24. OUR NATIONAL PARKS ARE IN TROUBLE

Although the United States has 50 national parks, the four percent of land area they represent falls far short of providing adequate habitat for many native species of plants and animals. By comparison, despite its size and crowded conditions, Japan has set aside nine percent of its total land for national parks. Due to powerful development forces and resource-exploitation lobbies, the U.S. has not added appreciably to its national park system in recent years. There are still unique ecosystems that remain unprotected, such as the Midwest tallgrass prairie, Mississippi bottomland forest, and tropical islands of the Florida keys.

Even the existing parks are too small and scattered to provide necessary habitats and buffer zones for indigenous species to thrive. Condors no longer fly over Sequoia National Park, fewer than 30 cougars remain in the Everglades, and just 200 or so grizzly bears still live in Yellowstone. These are a few examples of wild animals, already endangered, who are finding it difficult to survive in the cramped confines of their respective parkland habitats. In 1987, the Reagan-appointed President's Commission on American Outdoors, delivered a report that was expected to side with the developers but instead pleasantly surprised environmentalists. One recommendation was that the U.S. spend $1 billion a year to acquire more park land and to protect 2,000 sections of rivers and streams by the year 2000.

The report with its unexpected recommendations was shoved under the table by Reagan and has yet to be considered by the George (I am an environmentalist) Bush administration.

Ecologists also point to rampant development activity reaching right to the boundaries of many national parks as a further urgent need to modernize national park policy to include consideration of buffer zone acquisition around park lands.

Another recommended policy change is to move away from thinking of the national parks as little more than recreational sites for tourists, and acknowledge and support them as crucial ecological savings accounts. Given the steadily increasing U.S. population, intense development pressure, and higher park attendance as stressed urbanites flee the concrete canyons for open space, park land acquisition should be a top national priority. Yet, this issue has received very little attention from the federal government or from the mainstream press.

SSU CENSORED RESEARCHER: TERRIL SHORE

SOURCE: UTNE READER 1624 Harmon Place Minneapolis, MN 55403
DATE: November/December 1989
TITLE: "U.S. NATIONAL PARKS IN TROUBLE"
AUTHOR: LYNETTE LAMB

COMMENTS: Many readers will be surprised to discover that a small and crowded country like Japan has set aside more than twice as much of its total land for national parks than the United States has. Author Lynnette Lamb suggests why most Americans are unaware of the extent of the problems that have befallen our national parks. "The national mainstream media rarely covers the national parks at all unless it is through "event-centered" news, such as the Yellowstone fire of 1988 or some backpacker getting mauled by a Grizzly bear in Glacier Park." She notes that outside of the alternative press, she has seen little discussion of how the report of the Reagan-appointed President's Commission on American Outdoors was ignored because its recommendations sided with the environmentalists rather than with the developers. "Also there has been almost no mention of the unique ecosystems, such as the Florida Keys, tall grass prairie, etc., that are still going unprotected and unincluded in the national park system," Lamb adds. She also points out that something probably could be done about it if the media were to provide more coverage of the plight of our parks. "Our country takes great pride in its geographical beauty and diversity, our people love the outdoors and treasure their national parks. Most people would be in favor of increasing the size and number of national parks if they were aware of the situation and the threats to the parks and various ecosystems," she concluded.