Statement by Denis P. Galvin, Deputy Director, National Park Service Before the House Subcommittee on Appropriations for the Department of the Interior and Related Agencies Considering the National Park Service’s Natural Resource Challenge

March 8, 2001


We are here today to update you on the progress we are making on the Natural Resource Challenge. As you know the Challenge is a 5-year action plan focused on the natural resources of the national parks. We believe this topic is of the utmost importance to the future well being of national parks. There has been little understanding of the need to invest in information about our natural resources. Our working assumption has always been that they will take care of themselves, if we leave them alone. We now know that, if this was ever true, it certainly isn’t anymore. We must be engaged in natural resource management.

We believe that National Parks will fulfill an increasing number of roles for our society in the future. Not only will they continue to be loved by American and international visitors for their recreational opportunities, parks will become future libraries, laboratories, and classrooms of rare importance if they still contain the extraordinary plant and animal heritage that this nation treasures.

The General Accounting Office and others have identified a need to emphasize investment in natural resource management. It is also becoming apparent in every aspect of modern park management. Each decision we make, either to allow access or manage access, to build facilities, or to take any significant action must be documented for a public that is taking increasing interest in how our parks are being managed. We must be able to explain and document our decisions. This is both fair and appropriate.

If we are to preserve the 83 million acres of parks for present and future generations to enjoy, we must understand and actively manage them. As you know, some units of the National Park System include resources that are impaired, and these require restoration. We must also actively manage pristine resources that are often now subject to enormous pressures.

For example, even pristine areas are being overwhelmed by invasive plants and animals. There are over 2.6 million acres in the National Park system now impacted by invasive weeds. As you know, invasive plants change habitats such that they drive out native plants and animals, change fire regimes, encourage erosion, and interfere with the scenic qualities that parks were meant to preserve. Invasive plants have been called a ‘biological wildfire’. We must take action. The Natural Resource Challenge positions the Service to do this.

To meet this Challenge, we designed and are implementing a 5-year plan of action. The actions funded and undertaken to date share certain objectives:

1. Active, scientifically-sound management of parks—90 percent of the planned positions and 80 percent of the funding are for field activities; the balance of positions and funds are for experts that respond to park calls for specialized assistance;

2. Getting the scientific community at large involved in providing scientific information and in using the parks as scientific laboratories. Emphasizing parks for science means that much information will be obtained for little cost. Discoveries in Yellowstone’s hot springs are an example of the national scientific heritage that parks harbor. Research on a bacterium from Yellowstone National Park resulted in a revolutionary new laboratory technique for DNA-copying that underpins DNA fingerprinting techniques and contributed to the success of the Human Genome project; and

3. Making the public partners in resource preservation by educating them about the natural resources.

We believe that we have achieved measurable success in meeting these objectives. I would like to extend our thanks to you for your support in making this effort a success. Congress has generously provided us with much of what we have asked for to take important steps in the first two years. The Administration has endorsed this effort, noting in the Budget Blueprint that the President’s Budget devotes additional resources over five years, for the Natural Resource Challenge to accelerate biological resource inventories, control exotic species, and preserve endangered and threatened species habitat on park lands. One goal of this Challenge is to help every park with significant biological resources to complete basic natural resource inventories by 2010, covering such things as soil, vegetation, biological diversity, geologic resources, and water quality.

U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) scientists provide a strong base for sound research conducted in parks. In addition, UGS is developing inventory and monitoring protocols, conducting risk and resource assessments and is providing baseline mapping data for the national parks. We work very closely and collaboratively with our colleagues in the Biological Resources Division as well as in other USGS disciplines and will continue to do so in implementing the Natural Resource Challenge.

In the FY 2000 Appropriations Act, you asked us to give you a detailed report on the use of Natural Resource Challenge funds. Our first report is almost complete and will be submitted to you upon completion and departmental clearance. To summarize the status of the program to date, I’d like to highlight some key results:

First, we are utilizing many new types of sharing of resources to spur efficiencies and sharing on a level that we have not seen before.

 

--The Heartland network is a good example. It contains 15 parks in 8 Midwest states, including several small "cultural" parks with significant natural resources. Larger parks in the network are assuming much of the administrative workload for inventory projects for the entire network. A network inventory strategy started with each park identifying its highest priority inventory needs, based on its resource management issues. The network steering committee then designed a plan to complete the highest-priority projects first, while also conducting inventories on a multi-park basis where feasible to reduce contracting costs and increase efficiency and effectiveness of field crews. The coordinator and some members of the field crews are based at Wilson's Creek NB, while Buffalo National River has assumed much of the contracting workload for the network.

--Spurred by the cooperative network approach, Mt. Rainier, North Cascades, and Olympic have each contributed over $10,000 in addition to Challenge inventory funds to complete stream fish population work.

--Inventories not conducted on a network basis have gained efficiencies through other means. Geologic mapping is being undertaken in part on a state-by-state basis to maximize efficiency and partner with State geologic agencies. In FY 2000, we completed new geologic mapping and/or geologic assessment reports in 23 park units, focusing primarily on two states, Colorado and Utah. The Service acquires cartographic inventory products through a 50:50 cost-sharing arrangement with the USGS. More than 6,000 base cartography data products for 230 parks were produced in FY 2000, increasing the number of parks for which this inventory has been completed to 248 (96 percent).

--Although funding for Park Service participation in Cooperative Ecosystem Studies Units is new this year, one region placed a coordinator at the University of Montana early. The results there show how effective the CESUs can be. Last year, there were about 35 projects completed for parks through that CESU, including: assisting park networks with carrying out Challenge-funded inventory work; a study of the public perception of wildlife issues at Yellowstone NP; peer review of the elk management plan for Rocky Mountain National Park; and a lynx study at Grand Teton.

--Although NPS participation at another CESU, the Colorado Plateau unit, started later than at the Montana unit, the Colorado Plateau unit already has 50 projects up and running.

The second key result of Challenge actions is the leveraging of Challenge funding with internal and external partners:

Third, we are assuring that the highest priority needs are being fulfilled with quality products by using competition to distribute many of the funds:

--Identification and characterization of remnant stands of Fraser Fir at Great Smoky Mountains, to provide information needed to protect this species, which has been decimated by the exotic insect, the woolly adelgid.
--Installation of signs, trail modifications, and remote sensing devices to reduce the theft of petrified wood by park visitors and the adjacent public at Petrified Forest National Monument.
--Implementation of a 3-year program of intensive lake trout gill-netting to reduce exotic lake trout to a manageable level to preserve the native Yellowstone cutthroat trout population.
--Fixing satellite transmitters to monitor loggerhead turtles nesting at Gulf Islands National Seashore, the smallest and most vulnerable of the US populations of these threatened species. From this will come an enhanced ability to extend protection to this population with sound scientific data. Positional data from the turtles will be plotted on color maps that will be available on the Internet at a well-known and heavily visited website.
--Denali NP Restoration—Mine tailings and other disturbances affect 361 acres of Caribou Creek and are believed to adversely impact salmon populations. Information on stream channel geometry surveys, soil sampling and analysis, water sampling and analysis, riparian habitat assessments, vegetation surveys, and GIS mapping of the watershed will be developed to form the basis of a restoration plan

Fourth, we have put in place means to assure the quality and accountability for all elements of the program:

We believe that the Natural Resource Challenge positions the Service to meet the expectation of the American public that their national parks will be in good condition—the natural resources as well as the facilities—both now and in the future. We hope you will stay the course with us for the full 5 years, through whatever budgetary climate prevails. We believe it is an extraordinarily important investment and we are doing our best to make every dollar count.

Thank you, Mr. Chairman, this concludes my remarks, and we would be happy to answer any questions.