This week the National Parks Conservation Association issued a lengthy report entitled “The State of the Parks,” which identified several “serious challenges” to the nation’s most beautiful outdoor spaces. The full report is available on the NPCA’s website, and a summary of 10 resource challenges facing our parks can be found on page 59 of the report.

While the report offers a fascinating look at our national parks it’s hard to ignore the totality of the challenges the more than hundred-year old park system is now facing. “The loss of biodiversity, degradation of cultural resources, declining air and water quality, landscape fragmentation, climate disruption, and insufficient funding,” are the challenges according to the report. Here are some more specifics to those challenges as well as proposed solutions from the report.

Climate change

The majority of the U.S. House of Representatives may not believe in climate change, but that isn’t stopping the NPCA from facing reality. Climate change was identified as a, “long-term threat to park resources by exacerbating landscape fragmentation and complicating traditional approaches to resource management.” To mitigate the risks posed by climate change, the recommendation called for the National Park Service to beef up its data collection of the impact of climate change so that more can be understood about the affects of it. Also, the report recommended that Congress increase the funding for land and water restoration initiatives for around the parks. The recommendation also called for money to be steered for the Department of Interior’s Climate Science Centers and landscape Conservation Cooperatives.

Air pollution

The report casts the nation’s parks as the innocent bystander of air pollution. They certainly don’t contribute to the problem, but they are affected by the external sources that cause it. The report says that there should be some serious moves to improving air quality for the sake of improving the health of visitors, plants and unique species that live in the parks. To make these improvements, the National Parks Conservation Association says both state and federal regulators can play a role. First, the NPCA says, “State regulators, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and the National Park Service should work together to ensure that all national parks meet the standards mandated by the Clean Air Act, the National Park Service Organic Act, and Park Service management policies.” While this sounds like a lot of enforcement of existing laws, the report also called for the Department of the Interior to directly “certify instances of park air quality impairment by power plants and major pollution sources” and then empower state and federal agencies to clean these up.

Fixing damage that pre-dates parks

While the air quality problem is a relatively recent issue, there are plenty of problems affecting the National Park System that have been around for a long time. The NPCA report found that, “Natural resources in many national parks have been damaged by water diversion, mining, logging, livestock grazing, and agriculture that occurred before the parks were established.” The proposed solution calls for Congress to, “provide sufficient funding to the National Park Service for projects that restore ecosystem processes and critical habitats degraded by past human activities.”

Lack of money taking a toll

The last two findings in the report focused on how much the National Park Service is stretched because of budget constraints. “Staff throughout the National Park Service are unable to meet resource protection and management responsibilities because budgets are insufficient,” read the report. Here’s how the NPCA felt more money could be used to protect natural resources in the parks. First, there is the annual shortfall in the Park Services’ budget of more than $600 million, which the report recommends addressing. Second, the reports says Congress should direct cash to the Water Conservation Fund to get control of high-priority private lands identified within park boundaries by the National Park Service.” The report also wants funding to increase park staff training and the creation of more partnerships with universities and non-profit organizations.

The full report is 65 pages long and should be looked at if you live near a national park, like visiting them, or just want to learn more about them. There’s no question the parks have a lot on their plate, but the real question is, in this economy will Congress give the parks the cash required to meet those challenges. We'll have to keep an eye on this to find out.

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