Our national parks have been around for almost 100 years, and they are more popular than ever with families flocking to visit them every summer. This Fourth of July weekend will be no different because our national parks -- from the iconic Grand Canyon to the historic battlefields where our independence was won -- provide the perfect backdrop for reflecting on our shared history.
But a new study shows that many of our shared treasures are in peril and suffering from long-standing and new threats that are impacting the wildlife, water and air within our parks. The historic sites that tell the story of the Civil War, the civil rights movement and chronicle many other historical events that reflect our diverse country and culture are also suffering, most because of a lack of funding.
The National Parks Conservation Association's Center for Park Research recently completed the most comprehensive overview ever conducted on the condition of resources within our national parks and found that the natural and cultural resources we set out to protect are in peril. Ninety-five percent of parks studied had at least one wildlife or plant species that had disappeared from the area, including large predators such as gray wolves, mountain lions, and grizzly bears. More than half of the parks studied have poor air quality conditions. Many others had waterways affected by one or more pollutants, often from sources outside of the park.
The cultural and historical artifacts that our Parks Service is charged with protecting are being compromised as well, with inadequate storage and a lack of consistent resource monitoring due to limited funding and staff available to properly care for them. The Parks Service has a huge responsibility in this area, and the agency does the best it can while facing an annual budget shortfall of $600 million. This lack of resources leads to poor resource monitoring which often leads to vandalism and poaching in our parks.
While inadequate funding is a known problem, the study unveils many other threats too. Pollution, climate change, existing and proposed energy development, and adjacent land development around our parks are all threatening the pristine places that we as a country set aside to protect.
In response to the well-documented findings in "The State of America's National Parks" report, NPCA urges the Obama administration to take two immediate actions to set our national parks on a path toward healthier natural and cultural resources, specifically by improving the protection of our nation's most important natural landscapes and historic sites.
First, the NPS should focus on addressing the findings of the report by creating a long-term plan for our national parks, specifically in the areas of natural & cultural resources and land conservation. This plan will prepare our parks for the Centennial of the Parks Service in 2016.
Secondly, the President should issue an Executive Order that recommits the nation to restoring the 1916 vision of our national park system with the fundamental purpose is to "leave them unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations."
The Executive Order would require federal agencies to work collaboratively to identify and protect key park wildlife habitat, implement plans to help wildlife adapt to climate change in the parks, and add new parks to the system, especially for under-represented themes of American history and cultural diversity.
Our national parks are America's best idea, but they are not in the best of health. They are the places we go for reflection, inspiration, and connection to our natural, historic, and cultural heritage. These are the places that we as Americans decided to protect so that we could showcase our nation's most precious natural resources, as well as the places where America's story -- our nation's history -- unfolded.
"The State of America's National Parks" report is our wakeup call. Our National Parks are seriously ill, but there is a proven cure. We call on President Obama and his administration to lead this country in returning our parks to good health for the sake of this and future generations.
To read NPCA's "State of America's National Parks" report, go here.