New Assessment of Threats to Great Basin National Park

Date:   April 10, 2009
Contact:   Kathleen O'Neil, Associate Director, Media Relations National Parks Conservation Association Phone: 202.419.3717

New Assessment of Threats to Great Basin National Park

Great Basin National Park is a significant resource in the national park system, according to a new assessment issued by the nonprofit National Parks Conservation Association’s Center for State of the Parks.  The report outlines the significance of the park and analyzes the park’s overall resources and threats.

Great Basin is the only national park fully within Nevada’s borders.  Established in 1986, it is one of the nation’s newest national parks, but it protects some of the oldest living tree species and a wide range of wildlife and plant habitats, from desert scrub to mountain peaks. Much of the park’s wildlife diversity is due to its water resources. The report cautions the park’s plants and animals could increasingly compete with regional development for the surface and groundwater they rely on.
In addition, the report lauds the park’s notable air quality, which is due in part to its distance from large cities; the park is more than three hours by road travel from Salt Lake and nearly five from Las Vegas.  On many days, visitors can see more than 180 miles away.  The park is also recognized for some of the best night sky viewing in the lower 48 states. However, because it is a Class II area as defined in the Clean Air Act, its air quality is not as well protected as other national parks with stricter Class I protection, including Zion and Bryce Canyon National Parks.

The 77,000-acre park currently has four coal-fired power plants operating within 190 miles of its boundary. The park’s Class II designation means that more pollutants, including sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, mercury, and fine particles from additional planned coal-fired power plants could be impact the park. These pollutants reduce daytime and nighttime visibility, and would contaminate the park’s lakes and streams.

“Great Basin National Park is a unique and special place, with wide vistas and sense of remoteness,” said Lynn Davis, Nevada program manager for the National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA). “We are encouraged that the natural resources of this beautiful place are in good condition overall, and expect the park’s resources to continue to be protected for our children and grandchildren.”

Water and air threats to Great Basin National Park often hinge on development in southern Nevada.  Applications for groundwater extraction could threaten several water basins in the park, with springs and streams flowing through underground caves being of particular concern.

The state of Nevada will determine later this year if additional groundwater rights from this region will be granted for development in southern Nevada, which would draw more water from the park’s aquifer and impact park wildlife.

The researchers rated the park’s cultural resources, which include rock art, tree carvings left behind by 19th-century sheepherders, and historic structures, to be in fair condition overall, in part due to National Park Service’s lack of funding and minimal staff to survey and document these resources. Remaining cattle grazing permits were retired in the park in 1999, and domestic sheep grazing permits will be discontinued this year, which will benefit the desert bighorn population.

Between 69,000 and 90,000 people visit the park each year to tour the beautiful underground formations in the Lehman Caves, hike the 13,000-foot Wheeler Peak, view the several-story high Lexington Arch, and view the starry and dark night skies.

The National Parks Conservation Association, established in 1919, is a membership organization of 340,000 members and is the nation’s leading voice on behalf of the national parks. The Center for State of the Parks was established nearly a decade ago to assess the condition of natural and cultural resources in national parks across the country. To read the full report, visit For downloadable photos of Great Basin availble for media use, visit



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