Here's some news the National Park Service can't be thrilled to hear as it tries to push through a revision of its Management Policies: Three conservation groups are suing the agency over the way it manages off-road vehicles in the national parks, saying underfunding and a lack of manpower are resulting in serious ORV damage to parks.
The lawsuit couldn't come at a much worse time. After all, top Interior Department and Park Service officials have been telling us how much they want to improve the national parks for visitors, and how revisions to the Management Policies will help them better protect the parks' landscapes, and this lawsuit says those landscapes are being torn up by off-road vehicles.
And let's not forget the claims by many groups, and even U.S. senators, that the proposed Management Policies revisions will endanger the parks, not better preserve them.
The lawsuit was filed today in U.S. District Court in Washington by the National Parks Conservation Association, the Bluewater Network, and Wildlands CPR. The three contend that "illegal ORV use is causing harm in some parks such as the Grand Canyon, Mount Rainier, and Olympic, and parks do not have enforcement plans or plans to monitor their affects, as required by law. Our suit calls on the Park Service to put enforcement and monitoring plans in place, which hasn't yet been done in some places for lack of funding and staff. "
The three groups met with the Park Service in July 2004 and raised concerns about off-road vehicle damage in the national parks. In response, the Park Service conducted an internal survey of all national park sites. That survey, the groups claim, shows that off-road vehicles are causing widespread damage to national park landscapes.
"Despite evidence of damage, the leadership of the National Park Service is simply proposing more studies of the problems caused by off-road vehicles in some parts of the National Park System and has refused to take any action elsewhere," said Carl Schneebeck, public lands campaign director for Bluewater Network and a former Park Service ranger.
According to the groups, illegal off-road vehicle use is harming archaeological sites at the Grand Canyon; tearing up hiking/horseback trails at Olympic National Park; crushing animal burrows in Arches and Canyonlands national parks; and facilitating fossil poaching at Badlands National Park.
"National parks were created 100 years ago as preserves for our national heritage, not as playgrounds for off-road vehicles," said Wildlands CPR Executive Director Bethanie Walder. "The existing policies to protect our parks must be upheld and enforced."