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What Are The Top Issues Confronting The National Park System?


Air pollution in parks such as Shenandoah is just one of the problems facing the National Park System. Photo courtesy of Air Resources Specialists, Inc., via National Parks Conservation Association.

What are the top issues confronting the National Park System? A slew of answers could be tacked onto that question, ranging from sprawl outside park boundaries and habitat fragmentation to pollution.

The other day someone pointed out a list on National Geographic's website, and while it's certainly a good list of candidates, there's no apparent date to which you can attach the list. The fact that the story mentions "392" units of the system somewhat dates the list, as there currently are 394. Still, the authors came up with a nice Top 10:

* "Untold Stories" stemming from the vast archival resources of the National Park Service that are collecting mothballs somewhere due to a lack of space to display them and curatorial staff to catalog them and tell their stories.

* "Crumbling infrastructure." This is in reference to the Park Service's estimated $9.5 billion backlog of maintenance. Still, the infusion of more than $750 million through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act has made some inroads into this backlog.

* "Wildlife Management." This is certainly a key issue in light of fragmenting habitats and human pressures through development that are impacting wildlife from Everglades to Denali.

* "Foreign invaders." Exotic species -- plants, animals, insects, fish -- all are creating problems in various corners of the park system.

* "Adjacent development." See "wildlife management" above.

* "Climate change." Impacts of an altering climate already are being noticed in the parks, from the melting glaciers in Glacier National Park to bug infestations in Rocky Mountain, Grand Teton, Yellowstone, and other western parks made possible by warmer weather.

* "Water issues." There perhaps is no better example of what happens when natural water flows are replumbed by humans than the struggling "river of grass" in Everglades National Park.

* "Air pollution." The National Geographic article mentions Great Smoky Mountains National Park, but you could easily add Acadia, Sequoia, Grand Canyon, and Mesa Verde to the list of parks impacted by air pollution, whether it arrives in the form of high ground-level ozone levels, particulates, or acid rain.

* "Transportation Troubles." The article links this to poor roads in the parks but much progress has been made, and is continuing, in parks such as Yellowstone, Sequoia, and Great Smoky.

* "Visitor Experience." This entry hinges on how people enjoy the parks. Debate continues to swirl over how appropriate different uses -- snowmobiles, ORVs, overflights, mountain bikes -- are in the parks, and yet these forms of recreation are popular with many visitors.

There certainly are other strong candidates that could be added to this list. For instance...

* Diversity in the Parks. If overall visitation is weighted towards any one demographic, such as Baby Boomers, who will advocate for the parks when the Baby Boomers fade away? Strides are being made in this area as evidenced, for instance, in efforts being made by Yosemite National Park staff to interest more visitors of Hispanic descent in the park.

* Overall funding. This perhaps should be at the top of the list, for as long as Congress fails to adequately provide for the parks the maintenance backlog will continue to grow, stories will go untold, species will suffer, natural, cultural and historic resources will be impacted, and visitor services will decline.

* Under-staffing. It can be argued that there are not enough full-time, professionally trained staff in the parks, whether they be interpreters, law enforcement rangers, or curatorial staff. Volunteers are great, but they should complement, not supplement, full-time staff.

* Employee recruitment. Surveys have shown that NPS staffing, overall, is tilted toward white males. If visitor diversity efforts are to succeed, it would seem that diversity in staffing is important, too.

* Political interference. Under this you could list politicians who try to legislate management of the parks and require the Park Service to spend incredible amounts of time and dollars studying prospective park units that on first blush probably don't deserve to be added to the system.

* Illegal immigrants. Whether the source is drug runners or illegal aliens traveling through Southwestern parks such as Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument or Saguaro National Park or Mexican drug cartels setting up marijuana groves in Sequoia, Yosemite and even North Cascades National Park, these are serious problems that are threatening park visitors and staff and impacting park resources.

Any other threats you would place on this list?

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Anti-federal government rhetoric is higher than I can recall. It ramped up starting when Reagan declared that the federal government is the problem. Current rhetoric from the tea party types is that the federal government can't do ANYTHING right. Joe Miller, the tea party candidate from Alaska thought Denali should go to the state. Some years ago there was a spate of talk about giving national parks to the states, and I recall that some Arizona folks wanted the Grand Canyon and a few of the other parks that had high visitation. The state park director in South Dakota (I think it was) said that the state parks there did a much better job than the NPS and used as his example that in their state parks the forests were "healthy" because they allowed logging and national park forests were not "healthy."

I am not going to get into a big argument here about politics, but I am predicting that we will see more anti-federal government rhetoric and action in the coming years and I can forsee that attempts to get national parks turned over to the states will be part of that, and if we lose support from the people it could happen and I predict that as the middle class shrinks more, folks won't care about parks as they now do. And, as their are fewer opportunities for minorities to move up into the middle class we will not be able to gain their support.

From the inside looking out I'd say recruitment is a significant problem, we recruit for the wrong reasons and then scratch our heads and wonder why we have a retention problem. 2-3 year funding authorities would save the NPS billions. Recognizing that our thought process is nearly 15 years behind the power curve, accept it, overhaul the system and let our high performers do what they do best (technology would be my first big hit). Understand inclusion and diversity and communicate it appropriately so our employees understand it's not just a number thing. Training, leadership development, standards that apply to all and systems of accountability that mean something. Make sure we can handle what we have in the system befor taking anything else on. Most importantly really mean it when we say our employees are our most treasured resources....

Thanks Kurt!

Not sure I follow that, Grizz.

Why would anyone want to turn the parks back over to the states, From which they came, unless the Federal Government is not living up to the agreement made with the people when the states gave the parks to the Federal Government?
Americans will always be able to visit the parks. It's just a matter of what they will be allowed to do when they get there. Don't know if we need to worry about those greedy right wing folks as much as we do the AS & DOW & Wilderness Groups. If any of them get everything they want, it really won't matter anymore.

Trying to maintain Middle Class
And Right Wing For Now (guess that makes me greedy)


Over the years park attendance has been increasing. A large part of that has been possible because the number of people in the middle class was also increasing, including an increase of minorities in the middle class. But the trend now is for a massive movement of wealth toward the rich, corporations moving more and more jobs overseas. The middle class is being destroyed, wages are dropping, and I suggest the possibility that many Americans in the future will no longer be able to visit national parks if these trends continue. We may not see a drop overall in visitation as more visitors from Europe and especially Asia come to the parks, but if primarily the wealthier citizens in the US can visit parks we will lose the support of the American people and the Tea Parties, Ayn Rand enthusiasts, and the (mostly right wing) greedy will exploit this to try to turn parks over to the states and to private interests.

Strange isn't it, when you are not personally responsible for repaying, sure makes it easier to spend. Our Government has been notorious for unnecessary spending. They study things to death, review it when its dead, hire consultants to investigate why it died, have overlapping agencies, Assistants to assistants who then have assistants, You know where I'm going with this. For every dollar that actually results in something constructive, two have already dissappeared in bureaucracy. It's not the Rangers or the Park Superintendents. It's the multitudes before them. And, on top of that, half of everything winds up in a court room where we pay lawyers to tell us what we can and can't do. But, if we eliminate all that waste, just think of all the people we will add to the unemployment rolls. Sorry I brought this up.
I was brought up with a philosophy, which I tried to pass on to my children. Try each day to, in some way, be productive and produce something of value. Be it something useful that wasn't there yesterday, but is there today. Make something better than it was. You can't make it happen the way our Government does things. The founders of our great nation were productive in their own right before they took on the job of shaping and running this country. I think therein lies the answer. They learned how to produce before they became politicians. I think it would be difficult to do it the other way around. I also think there are way too many politicians in positions which were never ment to be held by politicians. Too many IOU's developed during campaigns and otherwise.
I also feel for those such as Annon. 8:30, they often end up the victim of circumstances resulting from the above. Too many come before them. They become insignificant in the overall scheme of things. Sad, because they often would be the producers.

Just some thoughts

Ron (obxguys)

No comment but Tim Geitner just announced that $14 Trillion in DEBT isn't enough.

Bureaucratic and regulatory overload that has lead to inertia. Even the simplest things seem to be in the too hard to do category.

Leaders, decision-makers and managers that are far too risk averse and afraid to make even the simplest decision without having consensus. Too much CYA.

I don't really think funding is an issue. If you eliminate most of the BS that we spend 80% of our time doing, there is plenty of $$$ and FTE to get the job done and then some.


Just hire the best and allow those that got the positions realize they got it because of their own achievement and not diversity quotas. There's much evidence that opportunity is available for everyone given that one realizes that it's not a right but determined by their own efforts. That's a cultivation method I could embrace. Individuals planting a seed of encouragement in another individual rather than the government spending dollars even if we had them to spend.

Thanks again for the great discussions!

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