Study: National parks get fewer visits when pollution rises
By MATTHEW BROWN
Thursday, July 19
DENVER (AP) — Visitors appear to be steering clear of some U.S. national parks or cutting visits short because of pollution levels that are comparable to what’s found in major cities, according to a study released Wednesday.
Researchers at Iowa State and Cornell universities looked at more than two decades of data on ozone pollution at 33 parks — from Shenandoah to Yellowstone, the Grand Canyon and Yosemite. They say visitor numbers dropped almost 2 percent when ozone levels went up even slightly and by at least 8 percent in months with three or more days of high ozone levels compared with months with fewer days of high ozone.
Study co-author Ivan Rudik said air quality warnings issued by parks and other government agencies may be causing the visitation drop. That’s consistent with previous research on so-called avoidance behavior in response to pollution alerts in other settings.
The study sought to control for seasonal variations and daily changes in the weather.
“Even though the national parks are supposed to be icons of a pristine landscape, quite a lot of people are being exposed to ozone levels that could be detrimental to their health,” said Rudik, an assistant professor of economics at Cornell.
The study, published in the journal Science Advances, comes as national parks have seen record numbers of visitors in recent years despite concerns over pollution.
Ozone, the main ingredient in smog, is formed when small particles of pollution from cars, power plants and industrial facilities react with sunlight. It limits visibility and can cause respiratory problems.
In parks, ozone is carried in on the wind and also caused by traffic and other activities.
Data collected by the National Park Service show parks failed to meet U.S. air quality standards for ozone at least 85 times this year. In 2016, national parks exceeded the standard a combined 276 times.
Park officials were reviewing the new study but had not evaluated whether ozone and visitation are linked, spokesman Jeffrey Olson said. He said nine parks issue ozone alerts when warranted — Acadia, Great Smoky Mountains, Mammoth Cave, Pinnacles, Rocky Mountain, Sequoia, Kings Canyon, Shenandoah and Yosemite.
Virginia Tech economist Kevin Boyle, who has researched ozone in parks and was a peer reviewer for the study, said it provides “strong, suggestive evidence” that air pollution is changing people’s behavior when planning a park visit. Boyle said follow-up research is needed to confirm the findings.
Tourists also cut visits short for other air quality problems, such as thick smoke from wildfires that was blanketing Yosemite National Park this week and led to health warnings.
Ozone concentrations nationwide have generally fallen since the Clean Air Act was amended in 1990 to address the problem, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
Yet amounts still regularly exceed national guidelines, and the researchers determined that many national parks have pollution levels similar to New York or Los Angeles.
A comparison of ozone in parks to levels in the 20 most populous U.S. cities showed they were “statistically indistinguishable,” according to the study.
At Sequoia National Park, about 200 miles (322 kilometers) north of Los Angeles, there have been more bad ozone days than in the city in all but two years since 1996, the study said.
Park visitors who live nearby are more likely to change their plans than out-of-town visitors who have sunk money into airplane tickets, lodging and rental cars, said John Loomis, an economics professor at Colorado State University who was not involved in the study.
Studies of air quality alerts and the reactions they trigger among schoolchildren in England and children and the elderly in Los Angeles have reached similar conclusions.
“You basically shift what you do” to avoid pollution, Loomis said.
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Most Americans support Endangered Species Act despite increasing efforts to curtail it
By Misti Crane
Ohio State University
July 25, 2018
Political and business interests don’t appear to align with public’s view, study finds
COLUMBUS, Ohio – Just about any news story about the Endangered Species Act includes a prominent mention of the controversy around the 45-year-old law.
But when you ask ordinary Americans about the act they’re mostly supportive, according to survey data reported in a new study led by Jeremy Bruskotter of The Ohio State University.
Roughly four out of five Americans support the act, and only one in 10 oppose it, found a survey of 1,287 Americans. Support has remained stable for the past two decades, the researchers report in the journal Conservation Letters.
“Every time the ESA is in the news, you hear about how controversial it is. But the three most recent studies show that, on average, approximately 83 percent of the public supports it, and that’s sort of the opposite of controversial,” Bruskotter said.
Survey respondents who identified with a range of eight interest groups – including hunters and property-rights advocates – were all at least 68 percent supportive, the study found. And support was consistent throughout various regions of the United States.
About 74 percent of conservatives, 77 percent of moderates and 90 percent of liberals said they supported the act.
The highest percentage of active opposition to the act was found in the property rights advocates group – 21 percent said they’re against it.
Bruskotter, an associate professor of environment and natural resources and a conservation policy expert, said he suspected the public’s impression of the Endangered Species Act might not align with the perspective of business and political interests debating its future and seeking to roll back its reach.
“Scholars, the media and others keep talking about how controversial the act is and we wanted to know whether that was really true in the population at large,” he said.
It’s indisputable that the Endangered Species Act – which is designed to protect and restore animals, plants, insects and fish at risk of extinction – is under fire in Washington, D.C., Bruskotter said.
“In the 1990s and 2000s, a typical year saw roughly five attempts to amend the act or curtail its protections. But from 2011 to 2015, there were about 33 legislative attacks per year – and there have been almost 150 in the last two years alone,” Bruskotter said.
“I don’t think at any time, maybe since the act was passed, have there been this many members of Congress working in direct opposition to the act, but that doesn’t mean that they’re acting in the interests of the people they represent,” he said.
Bruskotter and his colleagues looked at data from a 2014 online survey sent to a sample of the U.S. general public, and census data, to conduct their analysis.
They examined results from two polls and two studies (including this new survey) in the last two decades to see if there was evidence of shifting feelings about the act over time. Support varied from a low of 79 percent to a high of 90 percent, and opposition ranged from a low of 7 percent to a high of 16 percent across these studies.
Interest groups included in the study were environmentalists, animal rights advocates, conservationists, wildlife advocates, gun rights advocates, farmers and ranchers, hunters and property rights advocates. Survey respondents were linked to a group if they identified with its mission – they didn’t have to be directly tied to a particular organization.
Bruskotter said he’d like elected officials and others in policy-making positions to consider what the vast majority of Americans think about existing protections and to not let vocal minorities drown out the will of the American people.
“Government should be responsive to its citizens, but our research suggests that is not how government is working, at least not when it comes to environmental policy,” he said.
His study co-author, John Vucetich of Michigan Technological University, agreed.
“The Endangered Species Act is a genuine point of American pride; it’s considered one of the best laws in the world for conserving biodiversity,” Vucetich said. “So why don’t our representatives represent us?”
Other Ohio State researchers who worked on the study were Kristina Slagle, Ramiro Berardo and Robyn Wilson. Ajay Singh of California State University also was on the research team.