New List of America's Ten Most Endangered National Parks Highlights Widespread Problems

Date:   April 8, 2002
Contact:   Tom Kiernan, President, National Parks Conservation Association, 202-454-3311

New List of America's Ten Most Endangered National Parks Highlights Widespread Problems

Washington, D.C. - The National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA) today released its fourth annual list of America's Ten Most Endangered National Parks, adding four new parks and highlighting threats that include air pollution, development, and insufficient funding. "Although our national parks are protected on paper, the dangers they face continue to multiply," said NPCA President Thomas Kiernan. "Our national parks need to be protected and fully funded, and the parks must be freed from the burdens of encroaching development and air and water pollution."

Of special concern is the Bush Administration's failure to improve park air quality. Recently, the Administration announced its intention to weaken the Clean Air Act's New Source Review program, designed to reduce emissions in aging power plants, without providing a strong enough alternative. The Administration also has failed to propose a viable plan to address global warming. "Air pollution plagues national parks across America," Kiernan said. "The Administration's recently proposed approach to improving air quality may not only fail to improve park air but may actually make it worse."

The Administration also has delayed the phase-out of snowmobiles in Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks to appease the snowmobile industry. Both decisions will damage national parks and the quality of the visitor experience.

However, the Bush Administration has taken some promising steps toward alleviating resource problems in Big Cypress National Preserve and Federal Hall National Monument and in addressing the overall park maintenance backlog.

The national parks on this year's list (in alphabetical order) and their biggest threats are:

  • Big Bend National Park (Texas): Air pollution and reduced water flow in the Rio Grande

  • Everglades National Park/Big Cypress National Preserve (Florida): Many questions loom concerning the willingness of federal and state governments to move quickly with a strong Everglades restoration strategy; Big Cypress faces potential new oil drilling

  • Federal Hall National Memorial (New York): While funding has been provided to stabilize the structure, insufficient operating funds result in outdated, insufficient interpretive resources and lack of a safety officer and an educational outreach coordinator

  • Glacier National Park (Montana): Development threatens park boundaries; insufficient funding is crippling the park's resource-management capabilities; global warming threatens park glaciers

  • Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve (Alaska): The state's congressional delegation persists in supporting legislation detrimental to the health and safety of the park, increasing vessel traffic that would create more air and water pollution, increase risk of oil and fuel spills, and threaten marine mammals

  • Great Smoky Mountains National Park (Tennessee and North Carolina): Pollutants from coal-fired power plants threaten the health of important park species and impair park vistas; Administration actions on clean air regulations may compound the threats

  • Mojave National Preserve (California): regional water demands could diminish the preserve's aquifers; insufficient funds keep staff from investigating and preventing illegal actions such as poaching and illegal off-road travel

  • Ocmulgee National Monument (Georgia): A proposed highway that would bisect the monument could cut off the last undeveloped area from the park, threatening biological and cultural resources

  • Valley Forge National Historical Park (Pennsylvania): A proposed housing development inside the park is a major threat; inadequate funding leaves resources unprotected and without suitable educational programs

  • Yellowstone National Park (Wyoming and Montana): Leaving the park open to snowmobiles will degrade air quality and the visitor experience; inadequate funding leaves park resources endangered by non-native, invasive plant and wildlife species and leaves visitors without suitable educational opportunities

Federal Hall National Memorial is new to NPCA's list, illustrating the chronic funding needs of national parks across the country. Although the park will receive funding to restore decades-old damage that was exacerbated by the collapse of the World Trade Center, lack of necessary operating funds has compromised the Park Service's ability to preserve the park. Interpretive exhibits are nearly 30 years old and do not reflect the historic significance of the site. Inadequate operating funds also mean the park has no permanent public safety officer, no historian, and no educational outreach coordinator. "Operating budgets for the entire park system need to be ramped up by $280 million in the next fiscal year just to begin getting the system back on track as a network of well-protected parks," Kiernan said.

Chronic air pollution threatens three listed national parks: Great Smoky Mountains, Glacier, and Big Bend. Glacier reappears on this list in part because global warming threatens to melt its namesake glaciers. Big Bend and Great Smoky Mountains remain on the list because pollutants from power plants continue to damage park views and the health of wildlife, plants, and visitors. Many of our national park vistas are harmed by regional haze, caused primarily by emissions of sulfur dioxide from old, inefficient power plants.

Last year, a bipartisan group of legislators introduced bills (the Clean Smokestacks Act of 2001 in the House and the Clean Power Act of 2001 in the Senate) that would require polluting power plants to modernize and reduce emissions of nitrogen oxide, sulfur dioxide, carbon dioxide, and mercury. However, bowing to pressure from industry lobbyists, the Bush Administration recently called for dropping New Source Review and proposed amendments that would be less effective than vigorous enforcement of the existing Clean Air Act and would allow carbon dioxide emissions to increase.

These parks, which appeared on the 2001 list, were removed this year for the following reasons: Biscayne National Park (South Florida), where plans to turn Homestead Air Force Base into a commercial airport were abandoned by county officials; Frederick Douglass National Historic Site (Washington, D.C.), where funds were allocated to begin critical repairs; Fire Island National Seashore (New York), where the Army Corps of Engineers' plan to re-sand to beach was withdrawn; Petrified Forest National Park (Arizona), where petrified wood theft is down an estimated 23 percent; Stones River National Battlefield (Tennessee), where Murfreesboro agreed to relocate a proposed highway interchange; and Alaska national parks, removed as a group to highlight threats to Alaska's Glacier Bay National Preserve.

"America has the ability to keep our nations' parks from serious danger," Kiernan said. "But we also must have the will. The White House and Congress must choose to value America's treasures over the interests of industry lobbyists if we are to preserve these world-renowned national parks and move more of them off this endangered list."


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