The Power of Optimism

Making a difference despite difficult circumstances. Our very first article in the new Educate and Interpret section. A podcast on the unique challenges of managing coastal parks.

By Marie Lawrence

Bald eagle in flight

Image credit: NPS / David Hypes

End-of-year rituals like New Year’s resolutions remind us of the value of optimism and hope. The turn of the year is also a great time for firsts, and there are a few in this issue. Our very first story in the new section, Educate and Interpret, is about monarch butterflies and the importance of optimism. It also features an original video!

The stories in this issue exemplify faith in the power of science to improve outcomes in spite of seemingly insurmountable obstacles. The first episode in our new Park Science Podcast series tells the story of a superintendent-scientist trying to balance what his research tells him with people’s attachment to place. Another story describes what it takes to keep sand on a barrier island when violent storms and ocean action constantly work to remove it.

This magazine issue is big in many ways. Stories about catastrophic events like massive marine heatwaves and 500-year floods relate how parks are coping with the huge challenges they face as the planet gets warmer. Other stories show wildlife veterinarians and biologists helping creatures like bighorn sheep, sea turtles, and bald eagles as they battle virulent, infectious diseases. Our first Motus wildlife tracking antenna could help us deal with the continent-wide problem of disappearing grassland birds. Smart tools like BirdNET for automatically detecting bird calls in the wild can help too.

Old bones are also big in this issue. Our lead feature article reveals how history and the lessons we could learn from it are threatened by sea level rise, with its potential for dissolving old bones. What was the climate like in the past? Old dogs, or at least their bones, tell us something about that. And when archeologists found old bison bones in a surprising place, it told them that for at least 4,400 years, these animals have moved around differently than commonly thought.

Then there’s the stuff that holds things together or breaks things apart. Who knew that the composition of mortar, which binds building bricks, could be so crucial for historic buildings? Or that non-native plants could separate a river from its floodplain, changing the river in radical ways.

Winter is also a dark time and a time for quiet contemplation. Stories about global efforts to preserve tranquility and dark night skies in New Zealand show how important these things are to us and our fellow creatures. And speaking of fellow creatures, our story about Denali’s centennial litter of sled-dog puppies and the dogs’ work on behalf of science gives us another reason to be hopeful and optimistic. Because where there are healthy, happy puppies, how could we not be? Happy New Year!

A smiling woman in a gray winter hat and a red shirt, with sunglasses perched on her head, stands in front of a green river with trees in the background.

Marie Lawrence is the editor of Park Science magazine.

Last updated: January 2, 2023