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‘Firefall’ Is One Reason We Need To Protect National Parks

You need to see it to believe it

Image via Flickr/Jay Huang

In the (approximate) words of TLC, don’t go chasing waterfalls when you could be chasing firefalls. If you head to Yosemite National Park’s famous El Capitan summit at the right time of day during the right time of year, you’ll witness one of nature’s most spectacular phenomena. Each year, toward the end of February, visitors at Horsetail Fall crowd around to watch what appears to be hot magma flowing from El Capitan’s rocky cliffside. In actuality, the mesmerizing scene is an optical illusion created by the precise way sunlight lands on the otherwise average waterfall during the seasonal transition from late winter to early spring.


While natural occurrences like the firefall should make the argument to preserve public parks easy, tea party Republicans have recently launched new attacks. This past January, Republican legislators moved to pass the bill HR 621 that would sell off 3.3 million acres of national land—that’s roughly the size of the state of Connecticut. In a press release, U.S. Rep. Jason Chaffetz, the bill’s sponsor, claimed that public parks serve “no purpose for taxpayers.” But, as the Guardian reports, departments that manage federal lands (like the Bureau of Land Management, for instance) create American jobs to the tune of 6.1 million. Of course, national parks bring innumerable benefits to the table—from wildlife preserves to recreation and ecological diversity—that GOP congressmen continually fail to recognize.

After conservation groups and concerned citizens rallied in opposition to HR 621, Chaffetz backed off the bill on February 1 via a statement on Instagram. While that’s a nice gesture, Chaffetz’s statement has virtually no effect on the bill since it continues to pass through the motions and was referred to the Subcommittee on Federal Lands on February 10. According to a report by the Congressional Research Service,

“Once a measure has been numbered and referred, it becomes the property of the House and cannot be modified by the sponsor. It is too late at this point to make any changes to the bill—however cosmetic they might be—except by amending the bill on the House floor during its consideration. Introduced bills or resolutions can be taken up by the House even if the sponsor resigns from the House or dies.”

Put simply, don’t waste your time directing voodoo powers at Chaffetz since the bill’s outcome is largely out of his hands at this point. While it’s safe to say we’d all rather be enjoying national parks while we still can, we’ll need to keep a close eye on HR 621 as it moves through Congress and prevent similar bills from making any headway.

In the meantime, if you can’t see Horsetail Fall in person, check out this year’s most awe-inspiring photos and send a few to your representatives next time they threaten to privatize public land. You know they will.

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