New Study Reveals Critical Threats to Big Bend

Date:   November 6, 2003
Contact:   Andrea Keller, NPCA, P: 202-454-3332

New Study Reveals Critical Threats to Big Bend

Washington, D.C. - A dwindling water supply, air pollution, and an annual funding shortfall of more than $6 million threaten the health of Texas’ Big Bend National Park, according to a new report released today by the National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA). The nonpartisan organization is encouraging Congress and the administration to fund the needs of the park and support the establishment of an International Park to improve the condition of the area’s fragile landscape.

“Big Bend is a spectacular park, but there is trouble in paradise,” said Jim Nations, vice president of NPCA’s State of the Parks® program. “Without water and clean air the park will never be healthy. The United States and Mexico need to work together to protect this gem.”

This past summer, the Rio Grande ceased to flow into Big Bend National Park for the first time since the 1950s. Causes include diversion of upstream water for agricultural and municipal purposes in both countries and recent drought, which has affected the park’s famous vistas and the health of fish and other wildlife species that depend on the river, as well as limiting recreation in some areas. Industrial pollutants from both sides of the border and an infestation of non-native plants further degrade the Rio Grande.
According to NPCA’s new State of the Parks report, air quality in the park is so poor that on many days, haze-causing pollutants from coal-fired power plants in the U.S. and Mexico shroud Big Bend’s grand vistas.

Compounding these problems is a lack of sufficient staff and funding. According to the park’s business plan, a joint project of the National Park Service and NPCA completed in 2001, Big Bend is operating with an annual shortfall of $6.1 million. This shortfall hinders the Park Service’s ability to manage the impacts of pollution on the fragile park ecosystem as well as its ability to protect the area’s vast archaeological heritage.

An estimated 10,000 to 20,000 archaeological sites exist in the park—unknown to visitors and unprotected. The park’s museum and archival collection, including priceless prehistoric tools, has not been cataloged, and many of the park’s historic structures are dilapidated. The roof of Luna’s Jacal, a historic Mexican home built to protect its occupants from the harsh desert heat, is collapsing, so park visitors can no longer appreciate the building’s cool interior.

“Without attention, the rich history of this land and the people that survived here for thousands of years will neither be fully realized nor protected for future generations,” Nations added.

Established in 1944, Big Bend National Park is the oldest and largest national park in Texas and the most important piece of protected Chihuahuan desert in the United States. Roughly the size of Rhode Island, Big Bend is home to a great diversity of plant and animal life, notably black bears, desert bighorn sheep, mountain lions. Additionally, more than 450 documented bird species thrive in the park, earning Big Bend designation as a Globally Important Bird Area by the American Bird Conservancy. In fact, the park is home to more types of birds, bats, and cacti than any other national park in the country.

Big Bend National Park is also renowned for its historic and cultural sites, which tell the story of thousands of years of human history and oversight by many different nations.

NPCA’s State of the Parks report recommends creation of a joint United States – Mexico commission to develop a plan to establish an International Park that encompasses and protects public lands on both sides of the Rio Grande. Currently, there are 169 bi-national protected areas in 113 countries. None exist along the U.S. border with Mexico.

NPCA launched the landmark State of the Parks program in 2000 to assess the health of national parks across the country. The product of a yearlong analysis, Big Bend National Park: A Resource Assessment, is the ninth NPCA State of the Parks report.


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