'Climate Change' Named One of Biggest Threats to America's National Parks

Susan Jones | August 25, 2016 | 9:30am EDT
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Views of some of America's National Parks. The National Park Services is marking its 100th birthday on Thursday, August 25, 2016. (Photo from Interior Department website)

(CNSNews.com) - "Climate change" and "staying relevant" are two of the biggest challenges for the National Park Service as it celebrates its centennial this month, a park service official told CSPAN on Thursday.

"So climate change is one of our very large threats," said Mike Reynolds, deputy director of NPS operations. "We have a very large science team working on that with partners in the science community. So we're very concerned about how to deal with species at risk, for example, landscapes and maintaining places -- even historic areas, we have certain weathering that goes on now -- even the monuments here in Washington that we're studying.

"So climate change; staying relevant to our constituents, to the American people, making sure we tell the stories, the full diverse story, of the American experience. Those would be a couple things I would worry about."

Reynolds said in the next hundred years, some of the nation's 413 parklands may look different than they do now because of a warming climate:

"We may have in Glacier National Park fewer glaciers...We're trying to figure out how to change that process, mitigate those processes. But we may have to tell stories and we may have to understand and show parks in a different way ahead. I hope not."

A more immediate threat to the nation's parks is the large and growing deferred maintenance backlog, which stood at $11.927 billion at the end of Fiscal 2015.

"For several years, NPS maintenance funding has not kept pace with its identified needs," the NPS says on its website. That deferred maintenance total is expected to rise again in Fiscal Year 2016, even though Congress gave NPS $90 million in this centennial year to address deferred maintenance needs as well as an additional $28 million for transportation repairs and construction.

"While these increases will enable the NPS to address more of its most critical requirements, the DM (deferred maintenance) total will continue to grow," the park service said.

On Tuesday, just in time for the National Park Service's 100th birthday on Aug. 25, President Obama, by proclamation, established the Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument in north central Maine.

The proclamation says the 87,500 acres -- an enormous area -- is an "extraordinary natural and cultural landscape," with mountains, woods and waters that are still "cherished" by Native Americans; logged by lumberjacks; and enjoyed by "Artists, authors, scientists, conservationists, recreationists, and others" who  "have drawn knowledge and inspiration from this landscape."

Only Congress can designate a national park, but the president can unilaterally designate a national monument, which comes with land-use restrictions.

Sen. Susan Collins, a Maine Republican, is among those who say President Obama should not have used his executive authority to set aside 87,000 acres in Maine, "given the objection lodged by the Maine Legislature, the lack of consensus among Mainers who live in the area, and the absence of Congressional approval."  

"Bypassing Congress and taking this action without the support of the state and the local communities circumvented discussions of alternatives, such as the creation of a national recreation area or management by the Forest Service," Collins said.
“This monument designation gives rise to a host of questions ranging from simple logistical matters to fundamental questions such as what will the impact be on taxpayers and whether the National Park Service, with its nearly $12 billion maintenance backlog, can afford to manage this new federal acquisition."

Collins also expressed concern about the new national monument being an "impediment' to economic activity and recreational enjoyment of the area.

According to the White House, President Obama has permanently protected more than 265 million acres of America’s public lands and waters, "more than any other president in history."

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