Our Endangered National Parks
* At Acadia National Park, 20 positions on the 100-person staff are vacant.
* The Blue Ridge Parkway, which also has too many vacancies on its staff, there's no landscape architect.
* Vice President Cheney, I've been told (both in the past and more recently), is the real driver behind the Park Service's refusal to close the door on snowmobiling into Yellowstone from Cody, costs be damned.
* Inadequate budgets forced the superintendent at Dinosaur National Monument to ax two of three positions from the monument's paleontological staff.
* Congressfolk slap themselves on the backs after passing legislation to create new units of the national park system, and then say the government can't afford to fully fund the National Park Service.
* More than 1,000 Yellowstone National Park bison have been killed this winter over fears of a disease they inherited from domestic livestock and which there has been, so far, no documented case of transmission from bison to livestock.
* Across the West, airborne pollutants are contaminating backcountry plants, lakes and fish in our national parks.
The list goes on and on and on.
The Park Service is actually resorting to commercial interests at Gateway National Recreation Area to save historic buildings. Air pollution already is sullying countless national park vistas, and the threat of more exists in proposed coal-fired power plants.
Drill down into the Traveler's listing of topics and under "Plight of the Parks" you'll find nearly 600 posts tied to threats confronting the national park system in some form of another.
Not everyone will share the same level of concern over each of the threats. But I'd wager most everyone will find a park dear to their own heart that's threatened in some form. And yet, some won't even see a concern. But if you've ever gone to a national park for a vacation and loved it, if you've ever wondered about grizzly bears or bighorn sheep or wolves, if you've ever marveled at images of Old Faithful, the Grand Canyon, or the Yosemite Valley or countless other national park vistas, you should be concerned over these threats.
What we need for a stronger, healthier national park system is a unified concern over all the threats.
Long ago the Coalition of National Park Service Retirees recommended a commission be formed "to create a national dialog to determine a new 21st century ideal for the national park system, to better understand its place and perspective in our national society and global context, to explore governance and how best to assure our parks are passed on to future generations unimpaired."
Now, there are those who roll their eyes at the thought of forming a commission to examine problems with anything. In the case of the national park system, they argue it's just another ill-fitting layer of bureaucracy that will only produce a voluminous report that will gather dust on some back shelf.
I would offer, though, that as the list above demonstrates, there are so many far-flung ailments with the national park system that are siphoning off the collective energy of both the Park Service and those who love the parks that we will continue to battle brush fires without developing a strong plan to save the forest until we come up with a collective vision for the national parks, until we understand all the various threats, until we agree they must be confronted on a national, not park-by-park, basis.
The National Park Service needs some direction that is not dictated by politics, that is based on sound science, and which has the support of both the nation and the Congress. We shouldn't need to be poised on the centennial of the National Park Service to address these problems. We should be driven by love and pride for our country's heritage, whether that involves natural, cultural, or historic resources.