Park Service Report Calls for Environmental Protection

By Cat Lazaroff

WASHINGTON, DC, August 1, 2001 (ENS) - A National Park Service advisory board is urging the agency to change its managerial emphasis, from promoting tourism to protecting the park system's natural resources. The report cites challenges facing the National Park Service, and takes a new look at the agency, and the social, cultural and political environment within which it operates.

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Yellowstone National Park, named as one of the most endangered parks in the nation due to heavy visitor traffic (Photo courtesy NPCA)
The report, "Rethinking the National Parks for the 21st Century," sets far reaching management goals for the Park Service, intended to yield greater protection for wildlife and historic sites and better services for park visitors.

"This document envisions many of the same goals called for in President Bush's new Park Legacy Initiative, such as the need for improving the education value of park experiences; enhancing the science that protects biodiversity; increasing accessibility for all, including those with disabilities; expanding recreational opportunities, and much more." said newly appointed Park Service Director Fran Mainella.

Everglades

Everglades National Park, the largest wetlands system in North America (Photo courtesy NPCA)
"I am pleased to receive this report at the onset of my tenure as director of the National Park Service, and commit to a full review and consideration of the board's recommendations," Mainella added. "I also commend the board members for their dedication in producing such an outstanding document, which took nearly two years of intense effort."

The report from the National Park System Advisory Board identifies:

The report also observes that additional resources are needed to meet existing and new century challenges.

Haleakala

Haleakala National Park in Hawaii is at risk from invasive species (Photo courtesy NPCA)

"The report carefully builds on existing National Park Service mandates and the demonstrated importance of parks in society," said Board chair John Hope Franklin, a historian and scholar. "It highlights the considerable potential of parks to contribute to education and enlightenment in a way that is key to the life experiences of all Americans."

A Congressionally chartered, independent body of 12 members appointed by the Secretary of Interior, the Board makes recommendations on designating national landmarks and provides advice to the NPS Director about all matters relating to the National Park System and the Service.

The National Park Service had charged the board in December 1999 with developing a report that focused "broadly on the purposes and prospects for the National Park System over the next 25 years." The report was also to address long term strategic directions, not immediate day to day operational challenges.

The report calls for the Park Service to help in the creation of protected corridors between parks in order to keep wildlife populations from becoming isolated as surrounding lands are developed. The report also calls for stronger protection of marine resources, such as the nation's highly jeopardized coral reefs, and for heightened protection of biological diversity within parks.

A culturally inclusive approach to interpretation of events at historical sites and greater ethnic diversity among Park Service staff also are set as goals.

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Mojave National Preserve, one of the diverse areas overseen by the National Park Service (Photo courtesy National Park Service)
"The report lays out a strong and exciting vision for the National Park System and will put the parks on a solid foundation for protecting wildlife and whole ecosystems and for serving Americans of all races and backgrounds," said Thomas Kiernan, president of the National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA).

A recent opinion poll indicates public support for these goals and provides encouragement for the Bush administration to further refine and improve its national parks agenda. Completed by Wirthlin Worldwide for the NPCA, the nationwide poll indicated that 76 percent of Americans believe the priority of the Park Service should be to protect plants, animals and historical artifacts.

Consistent with that preference, those polled said they would like nearly three quarters of new government funding to be spent on protecting wildlife, preserving artifacts, and increasing visitor education programs.

Citizen emphasis on funding these goals runs counter to President Bush's plan to apply virtually all new funding to refurbishing park buildings and roads.

"Those polled said that only 27 percent of new park funds should be used for bricks and mortar," said Kiernan. "The advisory board's report should provide the Administration with a useful guide for continuing to improve its national parks agenda."

Petrified Forest

An estimated 12 tons of fossilized wood is stolen each year by visitors to Petrified Forest National Park (Photo courtesy NPCA)
New funding for the Park Service is crucial to ensuring that the goals outlined in the Board's report are accomplished. The National Park System has long been underfunded, leading to backlogs in the protection of natural and cultural resources such as wildlife species and historical artifacts and in building repairs.

The Bush Administration has pledged to increase park funding by almost $5 billion over the next five years but has emphasized retiring the building repair backlog while ignoring the backlog of resource protection needs.

"The advisory board is aiming the parks in the right direction, and NPCA encourages the Bush Administration to join this vision," Kiernan said. "If carried out, the plan will bring significant and needed improvements to the park system."

The report is available at: http://www.nps.gov/policy/futurereport.htm