NPS Visit : Is Your Safety at Risk?

Coalition of National Park Service Retirees : Green Blood Runs DeepThe signs are growing stronger that our National Parks are in serious financial trouble. Just this week, both ABC News and the LA Times have published articles spotlighting the shortages of key personnel within the parks. And, today the Coalition of NPS Retirees has released a report examining the widespread serious effects that an inadequate budget is having on our system of national parks. With the reduction in park rangers across the entire agency, the report claims we will see "decreased safety for visitors, longer emergency response times, endangerment of protected resources, and dirtier and less well-maintained parks."

The entire Coalition report can be read here: "Reality Check: What Visitors to America's National Parks Will Experience During Summer 2006". A good analysis of this report can be read over at the National Parks Traveler. As the title of the report suggests, this is the current reality within our parks. As citizens interested in the infrastructure of our nation, we should be really concerned. The problem goes beyond the inconvenience of not having a ranger around to identify trees and flowers. The problem strikes at the very core of the mission of the National Park Service, the purpose of which is to "to conserve ... the natural and historic objects ... in such manner ... as will leave them unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations." [Organic Act of 1916]

That 90 year old mission is at stake when (as stated in the report) Gettysburg NMP is postponing the painting of historic structures, roof replacement, cannon carriage repairs; Upper Delaware SRR has 50 percent cut in maintenance programs, no preventative maintenance on historic bridge; and Indiana Dunes NL cannot patrol remote areas, rangers are reactive only with monitoring of sensitive areas eliminated, and patrol rangers not mingling with public or educating visitors.

The Coalition held a news conference to deliver the report. You can listen to the conference online (45 minutes total). It begins with a summary of the report and is then opened up for questions from reporters. Just after minute 31 of the recording, Julie Cart of the Los Angeles Times asks a follow-up question, the subject of which introduces an idea that many people concerned with the well-being of the parks are worried about: Privatization. She asks whether the NPS current budget crisis might open the door to the idea of a more commercial presence within the parks. The implication is that at some point privatization may be the only option left. Scary thought. She has written an article today in the LA Times, the link is posted below.

I can't figure out why the party of conservatives is shortchanging the Park Service's mission of conservation. The job of protecting our federal lands is the responsibility of our federal government. The idea of outsourcing the core services of our parklands for short-term federal savings would be a mistake.

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I am sure the Bush administration using the Antiquities Act to protect the Hawaiian islands will be their chant as proof that the President is an environmental president. However, the true story is that the administration has fallen down in protecting our national parks. That will be the true Bush legacy on the environment.

We will have to see how this lack of attention to our national treasures translates into more park degredation and poor visitor protection. NPS personnel struggle under this type of pressure. Something will eventually snap. Parks can not be held together with rubber bands and paper clips forever.