Blog Post Theresa Pierno Nov 4, 2020

What's Next for Parks?

The work to protect our public lands doesn’t stop as the ballots are counted. Here’s what NPCA staff are focused on as we sort through the post-election landscape.

As officials continue to count votes across the nation, the staff at NPCA stand ready to protect America’s national parks, whatever the outcome.

National parks are places where we learn about the bravery and determination of the men and women who built our democracy and fought passionately for the right to vote. Thousands have marched, picketed, lobbied — and even suffered brutal attacks and imprisonment — for the ability to choose our elected leaders. We honor our founding fathers, civil rights heroes and suffragists today as we wait to hear the full results of the presidential and congressional races.

While the winners of these contests are still up in the air, the importance of our national parks is not. NPCA has been protecting our public lands for more than a hundred years, and we’re ready to continue, no matter how the coming days and weeks unfold.


Some of our biggest concerns for the next two months

Regardless of who wins the presidential race, the current administration will continue to manage our government, including our national parks, until January 20. During this lame duck session, we have a number of major concerns we’re focused on, including these three.

1. Weakening wildlife protections. For the last several years, both Congress and the administration have made multiple attempts to undermine protections for the most vulnerable animals and plants in our country. New regulations drastically weakened the Endangered Species Act, allowing federal agencies to consider economic factors when deciding whether to list species as threatened or endangered, stripping newly listed threatened species of automatic protection, and weakening protection of species’ critical habitat. Now the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service could finalize new changes undermining the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, which has been protecting birds for more than a century. And just last week, the agency removed federal protections for gray wolves in the Lower 48 states, making it harder for the animal to survive. NPCA will continue to work with our partners, on the ground and in court, to maintain critical protections for threatened and endangered species.

2. Approving a massive mine near the world’s largest sockeye salmon run. Developers have spent years trying to build Pebble Mine, an open-pit mine a mile wide and a quarter-mile deep, near a watershed that anchors a $2 billion fishing industry in Alaska. The Environmental Protection Agency could soon approve this enormous and damaging project that would harm salmon and bears near Katmai and Lake Clark National Parks. NPCA has already spent more than a decade fighting this devastating proposal, which a majority of Alaskans oppose. We will continue to partner with allies and advocates to fight it using every avenue available to us, including the courts if necessary.

3. Oil and gas leasing near national parks. The Bureau of Land Management under the current administration has sold the rights to extract oil and gas from federal lands at an unprecedented rate, offering more than 24.5 million acres for sale over the past four years. The bureau schedules these lease sales every three months, and the next scheduled sale in December will affect more than 400,000 acres in the West, including parcels near Rocky Mountain National Park. Fortunately, we have already worked with our supporters to halt oil and gas lease sales outside of Arches, Canyonlands and Great Sand Dunes National Parks, among others, and will continue working to prevent sensitive parcels from being affected.


Working with the next Congress

We will soon have a new opportunity to fight for critical federal legislation as a new Congress prepares to get to work.

Over the last four years, the House has passed hundreds of bills, including national park expansions and efforts to slow the effects of climate change, that have languished in the Senate. Now, as new allies and returning park champions take the reins in the House and Senate, we look forward to working with every member of Congress to build on the recent bipartisan success of the Great American Outdoors Act and pass more pro-park legislation and develop agendas that better support our public lands and waters, our shared history, our communities, and our environment.

Our national parks are powerful places that unite and inspire us, and we will continue to find ways to bring the members of our new Congress together to support them.


A historic moment with enormous opportunity

This election is unlike any other in history. People have voted in record numbers to have a say in our country’s priorities over the next four years. It will take longer than usual for us to know the full results, and it is essential we allow our democratic process the time needed to count every eligible ballot.

Today, I think of the visionaries who shaped and molded our government over the centuries, from the Revolutionaries and founding fathers who fought the Redcoats in Boston and met at Independence Hall in Philadelphia to resist tyranny, to inspirational figures such as Harriet Tubman and Frederick Douglass who devoted their lives to emancipation and suffrage for all people, to Alice Paul and Elizabeth Cady Stanton who fought tirelessly to secure women’s right to vote, to the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Congressman John Lewis and the hundreds of protesters alongside them who risked their lives to establish their voting rights by crossing the Edmund Pettus Bridge at what is now the Selma to Montgomery National Historic Trail in Alabama.

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Our system of voting is not perfect, but it reflects our long history as Americans to define and improve on the ideal, in Abraham Lincoln’s words at Gettysburg, “that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”

As we continue to protect and preserve America’s most iconic and inspirational places, I am glad to have so many others who believe in this work and are ready to roll up their sleeves and fight with us.


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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.