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Fireflies Illuminate the Value of Public Lands

Fireflies put on a spectacular show at Cades Cove, Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Photo by Angie Stanley.

Last month, The Washington Post wrote a great travel article about a natural spectacle in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

You can read the article in full here: “In a limited engagement, the fireflies blink in sync in the Great Smoky Mountains

The wonder, need, and value of America’s public lands are on full display in the piece. As the role of public lands is debated across the U.S., the nation would be well served to consider if this natural marvel—and countless more like it—could continue to exist if public lands are not adequately defended and funded.

This firefly spectacle takes place within 550,000 acres of the Great Smoky Mountains and Congaree National Parks, most intensely in pockets that can be closely managed for much-needed habitat. To minimize interference, street lights were removed and while people are encouraged to visit, crowd sizes are managed to protect this habitat. Both the fireflies and the public are accommodated, creating a singular experience that is sought by tens of thousands.

Without natural resources such as thriving lands, waters and wildlife, there would be no outdoor recreation opportunities to drive the Smokies’ $734 million annual economic impact. That means no hiking, fishing, hunting, boating, birding, or even firefly viewing. Looking at the states with these fireflies as a snapshot, outdoor recreation generates $8.2 billion in consumer spending in Tennessee, $19.2 billion in North Carolina and $18 billion in South Carolina. As the nation becomes more urban, those outdoor recreation activities and economic impacts will become increasingly reliant on public lands.

As owners and stewards of these lands, Americans should take every opportunity to support conserving our treasures. This isn’t a hypothetical situation anymore—there are people actively working to transfer lands to private owners, risking what has been conserved over generations.


This blog entry was collaboratively written by Michael Butler, CEO of Tennessee Wildlife Federation; Tim Gestwicki, CEO of North Carolina Wildlife Federation; and Ben Gregg, Executive Director of South Carolina Wildlife Federation.

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