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Reader Participation Day: What is the Greatest Threat To Our National Parks?


It seems not a week goes by without some issue being identified as a threat to the national parks. One week it might be funding woes, another week pollution, another diversity concerns, and then, of course, there's climate change.

So, from the following list, which do you think poses the greatest threat to our national parks? And if your concern is not on the list, please tell us what it is.

* Funding issues. It's been often reported that the National Park Service has a maintenance backlog of about $9 billion. And, of course, there's the issue of annual funding in general for the Park Service. Is Congress spending too little on the parks, or is the Park Service not as fiscally fit as it could be?

* Pollution. Whether it's ground-level ozone at Acadia or Great Smoky Mountains national parks, air quality in general at places such as Shenandoah and Sequoia national parks, or heavy metals and acid rain deposition in the Sierra, Rockies, or Appalachian parks there are plenty of pollution issues that can be cited across the National Park System.

* Diversity. This is a two-pronged issue, as there are concerns over both a lack of diversity in park visitors and within the NPS ranks.

* Climate change. Is this, as Park Service Director Jon Jarvis has said, "fundamentally the greatest threat to the integrity of our national parks that we have ever experienced"?

* Visitation. This also is a two-pronged issue, as some worry that the parks are not being seen by enough visitors, while others argue that places such as the Yosemite Valley, the South Rim of the Grand Canyon, and Old Faithful in Yellowstone are overrun with visitors in the summer months.

* Inholdings. There are many cases across the National Park System where pockets of private property exist within the borders of a national park. And earlier this year there were news stories about a developer who was buying up parcels to build multi-million-dollar homes on them. Is the Park Service's inability, due to lack of funding, to buy these parcels harming the integrity of the parks?

* Motorized recreation. How great a threat are snowmobiles, personal watercraft, and off-road vehicles to national parks?


Greetings Kurt
I've been reading the comments about the greatest threat and although there have been many valid concerns brought up, each tends to exclude another. Since I'm in the NPS, I'd like to address this as a greatest challenge. Perhaps it is to hold on to who we are. That means making our Organic Act an organic part of ourselves. "Preserve, protect, provide."

When I started working for the NPS, Horace Albright and Freeman Tilden were still alive, still an inspiring influence. They are gone, but each succeeding generation can carry on their work. That is, we can carry it on if we understand it. That means interpreters must care passionately about interpretation, but accept that protection rangers must care passionately about protection - and vice-versa. It means resource people need to know (and need to be allowed to know) the resource intimately, maintenance needs to know the ways in which their work in a park can differ from the "outside world" and administration needs to see it all clearly enough to stand up to the unending challenges.

That's just a sampling, and none of it is easy. We can't control everything but we will do our best if each of us accepts we are a part of the whole, and that it is an extraordinary and important whole. Every part of it is something to fight for, something to live for and something which can give each of us a life to look back on with joy.

Linda is right that it is wrong by category to blame Republicans. The Republican Party really founded the ameican conservation movement, and many of the earliest and most effective environmentalists and park-makers were Republicans. Conservative Republicans are among the finest of these. But lately, the committee system of the US Congress has brought out the worst in the Republican Party. Republicans place on the committees with jurisdiction over the parks, the most hostile members of the Republican Party from the West that they can find. The committee staffers working for these anti-park Members of Congress are weakening the laws of the parks every day. Almost no park legislation can pass, unless it prohibits the NPS from acquiring the land within the boundary without the consent of the owner. Since very often it is the threat to the resource that created the need for the park in the first place, not permitting the park service to pay off an unwilling seller, and protect the land, means that the whole park is not protected.

We need to bring back the Republican tradition of park protection, and get rid of these hostile forces on the congressional committees that direct the work of the NPS. Most Republicans in America want parks protected.

I, for one, would definitely place "Buy Out Inholdings" and "buy new parks" at the top of my list. The most important thing is long term protection, and you must own the land for that. With the American economy in decline, there are increasing threats to reckless development, but also land costs are at their most reasonable in years. Buy all the land we can now.

To Andrea Lankford, are you worried about a bureaucracy WITHIN the national park service? Your objection does not sound like it is based on a real threat -- can you name any big initiative inside the National Park Service that resulted in the waste and destruction you fear? The Civilian Conservation Corps work in Parks? The massive 10-year effort to study and preserve parks in Alaska? The effort to preserve the historic adobe structures in the Southwest? Wilderness studies in all national parks that qualified? Vice President Al Gore's initiative to re-make government, and his golden hammers? The focus on the need to deal with the backlog of unmaintained structures? Equal Employment Opportunities? The efforts, starting in the 1970's, to represent the history of the experience of minorities in the parks, and the 'untold stories?'

Andrea, as you've said it, it just sounds like ideological speculation, like some of the un-truths said about Health Care. How about providing some real examples? the ones I can think of have made things more efficient and effective.

I agree with those that have brought forth the issue of relevancy. As the demographics and interests of the American population change, the parks may very well be looked on as being irrelevant. People can't care about what they don't even know about. I second the thought that as people become more and more ignorant of both the natural environment and the history of our planet, national parks will become even more forgotten by the majority of our citizens.

The insatiable demand for natural resources by a growing population

Demographers now forsee a U.S. population of 500 million. Some even toss out the "billion" word. Wood, fiber, minerals, water. The demand will trump preservation values every time.

Legislation may be enacted on a park by park basis, but it will eventually occur.

Thanks, Kurt. I'm backpacking through Joshua Tree and Death Valley this winter--be happy to file a report or two.

(And thanks so much for the Traveler--it certainly fulfills its mission.)

In response to Jerry C and the similarly minded: Most likely trails and campsites are closed due to lack of money and personnel to maintain and oversee them--along with too many thoughtless visitors who wander off the trail and so destroy the landscape.

I would add nature deficit disorder and historical illiteracy to the list--who knows whether parks will even be relevant to today's children and immigrants as they grow older.

Ok, I've finally decided the greatest threat to America's Parks are anonymous posters lobbing unfounded proclamations. Actually, that's the biggest threat to human existence, come to think of it.

the biggest danger is the way the parks are ran by the NPS, that is obvious!

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