Invading animals and plants, pollution, poaching, urban growth and even space shuttles threaten to cause irreversible damage to national parks, the National Park Service reported yesterday.
"No parks are immune to external and internal threats," said the first "state of the parks" report, requested last year by House parks subcommittee Chairman Philip Burton (D-Calif.).
Besides well-publicized problems, such as air pollution from energy projects in the West, overcrowding at Yosemite National Park, development along the eastern seashore and the fierce competition for water around the Everglades, the systemwide survey revealed a host of documented or suspected dangers at less prominent parks and historic sites.
The "showcase of fragile native ecosystems" at Haleakala National Park in Hawaii is threatened by "highly aggressive animals and plants," including wild goats, pigs, mongooses, eucalyptus and bamboo. Many "exotic" seeds apparently have been carried in on hikers' boots, although park managers suspect that marijuana was introduced intentionally.
At Fort Frederica National Historic Site in Georgia, power boat traffic on the Frederica River is accelerating shoreline erosion, while air pollution from nearby Brunswick could destroy the fragile ruins of the 18th century British garrison.
Development near Catoctin Mountain National Park in Maryland has caused "a considerable wildlife migration into the park." The managers of Arkansas Post National Monument reported similar problems, plus an increase in illegal hunting of deer and turkey, caused partly by "the high cost of meat."
In some parks, problems of popularity are still paramount. At Petrified Forest National Park in Arizona, for example, visitors may be removing as much as 12 tons of petrified wood "in small chips" every year, the report said. m
Overall, however, damage by visitors within the park, a major concern in the past decade, is now less worrisome than the cumulative effects of human activity outside the park.
Wildlife at the Channel Islands in California may be threatened by a barrage of nearby activities ranging from offshore oil drilling to commercial anchovy fishing, which could deprive the endangered brown pelicans of food. There is also some apprehension about shock waves from nearby launching of the space shuttle, which could frighten the islands' seals, sea lions and rare birds.
"Insidious acid rain" is already having effect in the Great Smoky Mountains, the report said, where the native brook trout and the shovel-nosed salamander are being hurt.
Meanwhile, urban development has consumed the buffer zone around both eastern Civil War battlefields. At Fort Donelson, housing has crept within 100 feet of historic structures. The parks at Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania in Virginia are "being engulfed by suburbia," and roads that originally led to farms within the parks "now provide access to subdivisions."
Ocmulgee National Monument, a 683-acre preserve of Indian Mounds in Macon, Ga., reported that its neighborhood has been "degraded" and now includes substandard housing, a low-income housing project, an automobile junkyard and more industry.
Other reports identified engineering challenges, such as how to clean the outside of the Gateway Arch in St. Louis, and a bevy of scientific questions which, the report says, will require far more than the Park Service's current research budget of $9 million.
The report is a warning, one NPS spokesman said, about subtle and cumulative problems of environmental decay that extends far beyond the boundaries of the parks and the authority of their formal custodians.
There is some good news, too. Industrial pollution at Indiana Dunes has decreased. Programs at Devils Power National Monument are keeping undesireable foliage in check.
Volcanoes National Park in Hawaii suffers from air pollution "only when there are volcanic eruptions," which the report dryly noted are not susceptible to human control. And American Memorial Park on Saipan, an island in the South Pacific, "has too few resource threats to warrant filling out a questionnaire."