The administration continues to wage a series of unrelenting attacks on national parks, despite ongoing public crises.
Here are 4 ways you can fight back — and 5 additional long-term issues NPCA is working on as part of our new Parks in Peril campaign.
For more than three years, the current administration has worked to systematically undermine, degrade and outright attack protections for our land, air and water, as well as the agencies that manage them. The American people are paying the price.
Now, even in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, political leaders in charge of our nation’s lands and environmental enforcement continue to weaken conservation laws and regulations, pursue aggressive oil and gas leasing, and propose substantial funding cuts to public lands.
If we want healthy parks and wildlife and safe communities to return to when the pandemic is over, it’s important that we keep fighting back to defend our parks. NPCA is launching our new Parks in Peril campaign to do just that.
4 important things you can tell Congress to do right now
1. Stop funding the border wall.
The administration is plowing ahead with construction of a border wall at Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument in Arizona, bulldozing Saguaros and clearing land directly above Native American graves — despite pending lawsuits and threats to rare species and archaeological sites. Proposed new construction could soon affect Coronado National Memorial in another part of the state. Take action to stop this reckless destruction.
2. Extend open comment periods until after the COVID-19 crisis is contained.
While everyday Americans are worried about the health of their families and communities, the administration continues to lease thousands of acres of public lands for oil and gas development near national parks such as Rocky Mountain National Park. Officials are simultaneously moving forward with land management plans covering thousands of additional acres near parks such as Chaco Culture National Historical Park that would potentially open those lands to drilling. It is challenging for many in the public to meaningfully participate in any comment period during a national crisis, and land management agencies should not be rushing to push this unnecessary and potentially destructive energy development. All lease sales and other federal rulemaking with open public comment periods should be put on hold immediately.
3. Support strong climate action goals.
The climate crisis is the most serious problem our national parks and communities face. Nearly everything we know and love about our parks is put at risk by the changing climate. Cape Hatteras National Seashore is eroding from rising tides, Rocky Mountain National Park is experiencing record wildfires, namesake features at Glacier and Saguaro National Parks are disappearing, and every single park is affected. A resolution in Congress would meaningfully address this crisis by establishing a national goal to protect and restore 30% of U.S. lands and oceans by 2030, including lands adjacent to many national parks. Lawmakers should pass this important resolution to preserve what’s left of our lands, waters and wildlife while we still can.
4. Increase funding for the National Park Service.
America’s national parks are in a financial crisis. Since 2011, the Park Service has experienced a 16% decrease in staffing while national parks have seen a 17% increase in visitation. Meanwhile, the Park Service maintenance backlog is at an all-time high with nearly $12 billion in needed repairs to roads, trails, visitor centers and other infrastructure. Yet the administration recently proposed a $587 million (17%) cut to the Park Service budget, which would result in the loss of an additional 950 staff. Lawmakers should reject this proposed budget and increase funding for national parks and their staff. Existing legislation, known as the Great American Outdoors Act, would do just that — and members of Congress should pass this important bill.
5 more critical issues NPCA continues to work on during the crisis
1. Defending endangered species.
National parks provide habitat for more than 600 threatened and endangered species. Yet the administration and some members of Congress are working to make it much more difficult to protect threatened and endangered species by implementing new rules for how the Endangered Species Act is applied — and proposing changes to the landmark conservation law itself. The latest administration rules allow management agencies to consider economic factors when determining whether a species should be saved, prioritizing cost analysis over conservation, which goes against the intent of the act. Proposed changes could also make it easier for companies to move forward with development projects in critical habitat areas near parks. NPCA continues to fight these changes, on Capitol Hill and in the courts.
2. Protecting the National Environmental Policy Act.
The administration is attempting to gut the National Environmental Policy Act, a bedrock law that has protected America’s public lands and national parks for 50 years by ensuring federal land managers conduct environmental reviews and engage the public before approving development projects affecting public lands. Proposed changes to this law could make it easier to permit massive energy development at places such as historic Jamestown or rockets launching over critical turtle nesting habitats at Cumberland Island National Seashore. NPCA will continue to fight these proposed changes, at individual parks and in the courts.
3. Stopping mining threats in park watersheds.
Industrial-scale mining operations on park borders can have disastrous consequences for the land, water, wildlife and visitor experience. NPCA continues to fight a proposed mining road that would cut through wild lands and caribou migration routes near Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve, as well as a proposed sulfide mine that could harm the watershed at Voyageurs National Park.
4. Maintaining Clean Water Rule protections for our nation’s waters.
Almost immediately after taking office, the administration began working to overturn the Clean Water Rule, a 2015 regulation developed with bipartisan support to effectively prevent pollution from mining, manufacturing, large farms and other sources. Places such as Mississippi River National Recreation Area, Dinosaur National Monument and Glen Canyon National Recreation Area will be at increased risk for water contamination under the administration’s revised rule. NPCA will continue to fight changes to this rule and work with local communities to protect the water we all depend on.
5. Reducing air pollution from haze.
Nearly 90% of U.S. national park sites are plagued by haze pollution, air pollution is on the rise, and enforcement actions against polluters have plummeted by 85% since the current administration took office in 2017. Parks such as Sequoia, Kings Canyon, Canyonlands, Zion and Big Bend are particularly at risk because the Environmental Protection Agency has backpedaled on plans to curb pollution affecting them. NPCA continues to work directly with states and allies and is poised to litigate, as needed, to compel the Environmental Protection Agency to enforce our nation’s clean air laws.
Americans want to know that our parks and public lands will still be there for us when this public health crisis is over. But what will be left of them if we stay the current course? Please join our fight to preserve our Parks in Peril so that when the world is safe again, they will be, too.
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About the author
Theresa Pierno President and CEO
Theresa Pierno is President and CEO of the National Parks Conservation Association. She joined NPCA in 2004 after a distinguished career in public service and natural resource protection, and has helped to solidify the organization's role as the voice of America's national parks.