New Study Reveals Critical Threats to Shenandoah

Date:   June 16, 2003
Contact:   Andrea Keller, P: 202-454-3332

New Study Reveals Critical Threats to Shenandoah

Washington, D.C. - The health of Shenandoah National Park is chronically threatened by ozone and acid deposition from air pollution, a wide variety of non-native species, and an annual funding shortfall of more than $5 million, according to a new report released today by the National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA).

“This report is a wake-up call,” said Jim Nations, vice president of NPCA’s State of the Parks® program. “Shenandoah National Park is critically threatened and unless immediate action is taken, this national treasure may deteriorate.”

According to NPCA’s new State of the Parks report, air quality in the park is so degraded that it has been compared to that of major cities such as Washington, D.C., and Richmond, Virginia. Toxic pollutants from coal-fired power plants in Virginia and the Ohio valley are damaging sensitive plants, shrouding the park’s grand vistas, and threatening the health of visitors.

“Virginia must not approve any more new power plants in the park’s air shed until the state can assess the impacts of existing and proposed power plant pollution on the state’s natural resources,” said Joy Oakes, NPCA’s Mid-Atlantic regional director. “The Bush administration must enforce existing Clean Air Act programs, instead of weakening existing programs. We urge Congress to support legislation with timely and effective reductions in power plant pollution.”

Shenandoah recently joined with 10 other parks in Virginia in a cooperative effort to assess and control a host of non-native plant species. But non-native insects, including the woolly adelgid beetle, are overwhelming the park’s ecosystem. With few exceptions, Shenandoah’s native stands of hemlock trees will become extinct in a matter of years because of the adelgid’s rapid spread throughout the park. This results in loss of habitat for songbirds and reduced forest cover for streams, thereby altering the environment where the native brook trout is already struggling to survive in streams with elevated acidity due to acid rain.

Insufficient funding is impacting the ability of the National Park Service to address these threats and to meet the needs of 1.5 million visitors annually. According to the park’s business plan, a joint project of the Park Service and NPCA completed in 2000, Shenandoah is operating with an annual funding shortfall of $5 million. Insufficient funding impairs the park’s ability to assess and protect the area’s vast archaeological heritage, as the area has been inhabited for thousands of years. The park’s visitor centers open later in the season and most ranger-led interpretative programs for this spring have been cancelled. Limited funding is available to maintain the park’s historic structures.

Established in 1935, Shenandoah National Park protects nearly 200,000 acres of some of the most scenic mountain terrain on the East Coast. Ancient granite mountains overlook fertile valleys, accessible by more than 500 miles of hiking trails—including 100 miles of the famed Appalachian National Scenic Trail. Skyline Drive threads the length of the park along the crest of the Blue Ridge mountains. Dense hardwood forest—composed of more than 100 species of trees—covers most of the park, providing spectacular displays of foliage in the autumn. Visitors to Shenandoah also can observe a variety of wildlife, from bobcat to black bears to more than 200 species of birds and can learn about the area’s extensive human history.

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, “Shenandoah National Park: A Resource Assessment,” is the sixth NPCA State of the Parks report.


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