New study finds national parks at risk

The National Parks Conservation Association released a comprehensive report yesterday that paints a grim picture for the future of the national parks in the U.S. The report, which is entitled “The State of America’s National Parks,” examines a number of economic and environmental threats to the parks and is the result of more than a decade of research. The non-profit NPCA also calls on the Obama Administration to address those threats while developing a comprehensive plan for the future, ahead of the 2016 centennial of the National Park Service.

The report, which can be read in it’s entirety here, identifies a number of challenges to the future of America’s national parks. The threats, which are both old and new, include pollution, invasive species, climate change, and continued funding shortfalls, amongst others. The NPCA goes on to say that many of these threats are already having a real and dramatic impact on the parks. During their research they found that 63% of the parks surveyed had issues with air quality to some degree or another. Others were found to have poor water quality as well, while a staggering 95% of the parks assessed had lost at least one plant or animal species over the course of the past ten years.

According to the NPCA, the largest threats to the parks, and their natural resources, stem from two sources – human activity and climate change. In the case of the former, the development of lands surrounding the park is changing the natural habitats of wildlife and contaminating both the air and the water. It may be the latter that has the most lasting effect however, as the report cites threats to everything from the redwoods of Sequoia National Park in California to the coastlines of Katmai in Alaska, as being dramatically impacted by the changing climate.It isn’t all doom and gloom however, as the report also spotlights success stories in several parks as well. For instance, a comprehensive effort to remove non-native species, including horses, rats, and pigs, from the Channel Islands has helped the native fox species there to bounce back in numbers. Similarly, a “vessel management plan” in Glacier Bay National Park has been very successful in protecting the marine mammals that live there as well. The NPCA says that these examples show that when “National Park Service staff have sufficient financial support, up-to-date scientific information, and adequate training,” they can do positive things.

In order to protect these vital natural resources, the NPCA is calling upon the Obama Administration to create a plan for the long term management of the parks. That plan, they contend, must address the threats to the parks and create a system for monitoring the quality of the air and water found within their boundaries. The organization is also asking the President to issue an Executive Order that will commit federal resources to preparing the parks for their second one hundred years and beyond. The NPCA believes that can only be achieved by fully funding the Park Service to equip them with all the tools necessary to address these threats properly.

Considering the attendance numbers over the past few years, it is evident that Americans recognize and appreciate the value of their national parks. Hopefully this report will send the wake-up call that is necessary to ensure that those amazing natural spaces will be around in another hundred years so that new generations of Americans can enjoy them too.

[Photo credit: National Parks Conservation Association]