From the Appalachian Trail to the Grand Canyon, we’re blessed with unprecedented access to natural wonders in the United States. National Parks ensure that we all share in our country’s natural heritage and preserves it for future generations. Unfortunately, too many visitors are stealing our country’s natural treasures.
According to a sad report from CNET, unscrupulous thieves are picking our National Park’s clean. With over 300 million visitors per year, it’s no wonder than our desire to experience the great outdoors is damaging some of the most popular destinations. Unthinking visitors sometimes pick up “souvenirs,” like rocks or plants, and take them from the park. That’s bad enough—millions of thoughtless guests each taking a pebble adds up fast—but the National Park Service is locked in a far more dangerous battle with poachers, thieves, and vandals that are stealing artifacts to sell on the black market.
Poachers are stealing saguaro cacti from Saguaro National Park, cutting out Native American petroglyphs from the Volcanic Tablelands, lifting fossilized footprints from Death Valley, uprooting wild American ginseng from the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, and chopping down 500-year-old redwood trees in California. They then sell their stolen goods on the black market to ignorant or unethical buyers.
The NPS is doing their best to battle the real poachers with new technology, including embedding tags and trackers and adding new sensors, but our parks are vast and difficult to patrol. It’s also on us to wise up and protect our country’s heritage.
Next time you visit a park, don’t take an arrowhead, a plant, or a piece of petrified wood—no matter how small it might seem. If you’re thinking about buying an artifact on the way out of the park, make sure it comes from a reputable source. Next time you want a souvenir, buy something from the gift shop and support the National Park System! This is our heritage, and we have to help protect it.