Blog Post Jul 22, 2020

The 5 Best Things That Happened for Parks This Summer

ICYMI: Even amid a global pandemic and months of bad news, advocates won huge victories for our national parks and the people who love them.

The last few months have been defined by health and economic crises, environmental rollbacks, and challenges to human rights and social justice that have tested our collective faith. But even during a troubled time in our nation’s history, the long-term advocacy work of thousands of concerned people has resulted in five major recent victories we can all be proud of.


1. Congress passed a historic public lands bill.

On July 22, Congress passed the Great American Outdoors Act — a tremendous park funding package that NPCA staff, advocates and partners have worked steadfastly for two decades to achieve. The legislation will dedicate $6.5 billion over five years toward addressing the highest-priority maintenance and repair needs across the National Park System, including visitor centers, trails, roads, bridges, water and electrical systems, and more. It will also allocate $900 million annually in perpetuity to the Land and Water Conservation Fund, one of our country’s most important tools for preserving the integrity of our national parks. These funds would be used to purchase vulnerable lands within park borders to protect them from incompatible residential and commercial development — a substantial ongoing investment in our parks and public lands.


2. The courts protected undeveloped Indigenous land outside Glacier National Park.

Montana’s Badger-Two Medicine region is an expanse of undeveloped land adjacent to Glacier National Park that is sacred to the Blackfeet Nation. In the early 1980s, the federal government sold numerous oil and gas leases in this area without required tribal consultation and in violation of environmental law. The Blackfeet, NPCA staff, and our supporters and partners have fought for years to have these leases cancelled, and many companies have voluntarily retired their holdings, noting the cultural and environmental importance of the region. But one company, Louisiana-based Solenex LLC, filed a lawsuit in 2013 to begin drilling in this wild landscape. Last month, a federal appeals court overturned a lower court ruling, canceling this last remaining lease in the Badger-Two Medicine — a victory that will keep this extraordinary land free from industrialization.


3. Energy companies abandoned the Atlantic Coast Pipeline.

Dominion Energy and Duke Energy announced earlier this month that they would halt plans to build an $8 billion, 600-mile natural gas pipeline in the Northeast that would have cut under the Appalachian Trail and the Blue Ridge Parkway, devastating waterways and wildlife corridors, ruining scenic views, and disrupting historic communities of color. NPCA joined the Southern Environmental Law Center as an active partner in the Coalition to Protect America’s National Parks, working for six years to defeat the pipeline. Advocates challenged the irresponsible project at every turn, finally putting an end to this threat to one of the country’s most beloved thru-hiking trails and the communities that surround it.


4. A court upheld endangered species protections for Yellowstone’s grizzly bears.

In August 2017, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service removed the Yellowstone-region grizzly bear population from the federal endangered and threatened species list, even though the area’s grizzly population has suffered high levels of human-caused deaths in recent years. That fall, for the first time in more than 40 years, the states of Wyoming and Idaho announced grizzly hunts that would have allowed hunters to kill up to 23 bears outside of Yellowstone National Park. The Northern Cheyenne Tribe and conservation groups filed a lawsuit and received a temporary restraining order to the block the hunt, and the court later reinstated federal endangered species protections that the Fish and Wildlife Service had removed. Last week, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed this decision, upholding sound science and protecting this majestic animal in one of the few remaining landscapes where it can still survive.


5. Supreme Court ruling will protect National Park Service employees.

Last month, the nation’s highest court prohibited workplace discrimination against LGBTQ employees — a victory for workers across the nation. NPCA had separately called on the Department of the Interior to ensure protections for its LGBTQ employees after agency officials removed references to sexual orientation from its ethics guide on workplace discrimination last December. The Supreme Court decision will protect all LGBTQ federal employees, despite the lack of any clear move by Interior staff to specifically restore these protections within the agency.


This is an updated version of a previously published story.


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