The purpose of national parks is to preserve scenic, natural areas for the benefit and enjoyment of the public. Straightforward enough yet not so simple, as people are complex creatures with interpretations of “benefit” and “enjoyment” as varied as spring wild flowers in a mountain meadow.
“Not every human-caused change is bad, but finding a balance that maximizes visitor access and experience, while maintaining natural areas, is a challenge,” says Utah State University ecologist Christopher Monz.
Monz, who has conducted extensive research about human impacts in parks and protected areas, is a 2013 recipient of a Fulbright Scholar Program grant to pursue a collaborative project with colleagues at the University of Tromsø in northern Norway. The scientists will focus on Varanger Peninsula National Park, an Arctic tundra preserve bordering the Barents Sea, about 500 miles northeast of Tromsø.
An associate professor in USU’s Department of Environment and Society and the USU Ecology Center, Monz leaves for the six-month project in January 2014.
“This will be a wonderful interdisciplinary applied research project,” he says. “We’ll assess visitor impacts in the park and develop long-term ecosystem management modules for park managers.”
Tourism provides a significant portion of Norway’s gross domestic product and arctic tourism, in particular, is gaining in popularity.
“Areas like the Varanger Peninsula are considered the ‘wilderness of Europe,’” Monz says. “People want to experience the continent’s last pristine areas and witness the effects of climate change. Yet, little research has been done in these areas regarding visitor impacts.”
Monz has studied visitor impacts at parks and other natural areas in the United States, Canada, Mexico, Argentina and Chile.
“Each place has unique needs and challenges but many of the concerns are the same,” he says. “We want people to visit and enjoy the parks but we also want them to care about the parks.”
Initial human use of pristine areas results in the majority of resource change.
“For people to access parks, they need roads and trails,” Monz says. “But once you’ve established access the impacts, if you can get people to stay on already established roads and trails, can be minimized.”
Education is key. Programs such as “Leave No Trace,” to which Monz is a long-time contributor, teaches people to enjoy the outdoors responsibly.
“We don’t want park managers to be in the position of telling visitors ‘you can’t do that,’” he says. “Rather, we want visitors to become partners and advocates for the parks. If they understand the effects of their actions, we can create a culture of preservation.”
People visit parks to commune with nature, to see something unexpected and to experience solitude.
“We want people to have those experiences, but we also want to ensure similar opportunities for future generations,” Monz says.
According to its website, the Fulbright Scholar Program offers United State faculty, administrators and professionals grants to lecture and conduct research in a wide variety of academic and professional fields. The Fulbright Program, the flagship international educational exchange program sponsored by the U.S. government, is designed to increase mutual understanding between the people of the United States and the people of other countries.
Contact: Christopher Monz, 435-797-2773, firstname.lastname@example.org
Writer: Mary-Ann Muffoletto, 435-797-3517, email@example.com