Protecting the Landscapes and Wildlife of Our National Parks

Rebecca WatsonNPF Blog
a small ground squirrel standing on its hind legs, with dramatic green and brown mountains in the distance behind it
Denali National Park & Preserve - NPS Photo / Tim Rains

America’s national parks protect a diverse range of landscapes: beaches, mountains, wetlands, prairies, sandy dunes, forests, lakeshores, and more. They make up some 85 million acres in total and are home to some of the most stunning native wildlife and natural habitats in the world. The National Park Foundation (NPF)’s work in landscape and wildlife conservation supports programs and projects that help to conserve native wildlife and restore critical habitats and ecosystems for the enjoyment, education, and inspiration of current and future generations.

Our parks are increasingly subject to environmental and human impacts which threaten the health of wildlife and habitats on which their survival depends. NPF and our partners apply the best conservation science to study and protect the most biologically diverse landscapes in the country, ensuring the health and vibrancy of park environments well into the future. Join us in exploring just some of the work NPF and our partners have supported to protect the landscapes of our parks and the wildlife who call it home.

Critical Ecosystem Research

Black and gray wolf crosses road at the center line and looks back

Wolf crossing a road in Yellowstone National Park

NPS Photo / Jim Peaco

The scientific study and ongoing monitoring of habitats in our national parks is one way to examine the health of our parks’ habitats and determine how to best restore or continue protecting park ecosystems. NPF's work within critical ecosystem research supports projects in parks that take a look at the current state of habitats, including how they may have been or could be affected by threats impacting our parks, such as invasive species or climate change, develop plans of action to restore or further protect park ecosystems, and conduct ongoing monitoring to ensure parks, their habitats, and wildlife are around for current and future generations. 

Through this work, NPF has supported projects such as research around the reintroduction of wolves to Yellowstone national Park and the potential reintroduction of bison to Glacier National Park and its neighboring Blackfeet National tribal lands, called the Iinnii initiative. Working with partners, these projects evaluate the impact of a species being returned to the ecosystem and how it will impact other species and resources of the park. NPF also supported a 10-year study on golden eagle territories within Yellowstone, as well as a project in Everglades National Park to monitor the activity of the park's endangered Florida bonneted bat population and protect their roosting sites.

NPF Science Fellowships

bighorn sheep stands in a field, mountains in the background

Bighorn sheep in Badlands National Park

NPS Photo

In partnership with the National Park Service (NPS), NPF’s Science Fellowship program enables postdoc academics to work with and in our national parks, developing and implementing innovative research to help NPS address resource management challenges in parks. In 2020, three distinguished fellow teams continued their park-based fieldwork, bringing a new understanding of diverse species such as Desert Bighorn sheep and the mesophotic coral reef system. The NPF Science Fellowship program is made possible by the generous support from Karen and Brian Conway.

Habitat Restoration & Protection

longleaf sapling growing next to tall, slender pine trees

Young longleaf pine in Big Thicket National Preserve

NPS Photo / Scott Sharaga

Using the scientific understanding of our parks and their ecosystems, NPF’s work in habitat restoration and protection supports the parks and projects that put scientific research and findings into action to restore and protect native habitats and wildlife populations. From the removal of invasive species and the restoration of natural waterways to the reintroduction of native species and the restoration of vital habitats, these projects ensure the health and vibrancy of park environments supporting wildlife.

These projects have included the removal of the Elwha and Glines Canyon dams in Olympic National Park – a project that reopened more than 70 miles of pristine salmon spawning and rearing habitat for the first time in over 100 years – and the removal of invasive lake trout from Yellowstone Lake to promote the growth of the native cutthroat trout population. NPF's work in habitat restoration and protection is also supporting the restoration of longleaf pine forests, of which many species are specifically dependent on, in parks such as Big Thicket National Preserve and Flight 93 National Memorial, as well as the built fencing in Badlands National Park to expand the roaming range of bison within the park.

Land Conservation

Aerial view of Berg Bay in Glacier Bay National Park & Preserve

Berg Bay in Glacier Bay National Park & Preserve

NPS Photo

The habitats of our parks are one thing – it’s something else altogether to preserve the land on which they sit. Within the boundaries of the more than 400 national parks within the National Park System, more than two million acres remain privately owned. Since its inception in 1967, NPF has maintained a robust tradition of partnering with NPS on land conservation projects, working together to conserve over 135,000 acres of private land to date. Today, NPF's Land Conservation program helps identify and implement new land conservation opportunities, using private philanthropic funds and partnerships to acquire these lands and convey them to NPS for their protection.

NPF’s support of Land Conservation projects has helped to protect Antelope Flats in Grand Teton National Park – 640 acres of critical wildlife habitat, migration routes, and viewsheds – as well as Firepit Knoll in Zion National Park, which secures public access, protects wildlife habitat and maintains iconic scenic vistas. In 2021, NPF, Friends of Congaree Swamp, and Open Space Institute announced the donation of Running Creek property to Congaree National Park, which will provide paddlers, birders, and anglers more ways to enjoy the park. Land Conservation projects supported by NPF also include the protection of historic and culturally significant sites, such as Berg Bay in Glacier Bay National Park & Preserve, which is a sacred site for the Huna Tlingit, and Thompson Memorial African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Zion Church, the donation of which helped establish Harriet Tubman National Historical Park.

Ensuring Species & Visitor Safety

Looking at outside rear mirror with bison in it

Bison jam in Yellowstone National Park

NPS Photo / Neal Herbert

An essential part of protecting the wildlife in our national parks is protecting populations from human interference, as well as ensuring visitors to our parks maintain a safe distance from wildlife. NPF’s work in ensuring species and visitor safety supports projects in parks such as the design and installation of new signage, educational programming and outreach for visitors, and more to help visitors and wildlife alike stay safe.

NPF recently supported the production of new signs in Everglades National Park to help protect American crocodiles and foraging wading birds from visitors. Signs will communicate seasonal closures and the consequences of trespassing and disturbing wildlife to visitors, as well as clearly define nesting colony closure areas.

NPF’s support of work in landscape and wildlife conservation is helping to protect some of the things that make our national parks so near and dear to our hearts. From the stunning vistas we take in after a long hike, to the wildlife we (safely) spot from our car on a scenic drive, we’re working to protect our parks, and all the plant and wildlife that calls them home, ensuring they thrive and inspire wonder for generations to come. Donate to the National Park Foundation today to help support programs and projects like these – together we have a powerful impact on our treasured national parks.

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