PRESERVING OUR PUBLIC LANDS
The land I grew up in was mostly concrete. Trees grew in squares cut out of the sidewalks; wildlife consisted of squirrels and pigeons. But New York City also set aside green spaces. Its most famous is the brilliant creation known as Central Park, and my home borough of the Bronx held the New York Botanical Gardens. These were the places where a city kid could walk on dirt trails, hear the sounds of chickadees and learn a little about the natural world.
Later, as my world expanded, I found state parks and national parks and mountains and deserts. These public lands are the jewels of America. They keep us connected to the wild continent and they provide respite and solitude to free us from the anxieties of the daily commute. Studies have shown mental health benefits just from being out in nature.
Our public lands also protect our ecosystem. They provide critical habitat for wildlife and for vegetation that takes carbons from the atmosphere.
We often overlook the economic value of our green spaces. Each year, more than 300 million people visit the National Park system alone, adding $27 billion to the nation’s economy. They bring tourists from around the globe who appreciate what America has given to the world in preserving these special places.
But, as never before, these places are under attack from profiteers and ideologues. A small cadre of U.S. senators and representatives are attempting to sell off millions of acres of our lands and return federal lands to the states, thereby removing federal protection so they can be mined, drilled or clear-cut. These legislators do not represent the majority of U.S. citizens, who strongly support our national parks, forests and other lands. At the same time, some individuals are disrespecting our national heritage by defacing or stealing park property; some have gone so far as to illegally take over federal lands for their personal use.
Threats to our public lands also come from climate change. Large scale wildfires, insect infestations and declining populations of some animals including moose in some areas can be traced to global warming. Migratory birds are finding fewer places to stop during their migrations and changing seasonal patterns also affect their life cycles.
I have been hiking and photographing our public lands since I was a youngster with my first 35mm film camera. Unless we act to strongly protect these lands, which are our shared inheritance, they may not be available to our children or grandchildren.
Traveling to and documenting these magnificent places is an ongoing project for me. Images from this project often appear in galleries and shows, and I do presentations about my experiences and the importance of preserving our parks, forests, deserts, waters and wilderness. Through these actions, I hope to inspire others to get out and enjoy our beautiful lands and to help protect them for future generations.
Images from the Preserving Our Public Lands project can be found throughout the galleries on this website. To stay in touch on our activities in this area, as well as our other projects, please sign up for our newsletter.