Center for State of the Parks Gives Lassen Volcanic National Park A "Fair" Rating

As pretty as this picture of Lassen Volcanic National Park is, the park's cultural and natural resources could use some help, according to NPCA's Center for State of the Parks. NPS photo.

Funding deficiencies are hamstringing the staff at Lassen Volcanic National Park by preventing them from adequately protecting the park's natural and cultural resources, according to the Center for State of the Parks.

The center, an offshoot of the National Parks Conservation Association, in a just-released report rated the overall condition of the park's natural and cultural resources as "fair" and pointed to funding inadequacies as contributing greatly to the problems. For instance, the park lacks a cultural resource manager as well as a staffer to oversee the park's GIS (Geographic Information Systems) data management and analysis.

For fiscal year 2008, Lassen Volcanic National Park had an operational budget of $4.3 million, which was insufficient to fund all projects. As a result of funding and staffing shortfalls, many natural and cultural resource projects could not be conducted. Natural resource projects awaiting funding include an assessment of impacts at park boundaries (i.e., cattle and motor vehicle trespass effects) and control of non-native plants. Due to a lack of baseline information, Lassen Volcanic’s ecosystems are only partly understood. The Park Service is addressing this data gap through both in-house inventory and monitoring programs (e.g., black bear monitoring, pika monitoring, climate change studies) and projects in conjunction with the Klamath Inventory and Monitoring Network. The park needs funds for equipment and staff to support both in-house projects and work done through the network.

Cultural resource projects that require funding include a conservation survey of museum objects, the collection of oral histories from people who worked or stayed at Drakesbad Guest Ranch during its period of significance (e.g., descendants of the Sifford family, which owned the ranch from 1900 to 1953), and archaeological investigations at two impacted sites at Drakesbad. In addition to resource management projects, money is needed for infrastructure, such as the installation of protective ultraviolet filtering film to the museum’s skylights.

The weakest link at the park, according to the center, is the missing cultural resource manager, as that job provides "holistic oversight of the park's archeology, ethnography, cultural landscapes, historic structures, and museum collections...."

Elsewhere, the center noted that "(K)ey portions of the park’s museum and archival collections, such as the photographic slide collections of the eruption of Lassen Peak, are housed in an administrative building closet that lacks climate control and earthquake protection and is too small. Digitizing the photos for internal use and storing the originals at the park’s shared facility in Orick would safeguard the historic collection."

The center did note some encouraging management strides at Lassen. It found that park managers are restoring ecosystems through the use of prescribed burns as well as "mechanical or manual" approaches to restoring areas impacted by past fire suppression policies; has restored 109 of 195 acres of disturbed land; has been working to correct damaged wetlands at Drakesbad Meadow, and; is developing a comprehensive plan to address management of the Warner Valley, home to the historic Drakesbad Guest Ranch, which today is a working dude ranch. The valley has been impacted by the Dream Lake Dam that was built at Drakesbad in 1932 to provide for boating and fishing but which has had a negative consequence on water flows and ecosystems, the center pointed out.

Lassen Volcanic also saw the opening in 2008 of the Kohm Yah-mah-nee Visitor Center, which is the first year-round National Park Service facility to receive a "platinum" Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design rating, said the center.

To read the entire 60-page report at: http://www.npca.org/stateoftheparks/lassen/

Comments

I wonder to what extent the problems identified by the NPCA affiliated Center for the State of the Parks are unique to Lassen Volcanic National Park, and to what extent these same issues repeat themselves system-wide?

Owen Hoffman
Oak Ridge, TN 37830

Data from the assessments that NPCA’s Center for State of the Parks has conducted thus far yield some systemic trends that are reflected at Lassen Volcanic National Park.

In the 68 park units where cultural resources assessments have been completed, the vast majority of parks lack staff and/or funding for cultural resource programs. This has a number of consequences, including that 100 percent of parks assessed demonstrate gaps in research and documentation of cultural resources. Inadequate storage, such as that noted for Lassen’s museum and archival collections, also is a common problem. Habitat loss or degradation, from altered fire regimes, invasive species, and other factors, is seen at 96 percent of the 54 park units where natural resources assessments have been completed. Lassen’s interest in collecting data on impacts at park boundaries is understandable, considering that, in evaluating both current impacts and future threats of adjacent land use on park units, 91 percent of assessed park sites were considered impacted or threatened by development activities that included roads, agriculture, urbanization, and industrial development.

The Center for State of the Parks is currently in the process of compiling additional information on threats facing the National Park System. For more information on past park assessments, please see “The State of Our National Parks: A Resources Index” at http://www.npca.org/stateoftheparks/npri/.