A Manifesto for the National Park Service

If you love the national parks, please take a few minutes to read the following essay. It is written by John F. Byrne who is Chair of the National Parks Committee within the Sierra Club. His essay touches on so many important topics, and instead dwelling on the problems of the present, he builds a vision for the future that is far more impressive than any of the noise surrounding the Centennial Initiative. Thank you John for sharing this strong statement. ~jersu

Expand our National Parks
by John F. Byrne

We should expand our National Parks' role in protecting our natural world.

We should Fill the Gaps

Our system of protected natural areas should be expanded so that all major ecological regions within the United States are represented, that gaps are filled, by a National Park or similar natural reserve. Representative areas should be of adequate size to assure long-term preservation of natural resources.

A preliminary gap analysis started by Kirk Koepsel a Sierra Club staffer before he tragically died in February shows that this would result in establishment of 38 new National Parks or similar areas and expansion or change in management of 28 others.

Nature is all around us. We should protect the entire natural world in which we live.

National Parks serve as bellwethers of environmental change - change caused by development and industrialization - change that occurs locally, regionally and globally. National Parks and other protected natural areas provide spaces for species to survive and enable them to adapt - to change - due to changes that have occurred, are occurring, and will occur in their environment.

By filling the gaps, by having protected natural areas represent all parts of our natural world, we can not only better enjoy all parts of our natural world, we can see what changes man is causing, and learn must we must do to protect all parts of the world in which we and our fellow species live.

While the United States invented National Parks we lag far behind our neighbors in using National Parks to protect and learn about our ecosystems. Locally, Canada, Costa Rica, Panama, and the Dominican Republic have such programs. And worldwide protecting the earth's biodiversity with National Parks is a primary objective.

We should hear what our National Parks have to tell us.

We need to expand the science program in National Parks to learn what we must do to deal with threats and environmental changes, and to promote the protection and restoration of all our native species throughout each major ecological region.

We need to determine the habitat for native plants and animals. We need to identify threats to habitats and to expand public understanding and appreciation of these threats - threats internal to the park, threats originating outside, global threats and threats because of public use. We need to determine what environmental changes are occurring and are expected to occur in the future due to climate change and other causes. We need to determine the major ecological region's ability to provide resilience for climate change. We need to determine what is necessary to protect our parks, and the major ecological regions of which they are a part, to respond to changes that are occurring and will occur in the future due to these causes. And we need to evaluate land use practices throughout the major ecological regions to determine which ones are compatible and which ones are incompatible with region ecological vitality.

National Parks and other places set aside to preserve what is natural provide excellent venues for studying what makes up our natural world, and learn how our natural world acts, reacts and adapts to change. As the potential consequences and the need to react to global climate change become more and more apparent, these natural areas will take center stage and assume a critical role as we determine how to perpetuate our natural future.

We need to expand education programs in National Parks to help all of us learn about our natural world. Education programs should serve the full spectrum of inquiry and broadcast actual ecological conditions worldwide. The education programs should relate to what is being taught in schools - pre-school through postgraduate. The education programs should address all courses of study, academic and non-academic, and should be connected to the Internet 24/7 so they can be fully used by everybody.

We need to strengthen partnerships with other government agencies, with universities and with other countries; and have our National Parks serve as the laboratories to learn more about our natural world.

We need to limit development in our National Parks and make what is there a model for the future

Only those facilities essential to protect National Parks and to allow us to enjoy and learn from them should be in National Parks. National Parks should be zero-energy users, walkable and located in the vestibules of parks - away from critical habitats. All facilities in National Parks should be Green.

Non-essential facilities should be located outside National Parks where they are better able to provide a full range of services to visitors, so they can be close to where employees live, so they can be served by utilities that also serve local communities, so they can be used to serve alternate community needs in park off-seasons, and so that the economic and social benefits that these out-of-park facilities create will generate community and political support for the park. The Smart, Zero-energy, Green facilities that are provided in National Parks can be models for the future.

We should rally public support to our cause

We should develop an outreach program that galvanizes local interest in National Parks. We need to create action forums for addressing threats to our National Parks - our natural world - by expanding our association with others: conservation and environmental protection organizations, user groups, and communities adjacent to National Parks. National parks can be used to address and solve major problems we face

Global climate change is a reality. It is the major crisis we must address, learn to accommodate, and learn to stop and reverse. Our fellow species and we are already experiencing the consequences. Our National Parks are perfect places for us to see what is happening and help learn what we have to do to do something about it.

National Parks can be used to address other problems too. Six out of ten Americans are overweight, almost a third of us are obese. By making National Parks more accessible to people, by making public facilities in them walkable, we can use our National Parks to help address this critical issue.

After reaching its peak 20 years ago per capita visitation to our National Parks is down 23%. Rising gasoline costs and increasing public awareness that traveling long distances to visit National Parks generates greenhouse gases will tend to aggravate this phenomenon. Well, if people won't come to National Parks - bring National Parks to the people by establishing new ones, closer-to-home. Dorothy should not have to put on those glittery shoes and travel to Oz to experience nature.

Expanding our National Parks is not an onerous funding problem. If the federal budget were a dollar, one-twelfth of a penny would go to National Parks, a trivial sum considering how important they are. And using entrance fees to finance our National Parks is not an answer. Entrance fees contribute but a nickel to the National Park Service budget dollar, and entrance fees discourage use aggravating an already significant decline in visitation. And entrance fees disproportionately affect those on the left-hand side of the economic bell curve. Fees to enter National Parks should be abandoned. Nor should our government ask park staff to hold out their hands and beg for contributions, or invite private companies to use our National Parks to advertise their products. The government does not pass the collection plate to launch a new destroyer. We can easily afford to expand our National Parks and reap the benefits of expanding programs in them. Things we learn and the benefits they generate will pay back the costs many fold.

National Parks can play a critical role in making this a better world for us, for our children and for our grandchildren. Let's expand our system of National Parks and have them do it.