National Parks:

Park Service Needs Better Information to Preserve and Protect Resources

T-RCED-97-76: Published: Feb 27, 1997. Publicly Released: Feb 27, 1997.

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Victor S. Rezendes
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GAO discussed its views on the National Park Service's (NPS) knowledge of the condition of the resources that the agency is entrusted to protect within the National Park System.

GAO noted that: (1) GAO's work has shown that although NPS acknowledges, and its policies emphasize, the importance of managing parks on the basis of sound scientific information about resources, today such information is seriously deficient; (2) frequently, baseline information about natural and cultural resources is incomplete or nonexistent, making it difficult for park managers to have a clear knowledge about what condition the resources are in and whether the condition of those resources is deteriorating, improving, or staying the same; (3) at the same time, many of these park resources face significant threats, ranging from air pollution, to vandalism, to the development of nearby land; (4) however, even when these threats are known, NPS has limited scientific knowledge about the severity of them and their impact on affected resources; (5) these concerns are not new to NPS, and in fact, the agency has taken steps to improve the situation; (6) however, because of limited funds and other competing needs that must be completed, NPS has made relatively limited progress to correct this deficiency of information; (7) there is no doubt that it will cost money to make more substantial progress in improving the scientific knowledge base about park resources; (8) dealing with this challenge will require NPS, the administration, and the Congress to make difficult choices involving how parks are funded and managed; and (9) however, without such an improvement, NPS will be hindered in its ability to make good management decisions aimed at preserving and protecting the resources entrusted to it.

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