Study: America’s National Parks Keep Falling Apart

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Jim Urquhart / Reuters

Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming, June 23, 2011.

We can’t even keep our national parks from falling apart, according to a new report this week from the National Parks Conservation Association.

The group wants the U.S. government to toss more cash their way—at a time when funding for parks is getting slashed more often than tires during a riot—to save the parks and help correct a laundry-list of ills plaguing our 394 national park service units.

The study looked at 80 U.S. parks over the last decade. In 95% of the cases, at least one animal or plant species has disappeared from the scene, including gray wolves, grizzly bears and mountain lions. Tom Kiernan, president of the NPCA, says 91% of parks have slipped to “fair” or “poor” conditions. Even air quality causes problems, with not only hazy skies hindering views, but also pollution from nearby development making it dangerous for visitors to breathe.

The best way to reverse the degradation trend? Money. From the disappearance of wildlife to the increase of pollution, the only way to save the parks—weren’t they set aside to be saved anyway?—is for the government to fund initiatives, Kiernan says.

(MORE: National Parks: Near the Meddling Crowds)

The group wants to reintroduce key native animal species to create a proper natural balance, citing the success of adding wolves in Yellowstone National Park and elk in Great Smokey Mountains National Park.

With more than 6,500 invasive plant species proliferating our parks, curtailing the rise of these quick-spreading native-plant killers requires tons of labor. Labor costs money.

And speaking of money, everything from air, land and water pollution requires better regulation and expensive mitigation. As acid rain pours down in Joshua Tree National Park and the Grand Canyon, dangerous water runoff spills into Redwood National Park and industrial land development surrounds a number of parks and further threatens land, the National Parks Conservation Association wants the government to step in decisively.

On the built environment side of our parks, thousands of historic pieces (buildings, monuments, documents, etc.) have gone untouched for years due to budget constraints, causing a mounting “decline in culture resources.”

With the trend not so pleasant, the group hopes awareness—leading to more funding, of course—will help save the parks.

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