New Study Reveals Threats to Canyonlands

Date:   September 9, 2004
Contact:   Andrea Keller, NPCA, P: 202-454-3332

New Study Reveals Threats to Canyonlands

Washington, D.C. - On the eve of the 40th birthday of Canyonlands National Park, a new report released today by the nonpartisan National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA) calls attention to a harmful $2-million annual funding shortfall and warns against reopening backcountry roads. The organization advocates that Congress complete the park to ensure greater protection.

“This report is a wake-up call,” said Jim Nations, vice president of NPCA’s State of the Parks® program. “The health of Canyonlands National Park could noticeably worsen unless Congress and the administration work together to address its needs.”

According to NPCA’s new State of the Parks report, inadequate staffing and an annual funding shortfall of $2 million is impacting the ability of the National Park Service to address park threats and to meet the needs of nearly 400,000 visitors annually. Insufficient funding impairs the park’s ability to assess and protect the area’s vast archaeological heritage, including ancient petroglyphs and nearly 700,000 museum objects that chronicle 11,000 years of human history. Most telling: more than two-thirds of the park’s historic structures could be significantly damaged or irretrievably lost to vandalism or degradation if action is not taken within two to five years.

Canyonlands is also vulnerable to extensive road claims in its backcountry, subjecting this sensitive area of the park to a potential level of vehicular traffic management and use that the Park Service has determined would be unduly harmful. Already, San Juan county and the State of Utah are suing for the right to allow vehicles through a canyon in the park in a quiet title action related to a loophole in a Civil War-era law called Revised Statute 2477.

NPCA recommends that Congress work quickly to 1) increase funding for national park operations to enable the Park Service to better respond to park threats and protect irreplaceable resources, and 2) apply uniform federal standards to the review of RS 2477 claims so that degrading road development does not proceed in Canyonlands or any other national park.

The NPCA report also recommends that Congress complete Canyonlands by adjusting park boundaries to incorporate 500,000 acres of neighboring federal lands that were originally proposed for inclusion in the park. Currently, the region is managed by various agencies with differing policies. In some places, the Colorado River for example, is managed by the Park Service on one side and by the Bureau of Land Management, which allows oil and gas drilling, on the other. Managing this shared ecosystem under the Park Service allows for more cost-effective and efficient protection and defends the vulnerable ecosystem from oil and gas exploration, already approved on neighboring lands.

Established September 12, 1964, Canyonlands National Park protects prehistoric petroglyphs, ruins, and 340,000 breathtaking acres of the Colorado Plateau, where the Green and Colorado rivers meet to form one of North America’s most biologically diverse eco-regions. Extensive trails lead visitors to sandstone spires and mesas with 100-mile views of the quiet desert landscape.

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, Canyonlands National Park: A Resource Assessment, is the 17th NPCA State of the Parks report.


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