Falling tree branches are common in Yosemite and have killed two people this summer. But the park sure is pretty. (Photo: Yosemite National Park/Facebook)
By Billie Cohen
The summer tourism season has been dotted with news stories about various tragedies in U.S. national parks. A bear attacked a hiker in Yellowstone, a French couple succumbed to heat and thirst in White Sands National Monument, a kid came down with the plague in Yosemite, and this weekend, two campers were killed by a black oak tree branch, again in Yosemite.
Nature is rarely kind. But this summer, it almost seems like nature’s just not that into us anymore.
In a spectacularly un-reassuring report, the AP is saying that tree limbs commonly fall from trees in Yosemite; in 2012, one killed a park concession employee, and in 1985, a 25-foot branch killed two tourists when it fell on a tram.
Two French hikers died from dehydration while hiking the Alkali Flat Trail in White Sands National Monument in early August; their son survived. (Photo: White Sands National Monument/Facebook)
Trees aren’t the only things causing fear in Yosemite. Authorities are now fighting the plague again, after two infected squirrels were found in the Tuolumne Meadows Campground. Karen Smith, the director of the California Department of Health, told the AP, “Although this is a rare disease, and the current risk to humans is low, eliminating fleas is the best way to protect the public from the disease.” As a result, the DOH will douse the area’s rodent holes with flea-killing insecticide.
Apparently, as the DOH told the AP, plague-ridden animals are found in California mountains and foothills every year. So don’t panic: It’s normal. Raise your hand if you’re relieved.
This incident comes after a kid was diagnosed with the plague after camping in another Yosemite campground in mid-July. He’s doing much better, and none of his other family members were infected. But those three campers who contracted the hantavirus in the park in 2012 — not so lucky.
Yellowstone’s Grand Prismatic Spring is beautiful, but it’s also boiling at 160 degrees Fahrenheit. (Photo: Billie Cohen)
On the bright side, various reports are sharing statistics that say that deaths in U.S. national parks are actually pretty low. CNN states that only 1,025 people died in national parks between 2007 and 2013 — compared to the 2 billion that visited them. (That’s much much less than the national mortality rate at that time, 821.5 deaths per 100,000.) Looking more closely at that number, only six of those who died were killed by wildlife — four grizzlies, a snake, and a mountain goat, in case you’re wondering. Mostly it’s natural causes (including reactions to heat), drownings, and car crashes that do in park visitors.
So it turns out, we’re more a danger to ourselves than Mother Nature is. We don’t bring enough water to drink, we don’t avoid water that’s dangerous, and we don’t keep our eyes on the road. Keep those pitfalls in mind as August 25 rolls around —it’s the National Parks Service’s 99th birthday, and entrance to all 408 parks will be free.
Still, just to be safe, maybe we’ll stay inside. Forever.