As Wallace Stegner so famously wrote, national parks are the best idea America ever had. Maybe so, but when we invited 25 experts to discuss the system’s future, the message we heard was alarming. The prevailing consensus: Our most precious lands are increasingly vulnerable to environmental, political, and cultural forces that could forever alter the way we know and use them. The challenges and controversies are many, from congestion and smog to demoralized staff and privatization. For anyone who cares deeply about this wild, brilliant idea, what follows should come as a wake-up call.
HOW WOULD YOU ASSESS THE ENVIRONMENTAL HEALTH OF OUR NATIONAL PARKS?
Chuck Clusen We’re loving our parks to death. More and more Americans use them, and there are not enough controls. Meanwhile, air pollution, water pollution, clear-cut logging, mining and other resource extraction, industrial development, and sprawl are damaging many of our parks. Unfortunately, the current administration refuses to recognize many of the threats from outside the parks and favors more use and recreational development within the parks.
Randall Kendrick I’m worried about preserving the natural and cultural resources found in our park areas, particularly those with lots of acreage. Mojave National Preserve probably will always be 1.7 million acres, but will it contain desert bighorn sheep or desert tortoises–or will the sheep get shot off and the tortoises sold on the black market? Right now, there are only 4 or 5 rangers for that 1.7 million acres.
Gale Norton Wherever I travel throughout our Department of Interior lands, we have problems with invasive species. We’ve bolstered the funding for our Natural Resource Challenge program, which helps address invasive species as well as other ecosystem study and improvement. That increased from $14 million in 2000 to $76 million for this coming year.