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Reader Participation Day: What is the Greatest Threat To Our National Parks?


It seems not a week goes by without some issue being identified as a threat to the national parks. One week it might be funding woes, another week pollution, another diversity concerns, and then, of course, there's climate change.

So, from the following list, which do you think poses the greatest threat to our national parks? And if your concern is not on the list, please tell us what it is.

* Funding issues. It's been often reported that the National Park Service has a maintenance backlog of about $9 billion. And, of course, there's the issue of annual funding in general for the Park Service. Is Congress spending too little on the parks, or is the Park Service not as fiscally fit as it could be?

* Pollution. Whether it's ground-level ozone at Acadia or Great Smoky Mountains national parks, air quality in general at places such as Shenandoah and Sequoia national parks, or heavy metals and acid rain deposition in the Sierra, Rockies, or Appalachian parks there are plenty of pollution issues that can be cited across the National Park System.

* Diversity. This is a two-pronged issue, as there are concerns over both a lack of diversity in park visitors and within the NPS ranks.

* Climate change. Is this, as Park Service Director Jon Jarvis has said, "fundamentally the greatest threat to the integrity of our national parks that we have ever experienced"?

* Visitation. This also is a two-pronged issue, as some worry that the parks are not being seen by enough visitors, while others argue that places such as the Yosemite Valley, the South Rim of the Grand Canyon, and Old Faithful in Yellowstone are overrun with visitors in the summer months.

* Inholdings. There are many cases across the National Park System where pockets of private property exist within the borders of a national park. And earlier this year there were news stories about a developer who was buying up parcels to build multi-million-dollar homes on them. Is the Park Service's inability, due to lack of funding, to buy these parcels harming the integrity of the parks?

* Motorized recreation. How great a threat are snowmobiles, personal watercraft, and off-road vehicles to national parks?


In my humble opinion, the single biggest threat to our National Park System is --- the Republlcan party.

The biggest threat is to do nothing. If we allow debate to overcome action, questions to overcome the obvious, and commitee to overcome commitment, then we all lose.

Hmm, tough one.

I am in the camp that, when it comes to the National park System, preservation trumps low visitation, recreation, diversity, and other "people issues". So I don't rank those highly on the list.

Climate change is too big to consider as an issue for the NPS to solve. Sure, it can be used to illustrate the problem to the masses, but having the NPS spend any significant effort on it is, IMO, not an effective use of their time and money. It needs to be solved by bigger organizations (but it won't, c'est la vie).

Overall, I believe our pollution issues nationwide are improving, especially if you look at the long-term from the 70's to today. This isn't to say pollution isn't a problem, especially for our ocean-facing parks, but as I see it this is a problem in decline, not in growth (I now patiently await the vitriol on that statement ;-) ).

Inholdings are a thorn in the side, but just that: a thorn. Honestly, there are very few impingements on a park that actually interfere with the enjoyment of them. This is problematic for some battlefields, sure, but overall, I'm not as concerned about them (unless such development could cause environmental problems like changing water tables, introducing pollutants into rivers & streams, etc.).

Because I don't want to cheat and call a tie, I'd vote for overcrowding & motorized recreation (the same issue IMO) as #2. Even with my snide comment in the first sentence, people still have a right to visit the parks, yet today they want to do it in a more :ahem: irresponsible manner. The NPS has to make preservation a priority. If motorized vehicles are a true risk to preservation, take a hard line and ban them. If parks are simply getting too many visitors (meaning quantity is a problem, not bad behavior), they need to take steps to build facilities that can handle the throng without damaging the park they are protecting.

So I would say maintenance backlog is the #1. I say that because a) it directly affects the preservation purposes of the historic parks, b) some of the backlog is directly related to safety issues, and c) it indirectly affects the preservation purposes of the natural parks if such facilities are not adequately handing the number of visitors.

Just my take.

I would say mismanagement or lack of management is the greatest threat. Any activity that doesn't support the NPS mission should be scrutinized and looked at very hard. And yet in many parks there is obvious evidence of mismanagement.

The mission of the NPS places natural resources ahead of people. The challenge for Park Superintendents is rooted in what I summarize as politics. Many Superintendents cave to surrounding community pressures and loose site of the mission. Many Superintendents allow themselves to be influenced by mayors, senators, congress, etc... And yes, Superintendents run the park. They set the leadership example and are fully responsible for implementing the NPS mission.

An example: The Great Smoky Mountains National Park held its 75th anniversary a year or so ago. The Park actually hosted a Symphony in Cades Cove out in the fields. A Symphony! Complete with a band shell and all the regalia that accompanies such. This is an area that is supposedly being managed in a restorative state.

I think the best action that supporters of parks can take is to hold Superintendents accountable for supporting their own mission. There are lots of tough decisions to be made in that position, but if each decision is shown to be supporting the mission, there is lots more black and white and much less gray.

Don't forget about invasive species such as the Asian Jumping Worm in the Smokies that you discussed the other day. Or the Hemlock Wooly Adelgids that are decimating hemlocks across the east. There are a number of others, such as mountain pine beetles in Colorado and Wyoming, Balsam woolly adelgids, kudzu, wild boars. The list is quite long, and the problems they cause are arguably more immediate and more concerning than the ones listed above.


Simply put, it's congress. While it's easy to heap most of the blame on the republicans, democrats can be faulted for their inability, at times, to be a cohesive group on such issues.

The Republican party.

Over development and use. Especially by those that neither appreciate nor respect them for the natural wonders they are.

For those that answered "Republican Party" I would like them to identify specific programs of the "Republican Party" that threaten the parks.

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