Noteworthy

  • May 20, 2019

Editor’s Recommendation

Why America's National Parks Need Help

by Don Belt

Winter 2017

Sweeping New Conservation Law Safeguards American West

By Carol Kaufmann

Brilliant sunset hues radiate above the Cholla Cactus Garden in California’s Joshua Tree National Park, recently expanded as part of the largest U.S. conservation package in years.

President Donald Trump signed the largest conservation package in a decade into law in March, adding more than 1.3 million acres of new wilderness in the American West, creating five national monuments, and expanding several national parks. More than 2 million acres of land and some 675 miles of rivers in total across the country are protected under the John D. Dingell Jr. Conservation, Management, and Recreation Act.

The lands package received wide bipartisan support in the U.S. House of Representatives after passing in the U.S. Senate by a large margin earlier in the month.

The protections span an array of diverse vistas, from rushing rivers and colorful deserts to red-rock canyons and snowcapped mountain peaks.

Remote and wild areas of Utah—including San Rafael Reef; Sid’s Mountain, home to the state’s largest herd of bighorn sheep; and Desolation Canyon, where the Green River winds through wilderness—received protection. Utah’s new Jurassic National Monument contains one of the world’s greatest concentrations of Jurassic-era dinosaur fossils.

In California, the law adds about 40,000 acres to Death Valley and Joshua Tree national parks and protects more than half a million acres of other public land in the desert. In New Mexico, the Río Grande del Norte National Monument gains two wilderness areas, while more than 240,000 acres of naturally, culturally, and archaeologically significant places in the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument are now safeguarded. The law also creates a special management area for Oregon’s steelhead trout in the southwestern part of the state and designates more than 250 miles of Oregon rivers as wild and scenic.

Pew worked with partners in each of the four states to move the legislation forward. The bills were supported by businesses, sports enthusiasts, veterans, Native Americans, conservationists, community leaders, and others who said that conserving wild places is good for communities as well as local economies.

“We applaud President Trump for signing this legislation, created by members from both sides of the aisle, that will protect more wild places for Americans to hike, hunt, fish, paddle, camp, and climb,” says John Gilroy, Pew’s director of public lands conservation. “We appreciate the commitment, leadership, and determination shown by the sponsors of these conservation bills, who worked hard to ensure that public land will be protected for future generations.”

New Protections Come to Chilean Patagonia

A kayaker is dwarfed by a glacier in the Magallanes region of Chilean Patagonia, where the government has safeguarded millions of acres.

The Chilean government protected one of the world’s most biologically diverse areas in January, when millions of acres in the country’s Magallanes region became a national park and reserve, spanning the fjords, wetlands, bays, rivers, and peaks in southwestern Patagonia.

Kawésqar National Park, encompassing more than 7 million acres of pristine ecosystems, is now the second largest in the country after Bernardo O’Higgins National Park. And an additional 6.4 million acres of water surrounding more than 3,000 of the park’s islands make up the new Kawésqar National Reserve, which is home to humpback whales, endemic Chilean dolphins, and two endangered species—sei whales and southern river otters.

Known for its remote location and delicate ecosystems, Patagonia is located at the southernmost tip of Argentina and Chile and is divided by the Andes Mountains. The Chilean side of Patagonia—102,810 square miles, roughly the size of New Zealand—contains glacial fjords and temperate rainforests, while the Argentinian side has an arid climate harboring steppes, grasslands, and deserts.

Under Chilean law, parks and reserves have distinct differences. Parks receive the highest level of protection, while in national reserves the government allows for the commercial extraction of natural resources under approved management plans.

The Kawésqar, indigenous peoples whose culture and traditions are embedded in the land and sea of the region, will serve as co-managers of the national park under the government decree.

The designations are further progress for the country, which in recent years has positioned itself as a global leader in conservation and will host the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change conference of the parties in December.

Years of work and collaboration among environmental organizations, government officials, and the Kawésqar community preceded this conservation win. Pew partnered with a robust network of nongovernmental organizations, universities, and government agencies in Chile to develop and implement the protection policies for the new park and reserve.

“The Chilean government has taken great strides in preserving the country’s rich biodiversity and natural treasures,” says Francisco Solís Germani, who directs Pew’s work in Chile’s Patagonia region. “It should continue its momentum in protecting Patagonia’s remarkable natural features and also ensure that local communities have a role in the stewardship of safeguarded land and water.”

—Carol Kaufmann

When Do Americans Plan to Retire?

Many U.S. workers are uncertain when—or even if—they’ll ever fully retire.

Nearly two-thirds of respondents in a survey by Pew’s retirement savings project said they were likely to work past age 65, a finding that was most prevalent among male, low-income, and full-time workers. And while some said they prefer to work past 65, the majority felt they would be forced to do so out of financial necessity.

“The uncertainty many workers feel about when to retire can stem from such trends as stagnant wages, increasing life spans, and lack of health insurance coverage,” says John Scott, who directs the retirement project. “But changes in how Americans earn a secure retirement also play a critical role—in particular, the 40-year transition from traditional defined benefit pension plans to defined contribution retirement savings plans such as an IRA or 401(k).” He notes that planning with a defined contribution account is more difficult because savings can vary depending on how much was contributed and the investment returns. And, he adds, even when retirees know the amount in their account, many find it challenging to determine how much they can withdraw over time and still cover what could be an extended retirement.

The analysis of a national survey of 2,918 workers at small to midsize firms, released in November, also found that about 1 in 3 workers doesn’t have access to a retirement plan—the primary way Americans save for retirement—and even fewer participate.

The report outlining the survey findings also noted that Americans face additional challenges and competing financial priorities that can make it difficult for them to save the substantial sums they will need in retirement. The result is that many don’t feel they will have enough to maintain their quality of life. Still others said they cannot retire at all and plan to work as long as they can.

While some workers in the survey said they would need to work longer to support themselves in retirement, Scott notes that other research shows that many leave the labor force earlier than expected. Because these workers are older, they often are balancing health issues, family dynamics, and a labor market that may cause them to retire sooner than they would like to. This could make it even more difficult for workers already worried about maintaining their lifestyle in retirement to live comfortably and retire with financial security, and, Scott says, also emphasizes the policy importance of expanding access to and increasing participation in retirement savings plans.

—Daniel LeDuc

Unauthorized Immigrant Level in U.S. Is Lowest in a Decade

A U.S. Border Patrol sign marks a railing beside a barbed-wire border fence in Nogales, Arizona.

The number of unauthorized immigrants in the U.S. is at its lowest level in more than a decade, according to new Pew Research Center estimates based on 2016 government data. The decline is due almost entirely to a sharp decrease in the number of Mexicans entering the country without authorization.

But the Mexican border remains a pathway for entry by a growing number of unauthorized immigrants from El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras. As a result, Central America was the only region accounting for more U.S. unauthorized immigrants in 2016 than in 2007.

In 2016 there were 10.7 million unauthorized immigrants living in the U.S., according to the new estimates, down from a peak of 12.2 million in 2007.

The total is the lowest since 2004 and tied to a 1.5 million-person decline in the number of unauthorized Mexican immigrants from 2007 to 2016. Nevertheless, Mexico remains the country of origin for 5.4 million unauthorized immigrants, or roughly half of the U.S. total.

The declining overall number of unauthorized immigrants is due mainly to a very large drop in the number of new unauthorized immigrants, especially Mexicans, coming into the country. Consequently, today’s unauthorized immigrant population includes a smaller share of recent arrivals, especially from Mexico, than a decade earlier. Increasingly, unauthorized immigrants are likely to be long-term U.S. residents: Two-thirds of adult unauthorized immigrants have lived in the country for more than 10 years.

As overall numbers have declined, other related changes occurred in the unauthorized immigrant population. Between 2007 and 2016, the number of unauthorized immigrant workers fell, as did their share of the total U.S. workforce over the same period. So did the number of unauthorized immigrant men in the prime working ages of 18-44, but not women in that age group.

—Demetra Aposporos