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Help is on the way for national parks coping with climate change and understaffing

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A man fishes in June in Iron Spring Creek in Yellowstone National Park after it was closed for over a week.

A man fishes in Iron Spring Creek in Yellowstone National Park after it was closed for over a week on June 22, 2022 in Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming. The park has been closed to all visitors due to severe flooding and roads damage. The park is having a limited opening today for the southern loop of the park. George Frey/Getty Images

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The climate bill that President Joe Biden signed into law this week includes an investment in the National Parks Service — nearly a billion dollars to bolster park staffing, maintenance and climate change resilience, areas where resources have been stretched thin. 

In the last few years, we’ve seen some dramatic images from our national parks. First, it was traffic jams and overcrowding at parks like Zion and Glacier that saw record numbers of visitors

This summer, it’s flash flooding at Yellowstone and Death Valley, and a devastating wildfire at Yosemite. 

“This injection of money will help the parks service get out in front of some of these events,” said Kristen Brengel with the National Parks Conservation Association. The funding will help parks build more climate-resilient infrastructure and address chronic understaffing, she added. 

That comes with benefits for nearby communities, said Robert Manning, professor emeritus with the University of Vermont’s Rubenstein School of Environment and Natural Resource and the university’s parks laboratory.

“So many of the national parks, almost by definition of course, are located in rural areas” where parks tourism may be one of the only major economic drivers.

“These communities have been built around the opportunity to serve the needs of visitors that come to these places,” he said.

And when parks limit visitation because of understaffing or natural disasters, Manning said those gateway economies suffer. 

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