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Preserving More of America’s Land

Image: Harrison Hargrave

I live on the edge of the woods, among trees that are at least 70 years old if not much older, certainly here since the time our house was built in 1953. It is the first time in my life that I’ve lived near or in a forest, something that made me nervous at first—the bugs! the storms! the broken limbs!—but I quickly got over all of that. Today, sitting out on our deck and listening to the leaves rustling like the sea against a sandy beach, to me, our single acre feels like a little slice of Eden. 

It is hard for me to imagine living anywhere without trees.

But the reality is that many, many Americans do not have access to green space. According to, 100 million Americans—including 28 million children—don’t have access to parks or nature within walking distance of their homes. That’s almost a third of us. 

From 2001 to 2017, the nonprofit Conservation Science Partners (CSP) found that “the United States lost more than a football field’s worth of natural area to development every 30 seconds.” 

Thirty seconds! That’s eight football fields in the time that it takes me to brew a cup of tea. According to Reuters, it’s a total of 24 million acres in 16 years… or nine Grand Canyons.

That’s a lot of land.

This is a growing challenge for our growing population, not just here but around the globe, and it isn’t a new one. This reality began to draw the attention of leaders as far back as the late 1800s when the United States Congress established the first national park: Yellowstone, a park my family got to visit for the first time two summers ago.

Yellowstone National Park – Image: Judi Smith

Although our appetites for more and better are seemingly unquenchable, acres of wilderness are not limitless. The good news is that more and more national and international leaders have made commitments to preserve and protect our natural environment ever since Congress started that first park. 

Today, “more than 100 nations contain some 1,200 national parks or equivalent preserves.”

The importance of those efforts isn’t over. To preserve biodiversity and ensure that life can continue in abundance on Earth, scientists have recommended designating 30% of our planet as protected natural areas, and an additional 20% as “climate stabilization” areas, all by the year 2030.

Today, there are 429 national park sites in the United States and its territories, spanning 84 million acres. That sounds like a lot until you look back at how many acres we’ve developed in 16 years… the equivalent of almost one-third of the land in all of our national parks. 

But more efforts are underway to continue expanding and conserving land across the country, including lands that are considered sacred by Indigenous communities and lands that are near urban centers to keep greenspace open and available to lower-income communities. 

Just since 2020, ten sites have joined the national parks register, along with eight additional national monuments. Two additional sites—the San Gabriel Mountains National Monument and the Berryessa Snow Mountain National Monument—are expected to grow by a combined total of about 130,000 acres. The country is tracking toward that goal to protect 30% of our land by 2030.

Image Courtesy of Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times

Our national parks system preserves wild spaces for public enjoyment. Still, their purpose and importance are far more significant than my own family’s ability to wander with awe and wonder through these magnificent spaces made by our mutual Creator.

Nature preserves conserves biodiversity, and protects the environment by absorbing carbon dioxide, reducing urban heat islands, preventing soil erosion, and improving air and water quality. Our parks also preserve cultural and historical landmarks that hold the heritage and identity of various communities, serving as gateways into important events that we do not want our children and their children to forget.

Preserved lands help with flood prevention and water management. And they teach us—not just about how the world and its ecological structure works, but also about God, who wrote “the big book of Creation” and demonstrates components of his character through it.

We’re given the responsibility and privilege to steward creation, and that means taking care of the other creatures that are part of this beautiful world. These parks are places of refuge and restoration, for humans and endangered species. We can go to the parks to pray and meditate. We can go to the parks to learn. We can go to the parks for healing. We can go to the parks to experience God’s glory. 

We can expand our parks to provide social and environmental outlets for those communities who are otherwise deprived of experiencing these glorious wonders and benefits.

I know not everyone can sit in the middle of the woods and work like I can, but I wish it weren’t so. I wish and hope that more and more of us will be able to create greenspaces that are open to the public, preserve more and more land for everyone to marvel at, and conserve the precious abundance that exists by God’s gift all around us, so that it may continue to flourish and thrive.

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