Parks and Recreation:

Limited Progress Made in Documenting and Mitigating Threats to the Parks

RCED-87-36: Published: Feb 9, 1987. Publicly Released: Feb 24, 1987.

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In response to a congressional request, GAO provided information on: (1) National Park Service (NPS) actions to address threats to the National Park System's natural and cultural resources; and (2) the extent to which current legislation obligates NPS to intercede in outside actions that would affect park resources.

GAO found that: (1) although NPS required parks to complete resource management plans (RMP) by the end of 1981 and update them annually, only half met the original deadline, and NPS did not use the completed plans in formulating its annual budget; (2) NPS failed to follow through on the initiatives for improving resource information and increasing scientific research, but has undertaken the training initiatives; (3) neither NPS nor the individual parks kept track of their progress in addressing the threats to their resources that a 1980 report identified; (4) the NPS budget for resource management increased from $44 million in 1980 to $93 million in 1984; (5) the parks used additional funds to remove harmful plants and animals and repair deteriorating historic structures; (6) as of December 1985, NPS had not resolved 80 percent of the threats reported in 1980; and (7) NPS did not receive funding for many of its proposed projects to address known and potential resource problems.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: On the cultural resource program side, NPS undertook a project to computerize and update its archeological resource database. Implementation is targeted for the end of 1991. Systems for historical structures and museum objects already exist. NPS is in the process of implementing inventory and monitoring by stages. All parks will have revised RMPs according to the new guidelines by 1993.

    Recommendation: The quality of RMP depends on the adequacy of the resource information upon which it is based. Therefore, to ensure that the plans are based on adequate information and to establish basic accountability for park resources, the Secretary of the Interior should direct the Director, NPS, to take action to improve park information bases that are found not up to the standards.

    Agency Affected: Department of the Interior

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: NPS headquarters received the park unit responses to a questionnaire regarding the status of baseline data on natural resources. This data has been compiled as of September 1989. Cultural Resources is developing an uniform computerized cultural sites inventory.

    Recommendation: The quality of RMP depends on the adequacy of the resource information upon which it is based. Therefore, to ensure that the plans are based on adequate information and to establish basic accountability for park resources, the Secretary of the Interior should direct the Director, NPS, to assess the adequacy of each park's information base in relation to the standards so developed.

    Agency Affected: Department of the Interior

  3. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: NPS, Natural Resources, adopted a final baseline inventory and long-term monitoring policy and implementation strategy on April 29, 1987. Standards for Natural Resources and Cultural Resources have undergone multiple reviews. Natural Resources should be final by September 1990 and Cultural Resources should be final in 1991.

    Recommendation: The quality of RMP depends on the adequacy of the resource information upon which it is based. Therefore, to ensure that the plans are based on adequate information and to establish basic accountability for park resources, the Secretary of the Interior should direct the Director, NPS, to develop standards for determining the minimum baseline information needed to properly plan for the management and protection of park resources.

    Agency Affected: Department of the Interior

  4. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Software for an automated database that tracks RMP projects and activities has been developed and is currently being distributed to the parks. This system will be used to inventory and prioritize natural and cultural resource needs. The system is scheduled for use by all parks in February 1991.

    Recommendation: To provide the information needed for NPS to develop a comprehensive, systemwide approach to protect and manage park resources and to provide the basis to make more informed funding decisions, the Secretary of the Interior should direct the Director, NPS, to improve procedures on the use of the information provided in RMP to: (1) identify and prioritize cultural and natural resource management needs on a regional and servicewide basis; and (2) prepare annual budget requests.

    Agency Affected: Department of the Interior

  5. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The Director, NPS, sent a memo to the regional directors regarding the use of RMP on June 30, 1987. Draft guidelines, completed in April 1988, are being used to prepare 10 model RMP. Based on problems identified during RMP development, the draft guidelines were revised and reissued in February 1989.

    Recommendation: To provide the information needed for NPS to develop a comprehensive, systemwide approach to protect and manage park resources and to provide the basis to make more informed funding decisions, the Secretary of the Interior should direct the Director, NPS, to enforce the agency's requirement that RMP be prepared and updated in accordance with established NPS guidance and criteria at each park unit.

    Agency Affected: Department of the Interior

  6. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: NPS, Natural Resources, adopted a final baseline inventory and long-term monitoring policy and implementation strategy on April 29, 1987. Guidelines and standards and the implementation strategy are being developed. The cultural resources program is developing monitoring procedures within the NPS 28 guidelines.

    Recommendation: The quality of RMP depends on the adequacy of the resource information upon which it is based. Therefore, to ensure that the plans are based on adequate information and to establish basic accountability for park resources, the Secretary of the Interior should direct the Director, NPS, to develop and implement long-term programs to monitor resource condition changes over time.

    Agency Affected: Department of the Interior

 

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