Dinosaur Discovery in Denali Raises Concern about Science in Parks
WASHINGTON, July 19 -- The nation’s leading park advocacy group, the nonpartisan National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA), today praised the recent discovery of a dinosaur track in Denali National Park, but raised concern that because Denali and other national parks don’t have sufficient funding and staffing to conduct their own science and research, such treasures routinely go unnoticed and unprotected.
“The national parks are America’s living classrooms; there is so much to discover in these remarkable places,” said NPCA President Tom Kiernan. “But the National Park Service doesn’t have sufficient funds and staff to use its own classrooms for science and research.”
In late June, a University of Alaska Fairbanks student on a class trip discovered a track from a three-toed dinosaur believed to be about 70 million years old on a ledge in Denali National Park, the first evidence that the animals roamed there.
Although Denali has built new visitor and science and research centers and congressional funding for the Natural Resource Challenge has helped augment natural resource programs, NPCA’s 2003 assessment of Denali reveals that money is inadequate for supporting park staff in science and education. The park received a “poor” rating for the condition of its cultural treasures including archaeological sites, cultural landscapes, and museum collections. According to NPCA’s report, “funding is woefully inadequate to carry out needed research and protection.”
NPCA’s new report, “Faded Glory: Top 10 Reasons to Reinvest in America’s National Park Heritage,” points out that the annual operating budget of the national parks is short more than $600 million annually, limiting the ability of the Park Service to conduct much of its own science, research, and monitoring of natural and cultural resources.
Shenandoah National Park - one of the nation’s most polluted national parks - cannot afford to replace its Air Resource Program Manager, who is needed to monitor the park’s air quality and evaluate its affects. Mount Rainier National Park in Washington lacks funds to hire a full-time volcanologist, even though Mt. Rainier is an active volcano. No one has seen a porcupine in Glacier National Park for at least a decade, but the park can’t afford a biological technician to find out why. For lack of funds, the Park Service has been unable to complete an archaeological survey of the puebloan village sites in White Sands National Monument in New Mexico, leaving valuable cultural resources undocumented and unprotected from looters and other threats.
Increasingly, volunteer organizations, nonprofits, and universities are doing the on-the-ground research in our national parks. “We know that the Park Service doesn’t have the resources it needs,” Kiernan added. “But the Park Service’s increasing reliance on volunteers and private funding to do a lot of the science and research in our parks could have implications on what is studied and when.”
An endangered California condor is believed to have hatched at the Grand Canyon in July, but the Park Service doesn’t have scientists on staff to monitor the species, despite the birds’ well-publicized reintroduction. Instead, volunteers and nonprofit organizations are responsible for this project.
Perhaps the greatest wildlife re-introduction story in America is that of the Yellowstone wolves. In ten years, Yellowstone National Park’s wolves have again become a fully functioning part of the park ecosystem after being eradicated nearly a century ago. Their presence is producing environmental benefits, as well as enormous volumes of new ecological information and data from studies of the predator/prey relationships. Yet despite the science renaissance unfolding inside Yellowstone, this Park Service flagship program has had its funding dramatically cut in 2005, forcing the program to seek out private donations to fund the continuance of its core monitoring and research efforts.
More than a year ago, the National Park System Advisory Board, which includes prominent scientists such as Dr. Sylvia Earle, sounded an alarm. “Every conceivable effort must be made to marshal the necessary resources to preserve the integrity of the parks and the life residing within them,” the group’s “National Park Service Science in the 21st Century” report states. “Over the years, science has not fared well.”
Conferees are expected to meet in the next two weeks to resolve differences between the House and Senate versions of the fiscal year 2006 Interior Appropriations bill, which includes funding for National Park Service operations such as science and research. The bill is expected to pass Congress and be on the president’s desk for his signature before the August recess. Currently, the House and Senate versions of the bill include approximately a $70 million increase for park operations.
“Faded Glory” is available online at http://www.npca.org/across_the_nation/ten_most_endangered/2005/reason8.asp
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