Canyonlands National Park

Center for the State of the Parks: Park Assessments

Published September 2004

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(PDF, 1.2 MB, 52 pages)

Located on the Colorado Plateau in southeastern Utah, Canyonlands National Park preserves 337,598 acres of diverse natural and cultural treasures. The park is home to 628 species of vascular plants, 31 fish (although most of these are non-native), ten amphibians, 25 reptiles, 218 birds, and 81 mammals. Rock art, granaries, cowboy camps, and ancient artifacts tell the stories of past human inhabitants.

Because the park is located far from major population centers and development, today's visitors experience many of the same vistas as early explorers, relatively unchanged after hundreds or even thousands of years. Dark night skies and natural soundscapes that remain largely unaffected by human development give visitors a sense of the park's wildness. Ancient petroglyphs and pictographs help visitors appreciate the people who came before them.
In spite of its isolation, the park faces challenges upholding its mandate to preserve its resources unimpaired for future generations. Non-native invasive plants have taken root throughout the park, and non-native fish outnumber natives in park waters. Oil and gas development on adjacent lands threatens to mar undisturbed scenic vistas, disrupt natural soundscapes, lighten dark night skies, release chemical pollutants into the atmosphere, harm wildlife, and contaminate critical desert waters. An antiquated law could be used to construct roads through parklands, destroying fragile soil crusts and disrupting wildlife.

Funding and staffing shortages compromise cultural and natural resource protection. Seventy-one percent of identified historic structures suffer the effects of vandalism, weather, neglect, animal and pest infestation, visitation, and erosion. Archival and museum collections do not get the attention they deserve because the park must share its part-time curator with three other parks, and the park does not have money to evaluate and protect cultural landscapes or complete an ethnographic overview and assessment. Natural resources staff are unable to stem the invasion of non-native plants and reestablish native vegetation largely as a result of limited budgets, and a lack of funds prevents staff from conducting studies needed to fully understand some ecological relationships and allow them to make the best management decisions.


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