OF ENDANGERED PARKS IS ALARMING
by Whit Gibbons
January 20, 2003
When I saw a list of 10 of the 387 national treasures comprising the
National Park System, I was pleased to realize I had been to most of
them. I remember each visit and still marvel at the natural beauty our
country has to offer. I was not pleased when I realized I was looking
at the 2003 list of America's Ten Most-Endangered National Parks.
National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA) creates the list annually
"to draw attention to the problems facing all of our parks"
because many "are in danger from serious threats both inside and
outside of their borders." Insufficient funding is a problem for
almost all of them because not enough staff are available to enforce
regulations that protect a park's natural resources, historic structures,
and visitors. The National Park Service and various commercial enterprises
may have different perspectives and different solutions to the problems
raised by the NPCA, but the association's concerns need to be considered.
threats to various parks typify environmental problems across the land.
Our first national park, Yellowstone, was created by an act of Congress
in 1872. Today the NPCA declares that the park is under siege from the
snowmobile industry, which has lobbied the National Park Service "to
ignore public opinion and years of scientific study and keep noisy,
polluting machines in the park." The NPCA recommends encouraging
Congress to support the Yellowstone Protection Act to permanently ban
snowmobiles from the park. Roaring snowmobiles do seem likely to interfere
with one's enjoyment of wildlife, solace, and other benefits attributed
to the parks.
Smoky Mountains National Park has 10 million visitors a year and is
the busiest park of them all. Encroaching development, air pollution,
and road?building that encircles the park are major threats. The Smokies
have made the NPCA list for five years in a row.
I continued through the list of endangered parks, I realized that every
one of them I had visited was a favorite. Who could visit Denali National
Park and Preserve in Alaska and not be enthralled to see grizzly bears,
Dall sheep, and caribou against the backdrop of Mt. McKinley, America's
tallest mountain. Traditional traffic does not spoil the wilderness,
but proposals have been made to open up new road systems and allow snowmobiles
into areas where people and wildlife were previously protected from
why is the bird paradise known as Everglades National Park on the endangered
list? The simple answer: Florida's overpopulation. Air and water pollution,
competing demands for natural resources, including water and mining
opportunities, and agricultural impacts collectively put enough environmental
pressure on the system to keep the Everglades in the top 10. At least
snowmobiles will never be a problem.
on the top-ten list include Joshua Tree National Park, threatened with
air pollution and water supply problems; Shenandoah National Park, confronted
with acid rain; and Glacier National Park, pressured from oil, gas,
and mining interests. The Virgin Islands National Park seems to be in
especially dire straits. "Habitat loss, both from a proposed luxury
resort development and from current illegal uses, threatens critical
migratory bird habitat, mangrove shoreline, and fragile coral reefs."
The Big Thicket National Preserve in Texas, one of the last enclaves
of the now extinct ivory bill woodpecker, comprises 97,000 acres of
swamps, deciduous forests, pine savannas, and sandhill habitats. According
to the NPCA, timber?company owners are reluctant to sell bordering plots
needed to protect the land and waters of the park, hence raising the
threat of clear-cutting and development that could damage adjacent and
intervening biologically sensitive lands.
Macon, Georgia, Ocmulgee National Monument also made the list. This
is a beautiful natural area with remnants of early human inhabitation.
According to the NPCA, the Georgia Department of Transportation has
plans for a four?lane highway that will jeopardize the cultural and
natural integrity of the park ecosystem.
President Bush, commercial groups, and various government agencies may
have counterarguments for why it is in the nation's best interest for
these national wildlife sanctuaries to face such environmental problems.
If so, let the public hear them and then determine what is to be done
with their national parks.
If you have an environmental question or comment, email