It is vital that all candidates – Democratic and Republican – listen to the will of the voters in order to build a strong and vibrant future for our national parks and communities. We urge all candidates to campaign on and make these principles a priority once in office:
1. Fix Our Parks:
America’s national parks should be the pride of our country. For far too long, the National Park Service has been operating on a shoestring budget as their maintenance backlog reached an all-time high – nearly $12 billion in needed repairs to sites across the country. Yellowstone, Great Smokies, Gettysburg and Acadia are suffering from crumbling roads, trails, restrooms and visitor centers. Our parks are falling apart. Since 2011, the Park Service has been dealing with a 16% decrease in staffing while national parks have experienced a 17% increase in visitation. Our federal elected officials must fight to ensure rangers have the resources they need to maintain our parks so they may thrive in their second century.
2. Take on Climate Change:
Climate change is the greatest threat to our national parks, people and the planet. Park lakes and rivers are drying up, glaciers are melting, beaches are eroding, and historic structures and artifacts are crumbling. And communities of color are bearing the brunt of our changing climate. Elected officials must support these communities and defend our nation’s air, climate and water laws and hold polluters accountable to those laws, to reduce pollutants that accelerate the climate crisis. They must also push for strong federal public lands protections, policies and funding that help parks adapt to and minimize the causes of climate change.
3. Protect our Heritage:
National parks protect outstanding natural wonders and our country’s history. There is still much more work to be done to conserve dwindling open spaces and better tell the stories of all Americans. To meet this challenge, our elected leaders must work with communities to designate new national park sites that bring to light the untold aspects of our county’s history and culture. They must also protect the irreplaceable natural landscapes across the country that we stand to lose.
4. Protect our Water:
Many people assume that because a park is protected, its waters are pure and clean. But maintaining the health of park waterways – rivers, lakes and streams – requires vigilant management both within and beyond park borders. With two-thirds of national park waters impaired and many communities living with unsafe drinking water, we need our elected leaders to fight for more clean water protections, not less.
5. Protect Wildlife and Their Habitat:
National parks provide habitat for more than 600 threatened and endangered species. But proposed rollbacks to laws protecting them could make it much more difficult to protect vulnerable animals and plants in the face of a changing climate. Science is essential for decision-making and informed direction from scientists is the only way to ensure vulnerable species in our parks remain on the path to recovery.
Parks are threatened
The 2020 election is one of the most important elections in our lifetime. Our nation’s most treasured natural, cultural and historic sites are at risk from the effects of climate change, aggressive oil and gas development and years of underfunding. Some of our most critical legal safeguards that maintain the clearest air and cleanest water in parks are at risk of rollback. Our national parks and public lands are reaching a breaking point, and there is no time to waste. Our elected leaders must stand with us to protect our most special places and change the course for the future for our national parks.
For years, national parks haven’t had sufficient funding to fix roads, trails, visitor centers and historic sites, all while welcoming record numbers of visitors and dealing with cuts in staffing. Nearly everything we know and love about our parks is being destroyed by the changing climate as we are needlessly losing Joshua and Sequoia trees, glaciers and grizzly bears, and our most significant rivers, lakes and streams are becoming dirtier because of unchecked pollution. But there’s still time to put our national parks on a path that will sustain them for years to come. Future generations are depending on us.
Protecting parks for all
National parks are the public’s lands—they bring people together and provide opportunities for enjoyment, healing and renewal. They belong to all of us. Therefore, everyone, no matter their race, gender or social class, should feel safe and welcome in parks, and should see themselves represented in these places. Over the years, the National Park System has evolved to better reflect diverse experiences and struggles for equality and human rights, including sites like Stonewall National Monument, Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad National Monument and the Selma to Montgomery Historic Trail. But more work is needed to tell the full American story.
Investing in our parks’ future
As our country continues to deal with a global health pandemic, the public, understandably, wants to get outdoors and into their national parks. Many communities also depend heavily on tourist dollars generated by nearby parks. Parks and gateway communities are suffering through hard times, but investments in our parks would create jobs and help small businesses get back on their feet and bring much-needed relief to local economies that rely on outdoor recreation and tourism. Our elected leaders must stand with Americans across the country and commit to investing in the future of our parks’ and communities.
Our national parks deserve champions in Congress and an administration who will ensure that our nation’s most treasured places are preserved unimpaired for all of us. We need leaders who will stand up for what is right for parks in the face of political and industry pressures. And those who will address inequities head on and commit to prioritizing the health of our communities and clean air and water.
America’s legacy is on the line this election. Our national parks need our help, and we must insist our elected officials protect them now and always.