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National Parks Service begins second century under pressure

August 25, 2016 - UNITED STATES

The United States' National Park Service (NPS) turns 100, an anniversary that spotlights the growing pressures on the the country's 400-plus parks. Advocacy organizations for the parks assert that current and proposed funding are inadequate to protect them against myriad threats that include oil and gas drilling and encroachment.

The NPS reports that 292,800,082 people visited the country's 409 national parks in 2014, an all-time record, and the centennial events might produce a new record.

The scenic wonders needed protection from the first. By the turn of the 20th Century, the handful of designated parks, which included Yellowstone in California, lacked protection from private commercial interests. Hotels, railroads, ranches and sawmills saw great potential profits from the parks and began to exploit their resources--often relatively unchecked. The magazine's history of the parks credits naturalist John Muir with developing the preservation movement for the parks, noting that his prolific writings stressed how such wild places were necessary for the soul. The magazine adds that his advocacy later became the driving force behind the creation of several national parks, while millionaire industrialist Stephen Mather was the main force behind the creation of the National Park Service of 1916. President Woodrow Wilson signed the NPS into being.

The NPS is dedicated to the preservation ideal. It has largely succeeded in keeping mining, oil and gas prospecting and clear-cut lumbering out of the national parks, but there are oil and gas operations in 12 of 408 parks in the system. The Wilderness Society asserts that 42 National Parks are under threat from oil and gas drilling.

Encroachment from adjacent areas threatens the parks. National Geographic magazine points out that what happens on a park's borders can dramatically impact the park, threatening water quality, clean air and other vital aspects of the park environment. The magazine reports that a Canadian company hopes to site North America's largest open-pit gold and copper mine right next to Alaska's remote Lake Clark National Park, while uranium prospecting is currently under way on the rim of Arizona's Grand Canyon and sugar producers have long fouled waters with phosphorus pollution and disrupted critical flows to the Florida Everglades.

The National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA), an advocacy organization for the National Parks system, was founded three years after the NPS. The organization maintains that the current Fiscal Year 2015 funding level for national parks is vastly insufficient to bring parks back to where they were, and where they need to be--especially in advance of the 2016 Centennial.

National Park Service (for information about NPS history, centennial events and oil and gas changes)

Top 10 Issues Facing National Parks (National Geographic)

U.S. National Parks--In the Beginning (National Geographic)

42 National Parks threatened by oil and gas drilling (Wilderness Society 23 Jan 2013)

Senate Appropriations Bill Offers a Modest Increase for National Parks but Falls Short (NPCA 23 Jun 2015)

Date written/update: 2015-11-25