National Parks Conservation Association Says Obama Administration Must Address Threats Facing National Parks and Develop Comprehensive Long Term Plan for Parks
WASHINGTON, D.C – New research released today by the nonprofit National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA) provides the first ever broad look at how America’s national parks are faring in the face of pollution, invasive species, climate change, energy development, adjacent land development and chronic funding shortfalls. A decade in the making, the report – The State of America’s National Parks – represents the most comprehensive overview yet performed on resource conditions in America’s national parks.
NPCA’s Center for Park Research wrote the report based on its studies on resource conditions at 80 national parks across the country, a 20 percent sample of the 394 parks in the National Park System. The report finds that long-standing and new threats are impacting wildlife and water and air quality within our national parks. The historic sites that tell the story of the Civil War, the civil rights movement and the evolution of America’s diverse culture are also suffering, mostly because of a lack of funding.
“Our national parks are places we go for reflection, inspiration, and connection to our national heritage – they are places we as Americans decided to protect to showcase where America’s story has unfolded. But new data shows that our national parks are in serious jeopardy,” said Tom Kiernan, president of the National Parks Conservation Association. “As we approach the 2016 centennial of the National Park Service, we have a responsibility to ensure our American treasures are preserved and protected for the future.”
Air, Water, Wildlife at Risk
The assessment revealed stark realities, including the loss of native plants and animals from park landscapes. Ninety-five percent of parks assessed had at least one wildlife or plant species that had disappeared from the area, including large predators such as gray wolves, mountain lions, and grizzly bears. In places such as Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park, invasive plants and animals are crowding out native species, some of which are now extinct. Air and water quality in the parks are also suffering. More than half of the parks studied (63%) have compromised air quality conditions. Numerous parks, such as Gateway National Recreation Area and Big Hole National Battlefield, also reported serious water quality issues, including contamination and depleted water resources that affected the entire ecosystem.
The majority of threats to natural resources stemmed from human activities, including development on lands adjacent to national parks that is negatively impacting resources inside park boundaries.
“From Grand Canyon to the Great Smoky Mountains, mining, energy production, roads, and housing projects on adjacent lands are fragmenting wildlife habitat, diminishing air quality, disrupting cultural landscapes, and contaminating water resources,” said Kiernan.
Climate Change Threatens Survival of Iconic Species
The report also indicates that climate change is a systemic threat to the iconic flora and fauna of many national parks—the Joshua trees of Joshua Tree National Park and the redwoods of Muir Woods National Monument and Redwood National Park among them. Rising sea levels due to climate disruption threaten to inundate coastal archaeological sites in Katmai National Park and Preserve in Alaska. And at Isle Royale National Park, significant changes in the quantity of snow could impact moose-wolf dynamics and threaten the survival of both species in this wilderness park.
Historic Artifacts and Cultural Treasures in Peril
An often forgotten mission of the National Park Service is that of curator and keeper of America’s historic artifacts and cultural gems. Two-thirds of the 394 units in the National Park System were designated to protect important historic or cultural sites, but rarely does the agency have enough trained staff – or receive the funding – to properly care for them. The report found that in more than 90 percent of the parks surveyed, cultural resources were found to be in deficient condition. The Park Service estimates that more than 60 percent of the 27,000 historic structures are in need of repair or maintenance. Many parks lack adequate documentation and research on their cultural resources, and their artifacts are being insufficiently monitored—meaning that theft and deterioration may go unnoticed.
Chronic funding shortfalls have prevented many park sites from having enough trained professionals to oversee their cultural resources. Our national parks suffer from an annual operations shortfall of more than $600 million. With too few staff to watch over them, some prehistoric sites and battlefields continue to be looted, historic buildings are neglected, and museum collections are left unorganized. Historic structures are in need of care and repair, but the work often gets deferred. Almost 30 percent of the assessed parks reported deferred maintenance costs in excess of $1 million.
Reasons for Hope – What’s Working Now
Yet the report shows that despite the challenges facing our national parks, many of the parks assessed have developed management approaches to effectively address the erosion of natural and cultural resources. For example, a vessel management plan at Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve helps protect marine mammals from being struck by ships. And the removal of non-native species and a captive breeding program have helped restore Channel Islands’ native island fox population. Research at a number of parks shows that when National Park Service staff have sufficient financial support, up-to-date scientific information, and adequate training, positive stories of resources protection are abundant.
A Call To Action
While the Parks Service looks to its 95th anniversary and the next century, advocates continue to point to simple, straightforward solutions to address the challenges facing our national parks. Report recommendations suggest that the Obama Administration must develop a comprehensive long term plan for the parks that reduces threats from energy development and other adjacent uses, enforces air quality laws, and monitors water quality. In addition, long term protection is dependent on fully funding the National Park Service, the federal agency tasked with overseeing the parks and their assets. The full list of recommendations can be found at www.npca.org/cpr/sanp/SANP-summary-WEB.pdf.
NPCA is also calling on the Obama Administration to issue an Executive Order to recommit federal resources and policies to preparing our parks for the next century by reintroducing native wildlife, implementing climate change adaptation and mitigation, better managing large landscapes to conserve and restore ecosystems, improving the condition of cultural resources, and incorporating under-represented themes of American history and cultural diversity.
“The State of America’s National Parks report is our wakeup call. The natural and historical treasures that Americans value have been vulnerable for too long. This is a turning point in the history of our parks, and we must not break the promise that past generations made to our children and grandchildren,” said Kiernan.
About National Parks Conservation Association
Since 1919, the nonpartisan National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA) has been the leading voice in safeguarding our national parks. NPCA and its more than one million members and supporters work together to protect and preserve our nation’s natural, historical, and cultural heritage for future generations. For more information, visit www.npca.org.
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