Top 10 U.S. Endangered Parks Not Top Government Priorities
By Cat Lazaroff
WASHINGTON, DC, March 25, 2002 (ENS) - Four new parks made their first appearance today on an annual list of the nation's 10 most endangered national parks. The list, which also includes six encore appearances by prominent U.S. parks, offers little overlap with another new parks list: the Department of Interior's inaugural slate of priority restoration projects in the nation's natural areas.
The National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA) today released its fourth annual list of America's Ten Most Endangered National Parks, highlighting threats that include air pollution, development and insufficient funding. The release was held in New York City, at the Federal Hall National Memorial - one of the four new sites to make this year's list.
"Although our national parks are protected on paper, the dangers they face continue to multiply," said NPCA president Thomas Kiernan. "Our national parks need to be protected and fully funded, and the parks must be freed from the burdens of encroaching development and air and water pollution."
Kiernan noted that while funding has been provided to stabilize the Federal Hall National Memorial, insufficient operating funds have resulted in outdated interpretive exhibits dating back almost 30 years, and the lack of a safety officer, a historian or an educational outreach coordinator.
The problems illustrate the chronic funding needs of national parks across the country, Kiernan added.
"Operating budgets for the entire park system need to be ramped up by $280 million in the next fiscal year just to begin getting the system back on track as a network of well protected parks," Kiernan said.
The Department of Interior agrees, at least in part, pledging $16.5 million to repair extensive damage to Federal Hall caused by the September 11 terrorist attacks. The World Trade Center's collapse - equivalent to a 6.3 earthquake on the Richter scale - caused cracks in the building and a weakening of soils supporting the memorial's foundation.
"On September 11, buildings all around Federal Hall were destroyed - and the place where President Washington once walked became a refuge for those fleeing the World Trade Center," said Interior Secretary Gale Norton at the release of the agency's first annual "Top 12 Projects to Restore America's Parks" on Friday.
"Federal Hall is just one example of the Bush administration's strong commitment to fixing and protecting parks, so people across the globe can draw inspiration from our nation's most compelling examples of nature's beauty and freedom's bounty," Norton added.
Another major project identified by the agency is $495,000 to rehabilitate the turtle laboratory at Padre Island National Seashore in Texas, the only lab in the nation to incubate eggs of the endangered Kemp's Ridley turtle. An infestation of rodents and insects in the lab now often destroys eggs and hatchlings before they can be released to the wild.
Ron Tipton, senior vice president at NPCA, said the Interior Department's list "indicates promising improvements for national parks that have long languished from a lack of the funding needed for proper protection and management."
However, "a great many fundamental threats to park cultural and natural resources remain," Tipton added. The list "marks a good beginning for park improvement but leaves much undone and does not tell the whole story of park needs and threats," he concluded.
For example, the Interior Department list included $4.1 million to improve the Flamingo wastewater system, which treats 135,000 gallons per day in Florida's Everglades National Park. The project will upgrade the collection and disposal system to bring it into compliance with the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, helping to protect one of the largest mangrove ecosystems in the Western Hemisphere.
The NPCA says the administration's commitment to that project "pales in comparison to the titanic problems troubling the Everglades ecosystem and demanding $8 billion to set them right."
Everglades National Park and Big Cypress National Preserve, both in Florida, made the NPCA list for the fourth consecutive year. The parks conservation group said they are concerned that federal and state governments will not move quickly enough to restore natural water flow to the Everglades, despite passage by Congress of a conceptual restoration strategy.
Big Cypress National Park is also threatened by potential new oil drilling, a plan that includes building miles of new roads, drilling an 11,800 foot exploratory well, and detonating dynamite charges in 14,700 holes to gauge shockwaves for evidence of oil deposits.
The NPCA said the Interior Department's priority list does little to address the "major concerns" such as air pollution and global warming, that have landed many parks on the most endangered list.
"Air pollution plagues national parks across America," said the NPCA's Kiernan. "The Administration's recently proposed approach to improving air quality may not only fail to improve park air but may actually make it worse," he added, referring to the Bush Administration's plans to weaken the Clean Air Act's New Source Review program, designed to reduce emissions from aging power plants.
Chronic air pollution threatens three listed national parks: Great Smoky Mountains, Glacier, and Big Bend. Glacier, one of Montana's parks, reappears on the list for a second year in part because global warming threatens to melt its namesake glaciers.
Big Bend in Texas and Great Smoky Mountains in Kentucky and Tennesee remain on the list because pollutants from power plants continue to damage park views and the health of wildlife, plants and visitors.
The Bush Administration also has delayed the phase out of snowmobiles in Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks, contributing to Yellowstone's fourth annual appearance on the NPCA's list. Yellowstone is also threatened by invasive plants and animals and a lack of funding for visitor education.
Five parks which appeared on the 2001 list were removed this year because of actions to solve their various problems. For example, Florida's Biscayne National Park no longer warranted listing because plans to turn Homestead Air Force Base into a commercial airport were abandoned by county officials.
Frederick Douglass National Historic Site in Washington, DC will benefit from new funding were allocated to begin critical repairs, and Petrified Forest National Park in Arizona came off the list after petrified wood thefts fell an estimated 23 percent.
"America has the ability to keep our nations' parks from serious danger," Kiernan said. "But we also must have the will. The White House and Congress must choose to value America's treasures over the interests of industry lobbyists if we are to preserve these world renowned national parks and move more of them off this endangered list."
The national parks on the NPCA's 2002 list include, in alphabetical order:
The NPCA report is available at: http://www.npca.org/
The Interior Department's "Top 12 Projects to Restore America's Parks" includes projects in:
The full list is available on the National Park Service site at: http://126.96.36.199/release/Detail.cfm?ID=238
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