National Park Service:

Activities Within Park Borders Have Caused Damage to Resources

RCED-96-202: Published: Aug 23, 1996. Publicly Released: Aug 23, 1996.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO reviewed internal threats to the national parks' resources, focusing on the: (1) National Park Service's (NPS) information on the number and types of internal threats; (2) damage these threats have caused; (3) change in the severity of these threats over the past decade; and (4) NPS actions to mitigate these threats.

GAO found that: (1) because NPS does not have a national inventory of internal threats to the park system, it is not fully equipped to meet its mission of preserving and protecting park resources; (2) park managers at the eight parks studied have identified 127 internal threats to their parks' natural and cultural resources; (3) most of these threats are due to the impact of private inholdings or commercial development within the parks, the impact of nonnative wildlife or plants, damage caused by illegal activities, increased visitation, and unintended adverse effects of management actions; (4) park managers believe the parks' most serious threats are caused by shortages in staffing, funding, and resource knowledge; (5) 82 percent of the internal threats have already caused more than minor damage, and cultural or archeological resources have suffered more permanent damage than natural resources in many parks; (6) 61 percent of internal threats, particularly those from increased visitation and serious fires, have worsened over the past decade, 27 percent have stayed about the same, and 11 percent have diminished; (7) park managers lack baseline data needed to judge trends in the severity of internal threats; and (8) some parks are closing trails to reduce erosion, installing more rugged equipment to reduce vandalism, revoking uncooperative operators' permits, and posting signs to inform visitors of the damage from their inappropriate activities.

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