On-line Book
Cover to America's National Park Service: The Critical Documents
Cover Page


Table of Contents


The Early Years,

Defining The System,

The New Deal Years,

The Poverty Years,

Questions of
Resource Management

The Ecological Revolution,

Transformation and

A System Threatened,

Summaries of
Lengthy Documents

About the Editor

America's National Park System:
The Critical Documents
Chapter 7:
Transformation and Expansion, 1970-1980
National Park Service Arrowhead


MAY 1980
Office of Science and Technology, National Park Service


The National Park Service recently has completed its first Service-wide survey designed to identify and characterize threats that endanger the natural and the cultural resources of the parks. This 1980 State of the Parks report presents the results of that survey. It focuses on three aspects of the threats to the parks problem: First, the Report identifies specific threats which endanger the resources of individual parks; second it identifies sources of threats, whether located internal or external to park boundaries; and third, the Report identifies park resources which are endangered by the threats.

The findings presented in this Report are based upon information submitted by park superintendents, park natural and cultural resource managers, park scientists, and park planners. It should be emphasized that the recognition and the perception of threats may be affected by the professional training and experience of these observers. A park superintendent, for example, may be most sensitive to operational problems associated with overcrowding or vandalism; a park scientist or resource management specialist may be particularly aware of threats to water quality or wildlife habitat; a park planner is more likely to perceive disruptions associated with zoning or land use practices. Further, the respondent to the threats survey may show a greater interest in problem areas with prospective solutions and may fail to emphasize certain issues simply because they appear to be beyond his or her span of influence. Clearly, there are subjective judgments involved in any threats reporting and evaluation process. However, collectively, the results of this systematic park-by-park survey provide important new information concerning a broad spectrum of problems and issues with which the National Park Service must deal.


The term "threats" as used in this Report refers to those pollutants, visitor activities, exotic species, industrial development projects, etc., which have the potential to cause significant damage to park resources or to seriously degrade important park values or park experiences. Without qualification, it can be stated that the cultural and the natural resources of the parks are endangered both from without and from within by a broad range of such threats. In this regard, the most significant findings developed in this study may be summarized as follows:

  • Park units representing all size and use categories, and all types of ecosystem, reported a wide range of threats affecting their resources. These threats, which emanate from both internal and external sources, are causing severe degradation of park resources.

  • The 63 National Park natural areas greater than 30,000 acres in size reported an average number of threats nearly double that of the Servicewide norm. Included in this category are units such as Yellowstone, Yosemite, Great Smoky Mountains, Everglades and Glacier. Most of these great parks were at one time pristine areas surrounded and protected by vast wilderness regions. Today, with their surrounding buffer zones gradually disappearing, many of these parks are experiencing significant and widespread adverse effects associated with external encroachment.
  • The 12 Biosphere Reserve Parks, which are unique natural areas that range in size from 15,000 acres to more than two million acres and which are dedicated to long-term ecosystem monitoring under the UNESCO Man and the Biosphere program, surprisingly reported an average number of threats nearly three times the Servicewide norm. This is particularly disturbing because the Biosphere Reserve Parks are considered to be model ecological control areas. The large number of threats reported by these parks may reflect the greater emphasis directed to monitoring in these areas.
    If this is, in fact, the reason for the increased occurrence of reported threats in the Biosphere Reserve parks, it suggests that significant numbers of threats may have been overlooked in other parks which, to date, have received much less monitoring and research attention.
  • More than 50 percent of the reported threats were attributed to sources or activities located external to the parks. The most frequently identified external threats included: Industrial and commercial development projects on adjacent lands; air pollutant emissions, often associated with facilities located considerable distances from the affected parks; urban encroachment; and roads and railroads.
  • Threats associated with activities or with sources located with-m park boundaries continue to cause significant degradation of park resources, park values, and visitor park experiences. The most frequently reported internal threats are associated with: Heavy visitor use; park utility access corridors; vehicle noise; soil erosion; and exotic plant and animal species.
  • Scenic resources were reported to be significantly threatened in more than 60 percent of the parks. Air quality resources were reported endangered in more than 45 percent of the parks. Mammal. plant, and fresh water resources all were reported threatened in more than 40 percent of the units. Other endangered resources are listed in ranked order of occurrence in the report.>
  • A surprising 75 percent of the reported threats to park resources have been classified by onsite park observers as inadequately documented by either private or government research. Threats associated with air pollution, water pollution, and visitor related activities most frequently were cited as needing additional monitoring, scientific measurements or research documentation.


The units of the National Park Service represent all of the major categories of ecosystems within which we live. These parks, individually and collectively, constitute the best of our natural and cultural resources. The lessons that we learn and the progress that we make in our attempts to better manage and protect these resources are of benefit to us all.

The results of this study indicate that no parks of the System are immune to external and internal threats, and that these threats are causing significant and demonstrable damage. There is no question but that these threats will continue to degrade and destroy irreplaceable park resources until such time as mitigation measures are implemented. In many cases, this degradation or loss of resources is irreversible. It represents a sacrifice by a public that, for the most part, is unaware that such a price is being paid.

The diversity and complexity of the problems identified in this report serve to emphasize the need for an expanded program to protect and preserve the resources of the parks. To develop and implement such a program requires that the National Park Service know what natural and cultural resources exist in each park, establish the condition of these resources, and determine how and to what extent these resources are threatened. Essentially we must do the following:

  • We must prepare a comprehensive inventory of the important natural and cultural resources of each park and develop a plan at the park level for managing these resources.

  • We must establish accurate baseline data on park resources and conduct comprehensive monitoring programs designed to detect and measure changes both in these resources and in the ecosystem environments within which they exist.
  • We must pay additional attention to those threats which are associated with sources and activities located external to the pa These threats today pose unique problems because of the Service's limited ability to deal directly and effectively with such out influences.
  • We must improve our capability to better quantify and document the impacts of various threats, particularly those which are believed to most seriously affect important park resources and park values.

To accomplish these objectives will require that the Service significantly expand its research and resource management capabilities. At the present time, the natural science research program of the National Park Service is base funded at a level of only nine million dollars and is staffed by fewer than 100 scientists; this is an average of less than one researcher for each three units of the System and represents only 1.1 percent of the total Park Service staff. Similarly, there are fewer than 200 personnel in the Service who have res management training; many of these personnel are senior level Rangers and Park Superintendents who are able to devote a small portion of their time to resource management problem

The staff and the funding resources currently available within the research and the resource management areas clearly are inadequate to respond to the needs of the Service. Internal actions are being taken to strengthen existing research and resource management programs. However, it must be emphasized that a continuing and expanded commitment is required to address the wide range of issues defined by the threats survey, and that the support of the Congress will be needed to deal with these important problems.

A final comment. The enabling legislation establishing the National Park Service and its individual park units clearly mandates, as the primary objective, the protection, preservation and conservation of park resources, in perpetuity for the use and enjoyment of future generations. The National Park Service recognizes that changes in priorities and reallocation of resources will be required to meet this mandate and is committed to such changes.

Washington, D.C.: GPO, 1980, vh-x.

NEXT>Chapter 8: A System Threatened, 1981 - 1992


Last Modified: October 25, 2000 10:00:00 am PST

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