Our Endangered National Parks

* At Yosemite National Park, concern for a river led to a staggering court ruling against the National Park Service.

* At Grand Canyon National Park, fears of radiation have led to congressional action to protect the park.

* At Yellowstone National Park, the buzzing of snowmobiles has caused science to be overlooked.

* At Cape Hatteras National Seashore, motorized tracks in the sand have spawned a court confrontation over off-road vehicles.

* At Valley Forge National Historic Park, a partnership torn asunder has grabbed headlines over potential development.

* At Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park the Interior Department actually gave away water rights from the river around which the park was created.

* Everglades National Park is still trying to survive damage to the everglades.

* In Big Cypress National Preserve endangered panthers have been trumped, some might say, by off-road vehicles.

* Glacier National Park has enough money for seasonal operations, but not enough to stay atop long-term maintenance needs.

* 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.

* At Sequoia National Park, the only thing missing from the park's war against marijuana growers are gun battles between rangers and growers.

* 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.

* At Redwood National Park, thieves are actually stealing redwood trees.

* 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.

Comments

With the Bush administration running out the clock as are do nothing president, expect the worse from the NPS. The next administration will have a monumental task in cleaning up the Bush & Cheney environmental mess with the Park Service. Such a travesty of a administration without a conscious!

Yes we do need a commission to keep our National Parks a priority in the minds of any and all who hold the power to give or take away funding. However, have we seen anything in the current roll of potential leaders of our country who have any interest at all in changing anything within our park system??? Do you really believe anyone who says they will make changes? Didn't our current administration make hollow promises for change? How do we change the general attitude of all those who don't seem to care about what happens to our Parks? How do we refocus the NPS mission and get it back on track? How does the health of our parks compete with the likes of funding for war, funding for oil research, funding for a green movement, funding for education, funding for cancer research, etc., etc. How do we make our National Parks a priority, indeed how do we even get parks on the list of "things to do" in our country anymore? People have to start caring about the future, have to start paying attention to what's ahead for us, have to start rebuilding and erasing past mistakes that have been ignored and are accumulating and making our park system weak. Maybe this new green movement will help bring attention back to our park system through the lenses of our climate and air concerns. We need this commission to give us our voices back, yes?

Pardon me Kurt, I meant "conscience" not conscious. Sometimes anger gets in the way with words regarding the Bush & Cheney administration. Sorry!

One can only hope that the "green" movement can be enlisted to protect the parks. Their voice and political clout is increasing, if saving the parks can be considered a green initiative, maybe that will turn the tide.

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My travels through the National Park System: americaincontext.com

Is a new Commission really needed in light of the Centennial Initiative? Moreover, if the only goal of the Commission would be to make the case that the National Park Service needs more funding, I doubt that it would represent good bang for the buck. You could probably paper-over the city of Washington with Commission Reports that identify the need for more spending on national priorities. On the other hand, the quote you site from the Coalition of National Park Service Retirees suggests a far broader scope, that could tackle really tricky issues like how to handle issues like "viewshed", air pollution, light pollution, noise pollution, migratory animals, and development for visitor's services around a National Park System that includes over 390 different areas? How do we reconcile the private property rights of National Park neighbors, and the all the other needs of National Parks that stop at National Park boundaries?

I'm not yet convinced that the Centennial Initiative is going to do the job that the park system needs done. For starters, Congress has yet to pass legislation to authorize the initiative. Too, the extra $100 million that President Bush authorized for the NPS budget is a drop in the proverbial bucket in terms of what the parks need, and there's no assurance that the next administration will follow through on that appropriation.

You're right that there's no need for a commission to delve into the Park Service's funding woes. Those are well-known.

But I do think that "broader scope" that you referenced merits such a body. So much has changed since 1916. The NPS, I think, tries to adjust to those changes by updating its Management Policies, but as the last round of updates indicated those can be a political football.

Private property rights definitely are a tricky issue that need to be addressed, as does the political nature of the current system. As I've mentioned before, I think having the NPS director politically appointed does a disservice to the park system, as you run the risk of every four years being led (pulled?) in a different direction. Better to have a non-partisan director with a term of six years who can take more of a holistic approach to managing the parks.

Of course, even if such a commission were formed and given such charges as outlined by the Coalition of National Park Service Retirees, who's to say its recommendations still wouldn't gather dust?

I would like to see the NPS become a separate agency within the Executive Branch that itsn't beholden to the Interior Department. Examples of agencies of this type include EPA and NASA. While it would still be politicized to a certain degree, it might be less than what it is now. Kurt's idea of a 6-year directorship is interesting, to be sure.