Academic journal article The Science Teacher

The Green Room

Academic journal article The Science Teacher

The Green Room

Article excerpt

Exploring Our Public Lands

September 30 is National Public Lands Day, a time to experience (for free) our national parks, forests, wildlife refuges, monuments, and more.

Over 30% of all land in the United States is public with most of those public lands made accessible to all citizens. Public land areas were created in part to protect and manage natural resources with management provided by various government agencies and departments. One of them, the U.S. Department of the Interior, thoroughly explains the concept of public lands, the different categories they fall in, and the various ways the lands can be used (see "On the web").

One of the more restrictive designations of public lands is national park, giving preservation for future generations a higher priority than recreation or other uses. Other designations include national historic site, national monument, national battlefield, national memorial, and wild and scenic river, among others. Some of the most pristine lands are designated as wilderness areas, defined by the 1964 Wilderness Act as areas mostly untouched by humans and managed by federal agencies to stay that way.

Classroom activities

If your school is near public land, consider a quick field trip. Otherwise, a good introduction is Ken Burns's film The National Parks: America's Best Idea, which discusses some of our most protected public lands in depth. PBS has developed supplementary lesson plans to the documentary. My favorites for environmental science classes are "This is America," "Mapping the National Parks," and "Tourism and Preservation." Also scan the teacher resources from the National Park Service, which include 37 lesson plans and activities for high school science (see "On the web").

The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) has posted interesting statistics about public lands and offers teacher resources, including the "Citizen Voice in Land Use Decisions" activity, which is designed for middle school students but could be easily adjusted for high school. …

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