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Apathy, Funding The Biggest Threats To National Parks, Officials Say

A geyser erupts in Yellowstone National Park.
Michael Marsolek
A geyser erupts in Yellowstone National Park.

Dignitaries from across the country gathered in Yellowstone yesterday, America’s first national park, to celebrate the centennial of the National Park Service. Supporters of National Parks say to that survive the next 100 years, the American public will need to visit and support them.

National Park Service Director Jonathan Jarvis warns the public can’t take for granted there will be another celebration like this in 100 years.

He says Yellowstone is one example of the on-going challenges and controversies facing the parks. Wildland fires do not understand political boundaries.

"Nor do iconic wildlife species, nor do threats from climate change or adjacent threats from mining."

A reference to the bison and other animals that wander out of the safety of park boundaries or the proposed gold mine project in Montana’s Paradise Valley.

But Jarvis says the bigger threat he says is public apathy for the nation’s over 400 wild, cultural and historical sites.

That worries Interior Secretary Sally Jewell. She says without public support, the National Park Service will remain chronically underfunded. She says the philanthropic donations are welcome, but they can’t replace public dollars.

"I mean you’re not going to be able to go to philanthropists and say we want money from you because the federal government won’t do the basics. You know, we want you to provide the toilet paper, you know that doesn’t make sense, right."

This centennial celebration is just one example of the public-private partnership for the national parks. Donations paid for the majority of the costs at Gardiner. Yellowstone and its sister agencies picked up their personnel costs. The total cost of the event was not immediately available.

It’s well documented the funding challenges the agency faces. Deferred maintenance, for example, totals nearly $12 billion, $600 million of that is in Yellowstone.

"There’s a ton of maintenance needs in Yellowstone and in every park."

Montana Senator Jon Tester is a member of the appropriations committee.

"And its important people support them and its also important Congress does their job and help lead the country in this 21st century especially as it comes for our nation’s jewels and that’s our national parks."

Tester says the dysfunction in Washington D.C. is well documented. Still he says the 6,000 people who came to the Roosevelt Arch at Yellowstone’s North entrance for this birthday celebration need to tell Congress of their support for the national parks.

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