National Parks Conservation Association Reveals Park Health Challenges at Assateague Island National Seashore

 
PRESS RELEASE
  FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Date:   August 28, 2007
Contact:   Joy Oakes, NPCA Mid-Atlantic Senior Regional Director, 202.454.3386
Shannon Andrea, NPCA Media Relations Manager, 202.454.3371


National Parks Conservation Association Reveals Park Health Challenges at Assateague Island National Seashore

Invasive Species, Over-Sand Vehicles, and Nearby Development Threaten Park Ecosystems

Washington, D.C.--According to a new report released today by the National Parks Conservation Association, Assateague Island National Seashore's future health is threatened by non-native invasive species, heavy over-sand vehicle use, and polluted waters from adjacent land use and development. Funding and staffing shortfalls have affected nearly all facets of the park, including the preservation of its cultural treasures.

"The significant increase in national park operating funds now pending before Congress is sorely needed at Assateague and at all of our national parks to ensure they are protected, unimpaired, for future generations," said Joy Oakes, the National Parks Conservation Association's Mid-Atlantic senior regional director.

According to the National Parks Conservation Association's Center for State of the Parks assessment, Assateague's natural resources rank in "fair" condition, scoring an overall 75 out of 100 points. Key problems include contamination of bayside waters from nutrient-laden runoff from agriculture and residential development on the mainland; overgrazing by non-native feral horses and sika deer, which disrupts fragile island soils, interferes with dune formation, and reduces habitat for native species; and heavy demand for over-sand vehicle (OSV) use, which harms Assateague's beach habitats for both resident and migratory wildlife.

"For Assateague's spectacular natural environment to survive and thrive, we must work together to develop sustainable solutions that better manage the needs of park visitors, park neighbors and the park's native wildlife," said Oakes.

The National Parks Conservation Association recommends that the park continue to manage the size of the feral horse population to protect the park's health and to maintain a healthy herd. In addition, during the park's long-range planning update beginning in 2008, the park must consider ways to balance heavy OSV use with negative impacts on park wildlife. The park and state and local area decision makers must work together to manage mainland development and agricultural practices in ways that protect the park's high coastal water quality - a major draw for tourists and new residents alike.

The new assessment also finds that Assateague's cultural resources are in "poor" condition, scoring an overall 58 out of 100. The park lacks any staff solely devoted to cultural resources management, which means historic structures, archaeological sites, and archives are not adequately maintained. For example, the Assateague Beach Coast Guard Station is eligible for the National Register of Historic Places, but the park has yet to receive funds to complete repairs from storm damage in the 1990s. An estimated $1 million is needed to make additional renovations and complete the nomination process. 

"With the centennial of our National Park System fewer than ten years away, Assateague and all of our national parks must be fully funded to ensure the preservation of these American treasures," said Oakes. "National parks should be a national priority."

The National Park Service already has begun to address many of the challenges highlighted in the National Parks Conservation Association's new assessment. For example, the park successfully has used a contraceptive vaccine to reduce the feral horse population from a high of 176 to its current size of 140. In addition, the Park Service successfully has nurtured the seabeach amaranth, an endangered plant long thought to be extinct in the park, into a growing population. The park also offers more than 800 programs both on- and off-site each year that typically reach more than 160,000 people annually.

Assateague Island National Seashore consists of a 37-mile-long barrier island along the Atlantic coasts of Maryland and Virginia, and includes adjacent marsh islands and waters up to one-half mile from shore. The park encompasses 48,700 acres of land and water, offering an extraordinary beach experience that allows visitors to enjoy wildlife and outdoor activities in a beautiful natural setting. About 3.2 million people visit the national seashore annually to boat, bird-watch, fish, hunt, crab, clam, camp, ride over-sand vehicles, or see the horses.

The National Parks Conservation Association launched the landmark Center for State of the Parks program in 2000 to assess the resource conditions of national parks across the country.  Click here to view a copy of the full report.

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