In 1872, President Ulysses S. Grant established Yellowstone National Park as the first national park.

In 1872, President Ulysses S. Grant established Yellowstone National Park as the first national park. Yellowstone was not only the first park in the United States National Park System, it was also the first national park in the world.

Since that point in time, the National Park System is comprised of 397 parks; 27,000 historic structures; 2,461 national historic landmarks; 582 national natural landmarks; and 40 national heritage areas. The NPS mission is, "The National Park Service cares for special places saved by the American people so that all may experience our heritage".

Imagine the vision that President Grant had 140 years ago to look at all of the wild landscapes in the United States and realize that at some point in time, people would multiply in such vast numbers that these wild places' very existence would be threatened. Imagine looking at the geysers at Yellowstone, the waterfalls at Yosemite (the second national park) and the other incredible vistas and knowing that these sites needed to be preserved for all of posterity. Think of the fortitude and wisdom of the congressmen to set aside vast amounts of monies in the national budget to care for these sites. This was a whole new concept – one that had never been done before in the whole world. Perhaps they faced some ridicule from their constituents back home whom they represented; to spend these dollars and take this land out of availability for personal purchases.
Now, fast forward to today – the lands our forefathers tried to protect are being pillaged! According to Brian Merchant of, "Oil and gas drilling operations are already well underway in 12 national parks, and that number may soon balloon to 42 if the fossil fuel companies get their way." Apparently, the Center for American Progress recently requested data from NPS on the current and future fossil fuel drilling operations and NPS complied, outlining the 42 national parks where oil and gas drilling is occurring, "or may be soon."

Oil and gas drilling sites are at famous national parks such as Mammoth Cave (KY), Grand Teton (WY), Carlsbad Caverns (NM), Padre Island (TX), Big Thicket (TX), Gulf Islands (MS), Big Cypress (FL), and Cumberland Gap (KY). Skeptics may wonder what the big deal is; why should anyone care.

The big deal is that not only are oil and gas rigs unsightly and ruin the incredible vistas that so many travel to witness, but just one site involves miles of roads, pipelines, and other infrastructure. Of course, with all of the infrastructure things can go wrong. CAP outlined the dangers of drilling, "Toxic chemicals such as naphthalene and benzene are sometimes used in oil and gas drilling and production activities. There is also the equally real threat of spills, which are frequent both onshore and offshore. One estimate found that in North Dakota in 2011 alone there were more than a thousand spills of oil, wastewater, or other drilling fluids".

Gulf Islands is a national seashore and Big Cypress is in the everglades. Mammoth Cave National Park is home to more than 70 threatened, endangered or state listed species.

These plants and animals do not get listed as species of concern because they are thriving! Image now if a pipeline broke at one of these sites. All for what? Some oil because Americans cannot seem to cut down on their thirst and flagrant use.

The national parks are often referred to as America's gems. Indeed, they represent the best of the landscapes, vistas, and habitats that can be found throughout this vast country. What will it take for us to decide we need to protect our own treasures?

Lynn Youngblood is a Kansas City-based naturalist who writes for Gatehouse Media.