True National Treasures

Today’s world is truly amazing! Technology has progressed so rapidly that we now have handheld computers, self-parking cars, and kiosks for ordering food. More and more land is being developed for new businesses and houses or access to oil. People are constantly debating if the need for expansion is greater than the preservation of national lands. As Aldo Leopold wrote, “To those devoid of imagination, a blank place on the map is a useless waste; to others, the most valuable part.” Here I will recount my personal experiences and highlight the importance of national refuges, parks, wildlife rehabilitation centers, and animal sanctuaries.

I spent last summer working at the National Bison Range Refuge Complex in Montana. This was my first time working at a national refuge, and it was an unforgettable experience. I worked in visitor services and out in the field. The National Bison Range (NBR) is home to the original plains bison, bighorn sheep, grizzly bears, black bears, elk, deer, and so much more. People came not only from all over the country, but from all over the world to visit the Refuge. They were amazed by the history of the refuge, eagerly asking questions. The Bison Range was established in 1908 by President Theodore Roosevelt to conserve bison. Bison used to roam North America with a population of 30 to 60 million, but due to overhunting, the bison population fell as low as 100 in the late 1800’s. Today, the National Bison Range is home to about 425-500 bison.

Near the end of my time at the National Bison Range, I participated in the annual bison round-up where bison were vaccinated, put through genetic processing, and observed for signs of aging; the event was open to the public observation. This annual event is a rare opportunity for people to get close to the bison and ask employees questions. Depending on the herd’s numbers (i.e., herd numbers exceed what the habitat can support), certain bison are auctioned off to bidders for meat or to be moved to another conservation herd. During this time, we also hosted educational programs/field trips where children could learn more about bison and the range. Overall, the event is popular, and I heard nothing but positive feedback from visitors.

Nevertheless, national refuges are more about preservation than entertainment; certainly, they want the public to visit and observe, but refuges are still more concerned with management of the flora and fauna. Wildlife rehabilitation centers were created to care for injured wild animals—the injuries most of the time due to human influences—in hopes that the animal can eventually be released back into the wild. Unfortunately, humans don’t realize how much our lifestyle can negatively impact wildlife and their habitats; because humans have separated themselves so much from nature, people are often uneducated when it comes to wildlife, and consequently, human actions have caused certain animals to become endangered, threatened, or extinct overtime. Here are some examples: 1. constructing a new building may destroy an animal’s habitat; 2. pollution caused by vehicles or factories damages air quality, making it harder for animals to be physically healthy; and 3. animals mistake human garbage, such as a plastic cap, as food, potentially leading to suffocation and death. Wildlife rehabilitation centers are a small way to give back to the world and slightly rectify the negative impacts.

Similarly, animal sanctuaries nurse animals back to health, but unfortunately most have to live their lives out at the sanctuary because the animals cannot survive if placed back into the wild fully. Sanctuaries create fenced in habitats for the animals to live out the rest of their days, and they ensure that the animals have water, food, and even toys to occupy themselves. These sanctuaries also help prevent endangered animals from becoming extinct. An example of an animal sanctuary is the Exotic Feline Rescue Center in Indiana. There, they rescue large cats that were once pets, circus animals, or traded in the black market, often for their pelts. Each enclosure has a couple of cats in it if they are compatible with each other.  

National Parks appeal more to people who are active in nature, but even if you aren’t the outdoorsy-type, you should visit. National Parks were created so that people could visit a part of America that was “untouched” (i.e., minimally influenced) by human hands. With the constant housing and industrial expansion, it is easy for the human population to lose touch with nature and its wonders. At National Parks, people can reconnect with nature by hiking, rock climbing, paddling, horseback riding, or wildlife viewing. I have visited Glacier National Park, an experience that made me feel as if I were in a different country when I visited. The sights were breathtaking, and the topography was astounding. I hiked and kayaked some out there, and I observed how other visitors were in awe of the landscape. Humans tend to forget that we are not the only species on this planet and have to share space with other living organisms. Therefore, National Parks have various educational programs, including safety programs that teach visitors what to do when one encounters with wildlife. Identification programs teach visitors how to identify different types of birds, mammals, plants, and other wildlife.

Unfortunately, National Park and Refuge budgets are being decreased more frequently than ever before because politicians don’t see a need for funding of such places, which then results in job cuts, decreased educational programming, and reduced conservation efforts each year. These landmarks and protected areas require extensive daily maintenance and cannot afford to have budget cuts and lose staff members. People come from all over the world because our parks and refuges are so clean, organized, and helpful, but this may no longer be the case if these places are not given the resources needed to maintain, much less better, these national treasures. Most wildlife rehabilitation centers and sanctuaries are nonprofit and rely on volunteers and unpaid interns to carry out daily duties with few paid staff members.

I urge you to go out and explore our National Parks and Refuges. Ask questions, get involved, and sign the guestbook, and if you have an experience that for lack of a better word, amazes you, please write a letter to your federal representatives.


About the Author

Brittany Rogness graduated from the UW-Platteville and is currently a graduate student at the Fort Hays State University, specializing in bat research and conservation. When not studying (or sometimes in midst), she daydreams of returning to her beloved Fiji where she studied abroad or having a home in the country where she and her four-legged companions can roam.