently protected most of the George Washington National Forest from drilling. Will more frack-free forests follow?


Alaska's Tongass National Forest and our country's other unspoiled lands need a good lawyer to stay truly wild.

Action Figure

A Berkeley scientist is studying how climate change is affecting California’s giant sequoias, long considered dependable forest stalwarts.

On Location

The Cree First Nation of Waswanipi speak out on how Canada logging companies could devastate their ancestral heartland and decimate homes of imperiled wildlife.

Northeast Dispatch

New forestry techniques that create the look of old-growth habitats can boost biodiversity—with extra carbon storage as a bonus.

Critical Measures to be Debated at Global Conservation Event
Andrew Wetzler

In just a few days, I will be leading an NRDC delegation of lawyers, scientists, and policy experts to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature's (IUCN) World Conservation Congress, which will be held in the U.S. (Honolulu, Hawaii) for the first time in its 60-year history. The NRDC delegation will lobby for the passage of a series of resolutions aimed at saving some of the world’s most imperiled species.

The Congress is the world’s largest conservation event — bringing together more than 10,000 participants from all over the globe, including leaders from governments, environmental and conservation groups, businesses, UN agencies, and indigenous peoples. Together, they discuss and decide on solutions to the world’s most pressing environmental and development challenges. The IUCN, which hosts the conference and publishes the famous and influential “Red List” of threatened plants and animals, is the world’s main authority on the conservation status of species.

While there are about 99 motions in total, spanning everything from clean water to imperiled species to national parks, NRDC is focused on two sets of motions in particular.

The first are motions NRDC is co-sponsoring that are needed to protect species imperiled by the international wildlife trade:

  • Elephants: Motion 7 encourages countries to close their domestic ivory markets, as the U.S. has done and we are encouraging China to do.​
  • Pangolins: Motion 11 supports banning the trade in pangolin parts (the most trafficked mammal in the world) at the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) this fall.
  • Vaquitas: Motion 13 seeks enhanced protections for the vaquita. There are fewer than 60 individuals of this small, unique porpoise remaining in the world, largely due to bycatch — entanglement and drowning in gillnets set illegally to catch another endangered species, the totoaba, which is valued for its swim bladder.
  • Sharks and rays: Motion 23 supports regulating the trade in fins, gill plates, and other parts from silky sharks, three species of thresher shark, and nine species of mobula rays at CITES. The motion also encourages countries to adopt management measures to prevent overfishing and illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing of these species.
  • Whales: Motion 58 urges countries to stop allowing commercial whaling under the guise of scientific research.

Second are motions NRDC is co-sponsoring would help protect our world’s oceans:

  • Antarctic: Motion 31 encourages greater protection of the Antarctic environment through the creation of protected areas.
  • High seas: Motion 49 seeks to facilitate a treaty to protect the high seas which, despite being among the largest reservoirs of biodiversity on the planet, fall outside of countries' exclusive economic zones and thus have not been governed properly.
  • Marine Protected Areas: Motion 53 encourages countries to designate at least 30% of their national waters as marine protected areas by 2030 and support establishing MPAs in areas beyond national jurisdiction.

We all know that the world is changing rapidly. We are changing it. And too often the creatures that we share the earth with bear the burdens of the changes we have wrought: increasing development, accelerating pollution, habitat loss and fragmentation, and commercial exploitation, both legal and illegal. The World Conservation Congress offers a unique opportunity to focus governments on the urgent need for conservation solutions – before it’s too late. And my colleagues at NRDC will be there to make sure that happens. 

100 Years of National Parks Shape Our Past — and Our Future
Rhea Suh

As it marks 100 years, we’re celebrating park service’s progress while preparing for a long road ahead.

Yosemite National Park


In the summer of 1916, a raging fight for the soul of the nation had pitted rampant capitalism against responsible conservation across some of the last unspoiled places in America.

Towering forests, majestic mountain ranges, and pristine waterways were under siege as industrial logging, mining, and drilling magnates sought to put personal profits ahead of public protection of a natural legacy that belonged to us all. Alarm bells were sounding for the future of American wildlife, with the near extermination of bison across the Great Plains, jaguars along the Rio Grande, and herons from the wetlands of Florida. And real questions were being posed about who would reap the benefits of our natural resources.

With the stakes for the country high and mounting and his political fortunes on the line in a tough election year, President Woodrow Wilson signed legislation on August 25, 1916, to create the National Park Service, charged with promoting and protecting special American places so as to “leave them unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations.”

It was a sweeping gesture toward campers, hikers, anglers, and hunters, but it was far more than that. The pledge to set aside public lands for the use of all our people reinforced our commitment to democracy in America.

The country was young and still defining the meaning of government by the people. This land is your land, we said to one another, declaring part of our country a public trust, held in the public interest, with the promise that no industry, no matter how mighty, would ever strip away the right of every American to share in the experience of our nation’s special places.

It’s a promise we have kept, through good times and hard. And, a century later, that bold stroke and the vision it embodied have spawned the greatest expanse of public lands in the history of the world, a national system of more than 460 parks, monuments, and heritage sites whose names ring with the very timbre of the American spirit: YosemiteDenaliGrand CanyonYellowstone. Stretched across more than 84 million acres, our park system drew more than 300 million visitors last year alone.

From Alaska’s high alpine tundra to the Florida Everglades; from the redwood forests of California to the granite coast of Maine; from the cypress bayous of Louisiana to the glaciers of Montana, our national parks invite all Americans to experience the natural splendor of this country as the first Americans saw it.

More than that, our Park Service is a custodian of our national story, overseeing more than a hundred national monuments, battlefields, and other sites that enshrine our achievements, honor our heroes, and bear testament to the forces of history that have made us who we are today.

From those rugged riders who linked our nation via the Pony Express to those who worked for human dignity as Pullman porters; from the fight John Muir waged to protect American wilderness to the vital labors of Rosie the Riveter to keep American assembly lines humming through World War II; from the leaders etched in the stone of Mount Rushmore to the sacrifices made at YorktownGettysburg, and Little Bighorn, these monuments speak to the common past we share and the tides of change that have shaped our destiny.

The Bears Ears in Utah

Nagel Photography/Shutterstock

These places of American memory and natural majesty enrich us all. They bring something immeasurable to our lives.

How many of our children took their first breath of seaside air, caught their first glimpse of a star-studded sky, or hooked their first rainbow trout in crystalline waters in one of our national parks? Who among us first learned about the habits of the cottontail rabbit or the prairie dog at the feet of a seasoned ranger speaking around a blazing campfire on an autumn night? Who first felt the tug of history while standing on the hallowed ground of Valley Forge to imagine the personal toll of national liberty?

These formative experiences are inseparable from the truths we know in our hearts about our connection to the natural world we share and the love of country that unites us as Americans. These cherished places passed down from our forebears are not simply part of our past. They are a part of who we are today and who we will become tomorrow.

That’s important. We’re still writing the story of our future. We’re still completing the story of our past. Of our more than 460 national parks and monuments, only about 12 percent are devoted to the achievements of women, African-Americans, Latinos, or American Indians. As our National Park Service enters its second century, we must tell the more complete storyof who we are as a diverse nation dedicated to equity for all our people.

The National Park Service is doing its homework, through special theme studies of, for example, American Latino heritage, the farm labor movement, the experience of native Americans, the civil rights movement, Japanese-Americans during World War II, and Asian heritage in America. The park service is working to help reinterpret the very experience of our national parks, particularly with respect to Filipino and Chinese workers in the West.

And we’re making real progress on the ground.

In June President Obama designated the first national monument to the LGBTQ community at the Stonewall Inn in New York City’s Greenwich Village. Last year he did the same for the Pullman District in Chicago. And in 2012 he created the Cesar E. Chaves National Monument in California.

As a nation, though, we’ve got a long way to go.

The next step should be for the president to designate the Bears Ears region — 1.9 million acres of public lands in Utah — a national monument. This would protect American Indian cultural sites, burial grounds, and places important to traditional spiritual and medicinal practices from the threat of oil and gas drilling, coal and uranium mining, tar sands extraction, and rampant looting and vandalism.

The United States is the oldest democracy in the world. We’re still a young country, though, still defining each day what it means to be an American, what it means to truly believe in government by the people.

The men and women of our National Park Service, more than 20,000 of them, help us to tell that story every day. We’ve counted on them for that since 1916, and we’ll be looking to them even more in the century to come.


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