2009 Brought the National Park System a Mixed Bag of Goods
Guns in the parks. Budget boosts. New units. The past year brought a mixed bag of goods to the National Park System. Some good, some not so good. Here, in no particular order, are some of the top stories we saw.
A decade in the making, The National Parks: America's Best Idea, was a 12-hour-long documentary by filmmaker Ken Burns that, while heavy on Yosemite and Yellowstone national parks, brought the beauty and history of the National Park System into homes across America for six consecutive nights in September.
After eight years of directors who kowtowed to their political leaders, the National Park Service saw a careerist take the directorship of the agency when Jon Jarvis was confirmed. While his arrival brought much promise to the service, Mr. Jarvis has a hefty workload ahead of him to revive the agency. He comes to the directorship with a set of priorities that revolves around his employees, relevancy of the national parks, stewardship of their natural, cultural, and historical resources, and public education.
Come mid-February, a rule change powered through Congress by the National Rifle Association will allow holders of concealed weapons permits to arm themselves in many national parks. By attaching the gun legislation to a widely popular bill that would redefine the ground rules for credit card companies, Congress essentially made the firearms provision bulletproof.
In early December the simple groundbreaking for a 1-mile-long bridge along the Tamiami Trail marked a key step toward reviving the Everglades. Though seemingly small in extent, the bridge is the first step to improving water flows through the "river of grass" and aid the overall health of Everglades National Park. The project has been 20 years in coming. The $81 million project is the largest construction project in the history of the National Park Service and a key component of the Modified Waters Delivery Project to restore fresh water flows to Everglades National Park and the South Florida Ecosystem.
It's a long way from the big city with the same name, and the park's history may not be familiar to many Americans, but Port Chicago Naval Magazine National Memorial has a compelling story, and it's now the newest addition to the National Park System.
After years of at-times acrimonious ligation, a settlement was reached between the National Park Service and advocacy groups over development in the Yosemite Valley and how it might impact the Merced River, a wild and scenic stream. It's an agreement that could substantially redefine the human impact on one of the most scenic valleys in the world.
Large chapters of Samoan history were washed away when a tsunami wave train inundated the headquarters of the National Park of American Samoa in Pago Pago on September 29. A series of four waves spawned by a magnitude 8.0 earthquake left the building that houses the headquarters and visitors center in ruins, with a car dangling from a second-story balcony and muck coating much of the first floor.
A federal judge restored Yellowstone ecosystem grizzlies to threatened status under the Endangered Species Act. The upgrade reverses a 2007 delisting decision that gave inadequate consideration to the negative impacts of climate change on critical food supplies.
Climate Change and the Parks
A series of reports from a variety of groups issued calls for action on climate change to save national parks from impacts that could stagger their resources. One study listed endangered and threatened species likely to suffer most from climate change, another listed 25 parks that would be impacted, and another touched on wildlife in the parks that would be affected.
In an understandable effort to get all land-management agencies on the same page when it comes to climate change, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar signed off on a strategy to develop some coordination in how climate change might already be affecting, or could in the future, the country's land, water, ocean, fish, wildlife, and cultural resources.
A long, sometimes acrimonious, effort to secure land for the Flight 93 Memorial came to fruition when Interior Secretary Ken Salazar announced that the government has reached agreement with all the affected landowners for the properties needed to build the memorial honoring those who died in the western Pennsylvania field on September 11, 2001.
Despite precautions that ranged from staging search-and-rescue equipment and personnel along the storm-beaten coastline to erecting barriers to keep visitors away from the angry Atlantic Ocean, Acadia National Park officials were trumped by nature when a monstrous wave swept a 7-year-old New York City girl to her death and injured her parents.
Concerns of mining proposals in British Columbia just north of Glacier National Park ebbed and flowed throughout the year. In September, a team of international scientists visited Glacier and its northern neighbor, Waterton Lakes National Park, to study risks that might be posed by coal mining in British Columbia not far from the parks. The visit was called for back in June by the World Heritage Committee, an arm of the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization, after the group was petitioned by a dozen groups from the United States and Canada, including the National Parks Conservation Association.
With a new administration in Washington, the pendulum on snowmobile use in Yellowstone National Park swung back towards fewer machines. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar in July directed the National Park Service to follow a course that would limit recreational snowmobile use in Yellowstone to 318 machines per day for each of the next two winters.
Eleven Greenpeace members were arrested in July for mounting a protest on the granite presidential faces of Mount Rushmore National Memorial to urge President Obama to "show real leadership on global warming."
Hazing Yellowstone National Park bison from their migratory wintering grounds in Montana continued to catch headlines in 2009, in large part due to the injuries inflicted on some of the iconic animals and in part due to the political strife the issue has fomented.
Throughout 2009 there was a flurry of construction work across the National Park System thanks to the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.
Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, in a move that repudiated the Bush administration's energy policies, scuttled a series of controversial oil and gas leases near national parks in Utah. The Interior secretary said the $6 million worth of leases in question needed a more thorough environmental review to determine whether their development would imperil Arches and Canyonlands national parks or Dinosaur National Monument.