Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park

Center for the State of the Parks: Park Assessments

Published November 2002

View Full Report
(PDF, 2.87 MB, 40 pages)

Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park is what much of western North America once was. The Peace Park's outstanding scenic values, diverse wildlife populations, sparkling waters, remarkable historic and cultural heritage, and largely intact ecological processes make it one of the continent's most valued treasures.

But haphazard development of nearby landscapes and inadequate funding for basic park operations threaten the natural and cultural resources that make the Peace Park so extraordinary. The challenge is to maintain the Peace Park's current world-class values and, in some cases, to restore degraded resources.

A long history of protection has not spared Waterton-
Glacier from serious threats. In 1980, the National Park Service conducted the first (and to date, the only) systematic study to identify threats across all U.S. national parks. The study found an average of 13.5 threats per park, but 56 for Glacier—the fourth highest number of threats facing any of the 326 park units that were surveyed.

In 2000, the Panel on the Ecological Integrity of Canada's National Parks identified significant threats to the ecological integrity of all but one of Canada's national parks. The panel found that Waterton Lakes National Park faced major impacts from external forces and minor impacts from internal sources.

As both of these studies pointed out, most threats to the Peace Park originate outside park boundaries. This report by NPCA is the first effort to assess Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park as a whole. Still, it is a U.S. study and focuses more on Glacier National Park.

The assessment confirmed that many of the external threats identified earlier continue to pose problems for the Peace Park. They include cumulative impacts from proposed highway expansion; conversion of working ranch and forest lands to recreation, commercial, and residential developments; clearcut logging; a growing number of low-level sightseeing air tours; invasions of non-native species into parklands and waters; and potential extraction of coal, oil, and gas resources.

The results? Fragmented, degraded, and destroyed habitat for many wildlife species, severe limitations on the movement of wide-ranging species like bears, wolves, deer, and elk, diminished populations of native fish unable to compete with invasive non-native species, and the potential for degraded water quality.

The Peace Park is also threatened by factors such as global warming and potentially by pernicious airborne chemical pollutants that are being documented ever more frequently in high alpine elevations around the world.

The park is woefully short on both personnel and operating funds to carry out important ongoing work that would help offset the impacts of these external threats and better protect the park's natural and cultural resources. The park has neither the staff nor the money to adequately monitor wildlife populations—including the park's full complement of "top" predators and declining populations of the threatened bull trout—or to complete needed archaeological research, maintain historic structures and museum collections, and provide high-quality visitor services that people have come to expect at national parks.

In addition, both Glacier and Waterton Lakes have large deferred maintenance backlogs. As just one example, annual funding to maintain spectacular Going-to-the-Sun Road is less than one-third of what is needed.

As this assessment reveals, significant challenges face the National Park Service, Parks Canada, and the many other people who care about this park and its extraordinary resources.

If carried out, the recommendations above and others listed in this report will do much to ensure that Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park remains a largely intact ecosystem, with viable wildlife populations, and a reservoir of the Rockies' world-renowned historical and cultural legacy.


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