New Report Details Threats to America's National Parks

What's more patriotic on this long holiday weekend than visiting one of the 394 parks in the National Park System? From the absolutely stupefying and indescribable expanse of Grand Canyon National Park to the tiny urban jewel that is the Theodore Roosevelt Island National Memorial, they are the nation's classrooms, playgrounds, zen gardens, escape.

And many of them are in jeopardy, according to a new report from the National Parks Conservation Association, "in the face of pollution, invasive species, climate change, energy development, adjacent land development and chronic funding shortfalls."

A decade in the making, the report—The State of America’s National Parks—represents the most comprehensive overview yet performed on resource conditions in America’s national parks.

NPCA’s Center for Park Research wrote the report based on its studies on resource conditions at 80 national parks across the country, a 20 percent sample of the 394 parks in the National Park System. The report finds that long-standing and new threats are impacting wildlife and water and air quality within our national parks. The historic sites that tell the story of the Civil War, the civil rights movement and the evolution of America’s diverse culture are also suffering, mostly because of a lack of funding.

"Our national parks are places we go for reflection, inspiration, and connection to our national heritage—they are places we as Americans decided to protect to showcase where America’s story has unfolded. But new data shows that our national parks are in serious jeopardy," said Tom Kiernan, president of the National Parks Conservation Association. "As we approach the 2016 centennial of the National Park Service, we have a responsibility to ensure our American treasures are preserved and protected for the future."

The Association details threat after threat: loss of native species; invasive plants and animals crowding out native species; compromised air and water quality; the systemic threat of climate change; and inadequate resources to protect important historic and cultural sites. It's a daunting prospect to think that this amazing, living national legacy, is being lost.

But the report isn't all bad news. It's a call to action for the Obama administration to "develop a comprehensive long term plan for the parks that reduces threats from energy development and other adjacent uses, enforces air quality laws, and monitors water quality." Here's how they recommend the administration start [pdf]:

  • Reintroduce native wildlife: Following the successful reintroduction of wolves in Yellowstone National Park and elk in Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the National Park Service should reintroduce key species of native wildlife into additional park ecosystems to reestablish their essential role in natural processes.
  • Control non-native invasive species: The administration should use its existing authority to control the entry of non- native plants, animals, and diseases into the United States and provide the Park Service with the resources needed to eliminate or limit the impact of existing non- native invasive species on the national parks.
  • Enforce air quality laws: State regulators, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and the National Park Service should work together to ensure that all national parks meet the standards mandated by the Clean Air Act, the National Park Service Organic Act, and Park Service management policies.
  • Collect critical water data in national parks: The National Park Service should collect comprehensive baseline data on national park water quality, water flows, and aquatic communities to monitor and defend against the impacts of development and extraction activities taking place on adjacent lands.
  • Monitor and respond to the impacts of climate change: The National Park Service should increase data collection and analysis on the impacts of climate change, use the parks as observatories to advance understanding of the consequences of climate change for natural and cultural resources, and take action to mitigate the damages that climate change can produce.
  • Improve the condition of cultural resources: The National Park Service should develop a multiyear strategic initiative to improve the condition of cultural resources throughout the park system. This initiative should include strategies for addressing the currently inadequate level of protection for historic buildings and historic artifacts.
  • Reduce threats from adjacent lands: The administration should enforce existing laws to reduce threats from adjacent lands, including resource extraction, air and water pollution, and development that impair ecological functions, fragment wildlife habitat, and degrade natural or cultural landscapes.
  • Manage adjoining lands cooperatively: The president should issue an executive order requiring federal agencies to manage their lands and waters cooperatively with surrounding landscapes to conserve and restore natural ecosystems and watershed health. The order should direct federal agencies to partner with state, local, and tribal governments, private landholders, nonprofit organizations, and each other to conserve and restore large landscapes identified as ecologically significant by the National Park Service.
  • Expand the National Park System: By 2012, the National Park Service should prepare a new park system plan that identifies key park wildlife habitat, lands required to implement climate change adaptation and mitigation, and under-represented themes of American history and cultural diversity. The president and Congress should establish new parks and expand existing parks to make the National Park System truly representative of the nation’s remarkable natural and cultural heritage.
  • Provide sufficient funding and staffing: Congress and the administration should provide sufficient funding and staffing for National Park Service operations, maintenance, construction, and land acquisition necessary to achieve the high level of natural and cultural resource protection mandated by the 1916 National Park Service Organic Act.

It's a tall order, one that seems unlikely to be filled in the near future. There are plenty of pressing needs in the country, which are likely to become even more urgent as the recession continues and we're pushed onto the new austerity path our leaders seem hellbent on following.

But the parks embody the very core of our nation. Its history, culture, and the very ground from which we grew. We're neglecting that heritage, and risk losing huge chunks of it forever (or having it get to such a state that the easy solution is privatization and a crass commercialization that would turn them into just so many Disneylands or Malls of America). We can, and should, do better.

Daily Kos / By Joan McCarter | Sourced from

Posted at July 4, 2011, 9:58am